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From extremism to extremely sorry: Tale of Tory backsliding over Gani

MEE pieces together how the London mayoral election went from bad to ugly and ended up in an apology
David Cameron first accused Gani of supporting Islamic State late last month. It took him three weeks to say sorry (AFP)

The past month has seen a whirlwind "extremism" scandal unfold in the UK, where the Conservatives accused a London imam of supporting the Islamic State group, only to retract the claim on Wednesday night following a campaign by MEE columnist Peter Oborne. 

It all started back in April, when London mayoral hopeful Zac Goldsmith accused his Labour rival Sadiq Khan of sharing a platform with London imam Suliman Gani, whom he refers to as "one of the most repellent figures in this country". 

Gani heard the news and took to twitter, quickly tweeting a photo of himself standing next to none other than Goldsmith. 

As it turned out, Gani didn't just take a photo with Goldsmith; he actually campaigned for the Conservative party. 

Nor was it just the story of one poor misguided MP. Gani quickly reminded the world that numerous Conservative MPs had actively courted his support in the past. 

Gani was even invited to an event that was also attended by none other than Goldsmith. 

Despite there being no evidence to support claims Gani was an extremist, Khan chose not to side with him either - instead going on the attack to reassure voters that he too would "take the fight to the extremists". 

Journalist Andrew Neil on the BBC then decided to seize on the claims and told the whole nation live on television that Gani supported the Islamic State group. 

But people didn't swallow the claim, and twitter soon errupted with calls for an apology. 

Despite the outrage, UK Prime Minister David Cameron waded into the debate telling parliament that Gani "supports IS". 

Gani asked for a retraction. 

Labour MP Chuka Umunna also chimed in, saying the attack was "utterly disgraceful". 

But while criticism was growing, Gani had his hands tied. The prime minister made his comments during Prime Minister's Questions in parliament, which meant they were protected by privilege and that Cameron could not be sued. 

People on social media then started sharing a leaflet for an event titled The Evils of ISIS, which took place early 2016. Awkwardly for Cameron and co, Gani the so-called "extremist" had been on the panel. 

Angered by Conservative campaign strategy, Peter Oborne - a MEE columnist and long-time Tory - announced that he would support Khan and called out Goldsmith for using sectarian politics. 

Khan then went on the offensive...

Gani followed by releasing a statement demanding an apology from Neil and the BBC. 

He also called for a twitter storm and demanded that people shower the PM with the hashtag #DodgyDave

The BBC responded by releasing an apology. 

But Gani was determined to keep clearing his name. He embarassed 10 Downing Street further by showing photos of him visiting David Cameron's residence and revealing that he had done so a total of four times. 

In his most scathing attack yet, Oborne demanded that Cameron apologise after his spokespeople repeatedly failed to provide any proof that Gani supported terrorism. 

He followed up by writing an open letter to Cameron: 

Despite the campaign to link him to extremists, Khan won the mayoral elections and was sworn in as the first elected Muslim mayor of a European capital. 

Even William Shatner was happy. 

Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, jumped to Cameron's defence and repeated the same claim as David Cameron but outside the immunity of the Commons.

Gani grabbed the opportunity and quickly sought legal action.

Oborne kept up the pressure on Cameron and Fallon by interviewing Gani, who revealed he was worried about his family's safety due to the campaign against him.

Two days later Michael Fallon apologised for his "inadvertent error".

Finally, 21 days after he had made the statements (and almost a month after Goldsmith first made the link to extremism), David Cameron issued an apology.

Gani thanked everyone for their support but implied this was not the end of it.

Oborne also still isn't happy and wants to hear the apology in Parliament.

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