Anjem Choudary, Britain’s best-known radical Islamist preacher who urged young Muslims to wage jihad, was sentenced Tuesday to more than five years in prison for encouraging support of the self-declared Islamic State (IS) group.
Now, it’s up to the country’s Prison Services to decide if Mr. Choudary will serve alongside prisoners or in solitary confinement. He has warned jailing him will enable him to form a new congregation behind bars.
“I’ll radicalize everyone in prison,” he said, according to the Daily Mail. “If they arrest me and put me in prison, I will carry on in prison.”
In light of this threat, Choudary’s defense at his sentencing hearing urged the judge to consider the impact solitary confinement would have on Choudary’s mental well-being when considering prison time. With reports of Islamic extremists becoming radicalized in prisons in the Middle East, Europe, and Guantanamo Bay, the defense’s argument calls into question whether prison is the most appropriate setting to punish Choudary or others like him.
Judge Timothy Holroyde said that concern is a matter for the Prison Service, and that Choudary should take responsibility if he finds himself in solitary confinement.
“I do not think it would be right to reduce your sentence because of the possibility that your own behavior may cause the prison service to deal with you in a particular way,” said Justice Holroyde, according to BBC.
Holroyde added he couldn’t decide sentences on “speculation” over whether Choudary would be held in solitary confinement to prevent him from radicalizing others.
Choudary was sentenced to five years and six months in prison, after a jury convicted him of “inviting” support of IS. A lawyer by training, Choudary developed a reputation for an adept knowledge of how far he could push Britain’s free speech laws. But he and his confidant, Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, were arrested in 2014 for using the internet to urge followers to back IS. Mr. Rahman received the same sentence as Choudary.
"Their recent speeches and the oath of allegiance were a turning point for the police – at last we had the evidence that they had stepped over the line and we could prove they were actively encouraging support of ISIS," said Dean Haydon, head of counterterrorism at London's Metropolitan Police, according to Reuters.
According to trial testimony, Choudary and Mr. Rahman pledged allegiance to the “caliphate” through social media, and said Muslims had a duty to obey or provide support to the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Both men had denied the terrorism charges and said the case against them was politically motivated.
“Choudary has long been a source of frustration and anger for British officials for encouraging extremist ideas,” wrote Denise Hassanzade Ajiri for The Christian Science Monitor. “According to the anti-extremism group Hope Not Hate, at least 70 people with ties to Choudary or his organizations have been implicated in terrorism cases, but British authorities have not been able to gather solid evidence against him,” she wrote just after he was arrested in 2014.
Abdul Hakeem, an associate of Choudary, told Britain’s ITV network in a video that imprisoning Choudary will not prevent his message from being distributed. In fact, it may strengthen the preacher in the eyes of his followers, writes ITV. That reputation might also carry into prison.
Middle Eastern authorities have long tried to fight Islamic radicalization in prisons. In Jordan, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of the predecessor of IS, as well as his followers were radicalized in prison, as The Washington Post’s Joby Warrick wrote in the book, “Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS.”
“There is increasing evidence that prisons in the West are now starting to play a similar role – particularly in the United Kingdom, which has seen more 'homegrown' terrorist plots (and consequently more terrorist convictions) than any other Western country,” James Brandon, a senior research fellow at the Quilliam Foundation, a British counter-extremism think-tank, in 2009.
Mr. Brandon also called for new strategies in Western prisons to combat this trend.
“A new, tailor-made approach is needed. Failure to take such steps not only risks allowing prisons to become hubs of radicalization, but also squanders the priceless opportunity to deradicalize leading extremists so that they can be used to deconstruct jihadist ideology,” he wrote.