Britain's Islamic preacher charged with 'inviting support' for ISIS

Anjem Choudary has long been a source of frustration and anger for the government for encouraging extremist ideas, but British officials were not able to find a legal way to hold him responsible.

Tal Cohen/Reuters/File
Islamic preacher Anjem Choudary (c.) addresses members of the media during a protest supporting the Shari'ah law, in north London in October 31, 2009.

Anjem Choudary, one of Britain's best-known radical Islamist preachers, was charged Wednesday with encouraging support for the Islamic State, as Britain puts its new antiterror policy to test.

Mr. Choudary was charged alongside an associate, Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, with “inviting support” for the Islamic State “between June 29, 2014, and March 6 of this year,” according to Sue Hemming, head of special crime and counterterrorism at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). 

“It is alleged that Anjem Choudary and Mohammed Rahman invited support for ISIS [The Islamic State] in individual lectures which were subsequently published online,” Mrs. Hemming said.

Choudary has long been a source of frustration and anger for British officials for encouraging extremist ideas. 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.

Mr. Choudary was aware that he is under investigation by CPS. On Aug. 3, he wrote on his Twitter account: 

Both Choudhary and Mr. Rahman were arrested on Sept. 25 last year on suspicion of being members of the Islamic State. Choudary was released after a day.

Born in the UK to Pakistani parents, Choudary is the former UK head of Islamist group al-Muhajiroun, which was banned in 2010.

Even though he has led various radical groups that were later banned, Choudary has never been convicted of anything beyond organizing an unlawful demonstration, The Washington Post reported.

A lawyer by training, Choudary has a reputation for knowing how to stay on the right side of the law.

“These guys are very good at knowing where the limits of the law lie,” Richard Barrett, a former counterterrorism director with Britain’s foreign intelligence service, MI6, explained to the Washington Post in October 2014. “They’re also very slick, very plausible, and very persuasive.”

More than 700 Britons are thought to have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State, according to British police.

Choudary has always denied allegations that he has actively supported acts of terrorism or encouraged people to fight for the Islamic State.

“There’s no evidence that he’s directly implicated in these plots,” Nick Lowles, Hope Not Hate’s chief executive, told The Washington Post last October. “But he gives the ideological justification for jihad, for war against the West.”

In June 2013, Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick said they were “constantly assessing” whether any of Choudary’s speeches or outbursts have broken the law.

This time the move against Choudary comes amid Prime Minister David Cameron’s vow to tackle Islamic extremists through a five-year strategy.

On July 20 Mr. Cameron said the new strategy would allow officials to confront groups and organizations that might not advocate violence but do promote extremism.

He also added that it is not enough for groups to condemn the Islamic State. “I find it remarkable that some groups say 'We don’t support ISIL [The Islamic State]' as if that alone proves their anti-extremist credentials. And let’s be clear, Al Qaeda don’t support ISIL,” Mr. Cameron noted. “So we can’t let the bar sink to that level. Condemning a mass-murdering, child-raping organization cannot be enough to prove you’re challenging the extremists."

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