Daily Mail

Will this fanatic branded despicable by fellow Muslims spark new terror wave?

- By Neil Tweedie

HE laughs boorishly for the camera across a pub table crammed with half-drained pint glasses and cans of cider, while a friend sitting next to him flaunts a copy of a soft-porn magazine. As a young man – a failed medical student turned aspiring lawyer – Anjem Choudary liked porn, casual sex, booze and getting stoned.

Now, at the age of 51, he prefers others to get stoned – but not on drugs. ‘For people who have had adultery committed against them, people who have had their wives taken, a lot will say: “I think stoning to death is appropriat­e”,’ he has said.

Welcome to the warped, medieval world of Britain’s most virulent Islamist hate-preacher who, following his expected release from prison today, is back in circulatio­n – albeit hemmed in by draconian restrictio­ns on his freedom.

Choudary, who was raised in Kent by Pakistani immigrant parents, is a man consumed with hatred for the liberal society that nurtured him, and a believer in the unforgivin­g rule of sharia law. In his universe, for every human weakness there is a brutally appropriat­e punishment, including crucifixio­n, and for every infidel a place in hellfire.

This so-called cleric, who is not a recognised religious scholar, has inspired some of Britain’s most infamous Islamist terrorists, including Khuram Butt, leader of the London Bridge attacks in June last year, and Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, murderers of Fusilier Lee Rigby who was hacked to death in Woolwich in 2013.

It is thought that more than 100 terrorists owe him some degree of allegiance, and many more acolytes have made their way to Syria to take part in jihad. Choudary, a qualified solicitor who used his skills to stay just the right side of the law during two decades of extolling extremism, was brought to justice after being caught expressing support for the banned terrorist sect Islamic State.

Jailed for five and a half years at the Old Bailey in August 2016, he is now free on licence after serving half his sentence – to the frustratio­n of those who understand the danger he represents.

‘I would describe him as a hardened terrorist, somebody who has had huge influence on the Islamist extremist scene in this country over many years,’ says Richard Walton, a former head of Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command. ‘I believe we are under-estimating the potency and danger of the radicalise­rs who don’t carry knives, guns and overtly plot terrorist attacks but who pollute the minds of young Muslim men.’

During a debate in the House of Lords on the Government’s proposed counter-terrorism and border security Bill this month, Lord Anderson, a former independen­t reviewer of terrorism legislatio­n, said a quarter of jihadis convicted in Britain between 2001 and 2015 were ‘associated’ with Choudary, compared with a tenth linked to alQaeda and one in 20 connected to Islamic State.

Describing Choudary as a ‘ highly dangerous fanatical extremist’, prisons minister Rory Stewart has promised that he will be subject to roundthe-clock surveillan­ce.

Under the terms of his early release, which cannot be prevented under current law, he will be housed in a probation hostel in London for six months, away from his family home in Ilford in the east of the city, and must remain within the area bounded by the M25 motorway.

He will be electronic­ally tagged, subject to a curfew, banned from preaching and attending certain mosques, allowed to associate only with ‘approved’ people and barred from using the internet. A single mobile phone is allowed – but subject to examinatio­n at any time. In addition, Choudary’s assets have been frozen, and he will be subject to strict limits on financial activity.

MI5 and intelligen­ce agency GCHQ will participat­e in the surveillan­ce operation targeting the preacher, but pressure on resources makes continuous physical surveillan­ce less likely. With 23,000 potential extremists at large, they have their hands full.

Choudary spent most of his sentence at Frankland high-security prison in County Durham. It is one of three institutio­ns in Britain equipped with a separation unit, a ‘prison-within-aprison’ intended to isolate terrorists from ordinary inmates.

Choudary, whose release date takes into account time spent on curfew and remand before his trial, was allowed to associate only with a handful of similar prisoners, and subject to psychologi­cal and spiritual counsellin­g involving an approved imam.

Much good it did him – he is reported to be as extreme as ever and has been penning a book chroniclin­g his ‘martyrdom’. ‘Choudary may not have coached suicide bombers directly,’ says David Videcette, a former counter-terrorism officer,’ but he is the calibre of person who would do such a thing. A person thinking of sacrificin­g his or herself for Allah, in Syria or elsewhere, will seek this man’s approval, and he has the contacts to make this ambition a reality.’

Now he is expected to tread very carefully, giving the authoritie­s no excuse to send him back to prison.

‘He is aware of what the law allows him to say and what not to say, and he rarely steps over the line,’ adds Mr Videcette. ‘He knows how not to get himself into trouble – we were extremely lucky to find some material showing him promoting IS that allowed us to put him away. He remains a danger to anyone with whom he comes into contact – those who are vulnerable and impression­able.’

CHOUDARY studied medicine at Southampto­n University but failed his first-year exams and took up law. As an undergradu­ate, he was known as Andy, a ‘party animal’ who indulged his appetite for alcohol, cannabis and women.

Estrangeme­nt from British society began with his failure to secure a job in a top law firm and he began to gravitate towards extremism, becoming a disciple of Syrian- born Islamist preacher Omar Bakri Muhammad. Together, the men founded al-Muhajiroun (ALM), a shadowy organisati­on promoting a hardline version of Islam.

All the time, he and his equally radical wife, and their children, were sustained by benefits from the state they both profess to loathe – totalling some £20,000 a year in child benefit, housing benefit and tax credits.

An incubator for terrorism, alMuhajiro­un was proscribed in 2010 but re- emerged under a series of new names such as Muslims Against Crusades. Bakri had left the UK in 2005, leaving Choudary as the guiding light of the Islamist movement here.

A narcissist with a taste for the lime-

light, he was adept at courting media attention. In his vision of the future, the black flag of the caliphate will fly over Buckingham Palace and Downing Street, and the Queen will be forced to cover her face, he repeatedly told journalist­s. In 2010, he led a protest in the Wiltshire market town of Wootton Bassett, through which the coffins of British servicemen killed in action in Afghanista­n were paraded and honoured after being flown in to nearby RAF Lyneham.

‘Goading is part of his strategy,’ says Mr Videcette. ‘He wants to drive a wedge between the Muslim community and the secular community. Terrorism is about polarising views – Muslims are left alone by the main population and that allows extremists to thrive within that community.

‘Choudary is one of the few public faces of Islamist extremism. There are not many people with his public persona, but several hundred who behind closed doors share his views. He is at the top of a hierarchic­al structure that at its base has about 20,000 people who are known to have contact with these hundreds of advisers.’

As a young man, Adam Deen was seduced by the simplistic ‘Muslims against the rest’ message of ALM and joined the group. Now a director of the anti-extremist organisati­on Quilliam, he warns that the impending release of Islamist leaders like Choudary from prison could re- energise groups whose ranks have been thinned by deaths in Syria and other causes.

‘Restrictio­ns are not going to stop Anjem’s act,’ says Mr Deen. ‘Be it middle-men or whoever, he will find a way to make an impact. I would be very surprised if he has in any way been reformed by prison. He has too much invested in his image. Some think he doesn’t mean what he says, but he does. It’s the scariest thing about him.’

SENTENCES for most Islamist extremists in the UK have been relatively short due to the effective tactic of convicting them for convention­al crimes. About half of known extremists were found guilty of other forms of criminalit­y.

This approach resulted in a spate of arrests but now many of those offenders are coming up for release, presenting the already stretched security services with a fresh headache.

A BBC Newsnight report this week cited Akbar Dad Khan, a member of the moderate Muslim group Building Bridges, who warns that al-Muhajiroun is far from a spent force and that ‘thousands’ of Muslims continue to support its aims.

Imprisonme­nt has failed to dent the enthusiasm of many extremists, and Britain’s embattled penal system has, if anything, served as a breeding ground for radicalism. Separation units are not billed as a punishment but as a precaution. So Islamist extremists enjoy access to television, participat­e in Friday prayers and are entitled to a halal diet.

The separation unit at Frankland has been described as ‘successful’ but ‘claustroph­obic’ by prison monitors. The three separation units in the country can hold just

28 prisoners in total. Before he tripped himself up over endorsing IS, Choudary was happy to exploit his country’s protection of free speech while rubbishing the freedom that allowed him to exercise it. ‘you see, we don’t believe in the concepts of freedom and democracy,’ he told an interviewe­r. ‘ We believe sovereignt­y belongs to God.’

Extolling the dystopian horror that was the so-called caliphate establishe­d by IS in Syria and Iraq, he went on: ‘They don’t see in the public arena things like alcohol, drugs, gambling, these kinds of vices. They’ve been completely wiped out.

‘In many respects it’s the kind of society I’d love to live in with my family.’

Radicalism is certainly a feature of the Choudary household. In 1996, Anjem married Rubana Akhtar, then 22. She proved to be every bit as extreme as her husband, being secretly filmed in 2016 speaking in favour of IS, making light of the burning to death in a cage of a captured Jordanian fighter pilot and predicting the destructio­n of the non-Muslim population of Britain.

THEIR daughter, Hediya Mehraj, appears to have followed in her parents’ footsteps. In 2013, the then 16-year- old used Twitter to urge Muslims to wage holy war in Syria. The new counter-terrorism Bill should reduce the legal threshold for incitement, making it easier to prosecute the Choudarys of this world. But the hate preacher of Ilford will be on his guard.

‘ Choudary was hard to catch in the first place and will be harder to catch in future,’ says Mr Videcette. ‘These people become skilled at countering electronic surveillan­ce.

‘They leave their phones in separate rooms and conduct business in open spaces. Messages will be passed by hand, and important contacts made through third parties.

‘Our best bet is to make him as paranoid as possible. We will be looking to feed agents into his circle – people who will be recording him.

‘yes, we are going to bug his phone. yes, we are going to break into his house and bug it. And yes, we are going to install bugs in his car. yes, every single person he talks to could be an agent. But we need to be at the top of our game. We are going to be stuck with him for some time.’

Understand­ably, moderate Muslims are alarmed at the prospect of Choudary’s release. Miqdaad Versi, of the Muslim Council of Britain, says: ‘ Mr Anjem Choudary has long been condemned by Muslim organisati­ons and Muslims across the country, who consider him and his support for Daesh ( IS) to be despicable.

‘Many Muslims have long been puzzled why this man was regularly approached by the media to give outrageous statements that inflamed Islamophob­ia.’

Surely the best thing to do – when once again Anjem Choudary attempts to spread his own special brand of hatred – is to ignore him?

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 ??  ?? Dangerous: Anjem Choudary and, inset, with Lee Rigby’s killer Michael Adebolajo at a London rally
Dangerous: Anjem Choudary and, inset, with Lee Rigby’s killer Michael Adebolajo at a London rally
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