Security fears as UK extremist leader Anjem Choudary set for freedom
Britain’s most notorious hate preacher is set for imminent release from prison, giving the authorities a major security headache as they try to curb extremist violence.
Officials will impose crippling conditions on Anjem Choudary's release to stop him returning to lead the extremist organisation Al Muhajiroun that was left rudderless after he and his deputy were arrested for promoting ISIS in 2015. Sources say Choudary is unrepentant about his extremism and is planning to write a book.
Choudary's speeches inspired some of the UK’s most dangerous terrorists. Nearly 70 followers of his group were convicted of terrorist-related offences between 1998 and 2015, according to research by the Henry Jackson Society think tank.
Followers of his group were linked to:
- The 2005 suicide attack on London's transport network that killed 52 people
- The murder of British soldier Lee Rigby who was run over and stabbed by two men
- ISIS executions in Syria of “spies” for Britain
- The 2017 London Bridge attack when extremists killed eight people after mowing down pedestrians with a van
Choudary is expected to be released this week. It is understood he will be forced to live in a probation hostel in London but away from his former stronghold in the east of the capital.
He was once a rallying point at protests and rallies for disaffected young men who flocked to events he hosted with Al Muhajiroun’s spiritual leader and co-founder Omar Bakri Mohammed, a former Hizb ut-Tahrir activist deported from Saudi Arabia in 1985. He is said to have inspired dozens to travel to Syria to join ISIS.
But documents seen by The National suggest Choudary, 51, will face more than 20 restrictions for the next two-and-a-half years. These are likely to limit his contacts with like-minded extremists. The restrictions could include curfews, bans on attending some mosques, a ban on most telephone and internet communication and a bar on leaving the UK.
Police will also have to protect Mr Choudary from far-right activists trying to hunt down the most recognisable figure in British extremism.
“They face a balancing act to ensure that he doesn’t pose a threat with his hate preaching, while keeping him and his family safe from people who want revenge for everything he’s said,” said Harry Fletcher, an expert in criminal justice and victims’ rights. “If they turn up at his door, they’ll be moved straight away.”
Choudary, a former lawyer, was Al Muhajiroun’s main leader from 2005 when Bakri fled to Lebanon and was barred from returning. His inflammatory sermons – combined with his legal knowledge of how to stay on the right side of the law – ensured his pre-eminent status.
Under his leadership, the group built a network across Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the Americas. Affiliated fighters travelled to Syria, Indonesia, Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan, according to researchers.
Once considered a figure of fun at the head of a rag-bag organisation of misfits, Al Muhajiroun and its successors became a fertile seedbed for terrorism after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
“The lesson learned from Anjem Choudary is that extremism cannot be given any space,” said Fiyaz Mughal, the founder of Faith Works which charts anti-Muslim violence. “It must be disrupted, challenged and pushed out of the public space at every point.”
Al Muhajiroun was not proscribed until 2006, two years after Bakri publicly disbanded the group in an attempt to stave off a government ban. It re-emerged under a series of names such as Islam4UK, Al Ghurabaa and The Saved Sect.
Choudary’s release after serving half of his five-and-a-half-year jail term coincides with his number two, Mizanur Rahman, also being freed. A dozen former members who have served time for terrorist offences are also likely to be out in the coming months.
Another senior member, named in court documents only as LF, had strict conditions on his freedom removed last week, leading to concerns that the group could become a renewed force under Choudary’s leadership after 2014's crackdown.
The crackdown followed a series of high-profile stunts by the group including a rally in London to call for Queen Elizabeth II to convert to Islam and plans for a conference a year after the September 11 attacks to celebrate the “Magnificent 19” who carried out the plot.
Choudary led the group in protests against returning British soldiers from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His activists burned poppies – the symbol of the war dead – during annual Remembrance Day commemorations.
The protests triggered a response from a resurgent far-right.
Prisons minster Rory Stewart said security officials would be watching Choudary “very, very carefully” on his release.
Choudary was “somebody who was not given a sentence of enormous length but somebody who is a genuinely dangerous person,” he told London’s Evening Standard.