Choudary conviction sets stage for stronger British counterterrorism laws
London - Radical preacher Anjem Choudary has been found guilty of inviting support for the Islamic State (ISIS) but his long-sought conviction raised questions about why it took security authorities more than two decades to remove him from British streets.
Officials said Choudary, who has ties to a number of banned groups, including al-Muhajiroun, an extremist organisation, is said to have played a major role in influencing about 500 British citizens to join ISIS.
He and his aide Mohammad Mizanur Rahman were found guilty of violating Section 12 of the 2000 Terrorism Act and could face up to ten years in jail. Sentencing was set for September 6th.
Choudary and Rahman pledged allegiance to ISIS self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2014 but it took years to build a court case against them, during which time they continued espousing extremist views. Choudary, a former solicitor, excelled at making extremist statements that were just short of breaking the law.
“The oath of allegiance was a turning point for the police. At last we had the evidence that they had stepped over the line and we could prove they supported ISIS,” Commander Dean Haydon of London Metropolitan Police force’s counterterrorism unit, said in a statement.
“These men have stayed just within the law for many years but there is no one within the counterterrorism world that has any doubt of the influence they have had, the hate they have spread and the people that they have encouraged to join terrorist organisations.”
It was revealed at trial that Choudary and Rahman had direct and indirect ties to hundreds of young Britons who had travelled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS. Choudary was also linked to 15 terror plots since 2000.
“Over and over again we have seen people on trial for the most serious offences who have attended lectures or speeches given by these men,” Haydon said.
British Home Secretary Amber Rudd hailed the conviction, positing it as a major victory in the country’s counter-extremism strategy. “These dangerous individuals were recruiting sergeants for ISIS. They poisoned the minds of vulnerable people, and their warped and twisted propaganda offered support and succour to a murderous and barbaric terrorist organisation,” she said.
But the former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation Lord Carlile acknowledged the prolonged nature of the conviction and called on the government to beef up legislation to deal with extremist preachers who promote terrorism.
“This conviction shows the sometime long march of the law,” Lord Carlile said. “While those remote from terrorist crimes should be prosecuted with caution, there should be greater legal clarity to enable the prosecution of those whose clear aim is to exhort terrorism and the destruction of our way of life.”
MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the parliamentary Home Affairs Committee, called for an urgent review of Britain’s anti-terror legislation.
“It is deeply worrying to see the extent of his [Choudary’s] activities. While congratulating the police in bringing this case to a successful conclusion we now need to look again at the law to ensure that it allows no gaps that permit preachers of hate to undertake their activities under the cloak of freedom of speech exercised in a democracy,” he said.
Vaz called for a “zero tolerance” policy towards hate preachers such as Choudary who glorify terrorism but many British Muslims criticised the mainstream media for giving him a platform.
“He was a guaranteed quote and a guaranteed source of YouTube views. Journalism gold… He had virtually zero support within the [Muslim] community yet was one of its most well-known figures,” Roshan Muhammad Salih, editor of the British Muslim news website 5pillarsuk.com, said in a post on the site.
“The prominence that Anjem Choudary got on the mainstream media was a constant source of frustration for British Muslims. While he was not welcome in mosques and Muslim institutions, he was a regular on TV news bullets and debate shows,” he added.