Acolytes of hate preacher Anjem Choudary hide behind 150 fronts
Followers of the hate preacher Anjem Choudary and his banned al-Muhajiroun organisation have set up more than 150 front groups to try to evade the authorities.
Altogether they have operated under 181 guises, including innocuous sounding platforms such as the Peaceful Society, the Bureau of Islamic Resources and even the Action Committee against British Terrorism.
The spin-off groups have been meticulously documented for the first time by Michael Kenney, associate professor of international affairs at Pittsburgh University, who has charted the rise of Choudary and his acolytes for many years.
His research, published in a new book, The Islamic State in Britain, shows the efforts taken by UK extremists to mask their activities and the problems they pose for law enforcement agencies.
Al-Muhajiroun — which means “the Emigrants” in Arabic — and 10 offshoots were proscribed by the Home Office between 2006 and 2014. Kenney’s work suggests that a vast number of spin-off groups and platforms could have gone under the radar.
One extremist told Kenney: “They keep banning us and proscribing us and we pop up again.”
Disciples of Choudary and al-Muhajiroun have been involved in dozens of terrorist plots and attacks.
They include Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, who murdered Fusilier Lee Rigby outside Woolwich barracks in southeast London in 2013. Khuram Butt, ringleader of the London Bridge attacks in 2017, was another acolyte.
Many supporters travelled to Syria and Iraq to join Isis. Siddhartha Dhar, a former bouncy castle salesman from east London, featured in a propaganda video shooting dead a prisoner. It earned him the nickname Jihadi Sid.
Choudary, 51, was jailed in 2016 for inviting support for Isis. He was released on licence in October and is living in a bail hostel in Camden, north London. He is banned from social media and from associating with his former cronies.
Some of Choudary’s followers have taken up his mantle and use Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, central London, to give firebrand sermons while hiding their links to al-Muhajiroun.
Kenney notes in his book: “As activists face more pressure from law enforcers, they now frequently engage in da’wah [proselytising] without using banners that publicise their platforms.”
Front groups are not limited to Islamist extremists. Followers of National Action, the neo-Nazi outfit banned in 2016, have tried to outwit the authorities by operating under alternative names. Its activists, who celebrated the murder of Jo Cox, the MP, in 2016 have resurfaced under the banners of Scottish Dawn and NS131. These groups have now been banned.
“It’s like playing a game of whack-a-mole,” said a counterterrorism source. “You ban a group and it turns up again under two other names.”