British preacher Anjem Choudary convicted of supporting Islamic State
Tuesday's conviction comes after the 49-year-old lawyer, turned radical cleric, had for years avoided prosecution by skirting dangerously close to the edges of British law.
This was despite glaring indications of Choudary's extremist links and views, including his leadership of banned Salafi Jihadi group al-Muhajiroun and links with the killers convicted with the 2013 murder of a British soldier in London.
Standing trial alongside co-defendant Mohammed Rahman, a jury heard how the duo had sworn allegiance to the Islamic States group's "caliphate" and had urged their followers to go to Syria to support the extremist group.
The pair were found guilty of charges brought against them in July, however details of the trial were still not available for release.
Choudary and Rahman both face jail sentences of up to 10 years for their crimes and will be sentenced on September 6.
"These men have stayed just within the law for many years, but there is no one within the counter-terrorism world that has any doubts of the influence that they have had, the hate they have spread and the people that they have encouraged to join terrorist organisations," said Commander Dean Haydon, head of the Metropolitan police's counter-terrorism command.
"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 added.
"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," he continued, using an alternative acronym for the IS group.
|Anjem Choudary speaking at a rally in London in 2011 [Getty]|
Allegiance to IS
The trial revealed that Choudary was urged to support the IS group by a British extremist who absconded police bail and fled to Syria.
Siddartha Dhar, a convert to Islam who now goes by the name 'Abu Rumaysah', used social media channels to encourage Choudary and Rahman to pledge allegiance to IS 'caliph' Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Dhar was named in January as the narrator and central figure in an IS propaganda film that showed the execution of suspected spies and informers.
In response to Dhar's social media posts, the pair clarified where they stood with regards to the IS group via an extremist website and speeches posted on YouTube.
The initial oath of allegiance to IS was posted to an extremist website on the ninth anniversary of the July 7 London terror attacks.
Choudary and Rahman did this under the names of Abu Luqman and Abu Baraa. This was then followed by YouTube videos posted between August and September 2014, in which the duo encouraged support for the militant group.
In one video played to jurors entitled 'How Muslims Assess the Legitimacy of the Caliphate', Choudary expounds his view on what a legitimate caliphate is and goes on to explain why the IS group fits within this criteria.
"The lesson from this narration is that obedience to the caliph is an obligation, if they rule by the sharia. And to obey them obviously means they must be established," the former al-Muhajiroun leader said.
At another point in the video, Choudary added: "I would just say, uh you know, for people who want to live under sharia law, obviously this is a great thing, and for those people who say we are promoting ISIS, they are not even called ISIS any more. Rather, you have an Islamic State where you have millions of people who are governed by the sharia law and I don’t think it is against the law to go and live there and want to abide by sharia law".
|Mohammed Rahman was convicted alongside Choudary in July [Getty]|
A long history of hate
According to Commander Haydon, 20 years’ worth of material was brought under the scope of investigators prosecuting Choudary. A further 333 electronic devices containing 12.1 terabytes of storage data were also assessed.
As a radical cleric, Choudary was long-associated with groups organising incendiary demonstrations and public speeches in Britain, often calling for a literalist interpretation of Islamic law to be implemented. Groups Choudary has been affiliated with include the now-banned al-Muhajiroun and its successor group Islam4UK.
The former chairman of the Society of Muslim Lawyers studied sharia law under the guidance of Syrian-born firebrand cleric Omar Bakri Muhammad – the Salafi Islamist who formed the al-Muhajiroun group in the 1990s after breaking off from Hizb ut Tahrir, a group dedicated to calling for the establishment of a global caliphate.
When Bakri fled to Lebanon in 2005, Choudary joined him for a period of around 10 weeks. Bakri was later jailed in Lebanon for terror offences.A media darling?
Given the notoriety Choudary was able to build up in British society despite his miniscule following, many Muslims in the UK feel that the media had a huge role to play in the rise of Choudary as Britain's face of Islamic extremism.
Ever-ready to provide news channels and tabloid papers with snappy soundbites of hate, Choudary thus became a go-to man in the aftermath of events related to terror in Britain. This may likely have elevated Choudary's credibility in the eyes of his supporters and stoked tensions between Britain's Muslims and other groups who took Choudary's views to be that of mainstream Islam.
"Anjem Choudary was repeatedly the go to person for mainstream press sources. They knew this man craved the press and limelight and he sought to talk to vulnerable young men through those very same press sources and many willingly and obligingly gave him media platforms in a their ratings war," says Fiyaz Mughal, founder of anti-Muslim hate watchdog Tell MAMA.
"He served their purposes of raising the numbers of viewers and he received a platform for his horrendous and twisted abuse of Islam. It became a symbiotic relationship and some of these press sources should also hang their heads in shame after the verdict".
"Choudary was made a household name by some of these media sources and he damaged the view of British Muslims by his extremist views.
"Today, he rightly has been convicted by a jury of his peers. Yet, editors of some of these media sources will be heading to pubs and drinking venues as if they played no part in the creation of Choudary. However you slice and dice this, Choudary, his supporters and sympathisers were given oxygen by some sections of the media. On that score, the public deserve an apology by some of these media editors".