One of United Kingdom's most notorious preachers, Anjem Choudary (49) has been convicted of inviting membership and support for Islamic State. The London-based preacher was arrested in 2014 after years of hate speeches that always stayed "just within the law".
For years, Choudary has been accused of inciting hatred and driving a wedge between Muslims and the rest of the world. It should be noted that he is believed to have radicalised a generation of would-be terrorists over 20 years. Authorities report that many people tried for serious terror offences have been influenced by his lectures and speeches.
The 49-year-old preacher has been connected to 15 terror plots since 2000 and has publicly defended crimes of terrorism like the Charlie Hebdo terror attack in Paris, the murder of Lee Rigby and the 11 September, 2001 attacks. He regularly dismisses allegations of Islamic State atrocities and defends the use of crucifixion. He also acknowledges Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the "caliph of all Muslims and the prince of believers". On one occasion he even called for the assassination of the Pope.
In an interview with Sun News, soon after the Charlie Hebdo murders, he was quoted as saying, "The Muslims retaliated for the insult of their messenger Mohammed by a cartoonist and satirist... There is a clear narration of the prophet which says Whoever insults the prophet, kill them. I think that should be done by Islamic State and these individuals should be tried by Sharia court, and if found guilty the capital punishment should be given."
Choudary was arrested in 2014 after his name appeared on an oath recognising the "proclaimed Islamic Caliphate State" which is against British law according to section 12 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The London-born preacher denied encouraging his followers to back IS and said the oath had been made without his knowledge.
On 28 July, he was convicted for his crime and sentenced to serve prison time of at least 10 years.
This UK firebrand has remained one of the most well-known faces of radical Muslim in Britain for years and dreams that one day there will be Sharia law throughout the world — where women will be forced to wear burkhas and severe punishment will be meted out for drinking alcohol or lewd behaviour.
He gained attention for these headline-grabbing statements and stunts that provoked outrage but stayed on within the law, such as protesting outside the United States Embassy on the anniversary of 9/11 and burning memorial poppies on Remembrance Day (11 November) in the UK. Over the years, his eloquence fooled many into believing he was a rational man.
From partyboy to Godman
Choudary was born in 1967 in Welling, Kent, England. The son of a market trader of Pakistani descent, he went to study medicine at St Bartholomew's Medical School but dropped out after one year, claiming he had become "disillusioned" with medicine. He then went on to study for legal practice exams at Guildford School of Law in Surrey and then took a job teaching English before he became a lawyer.
But before all the radicalism, Anjem was known 'Andy' — a cider-loving, LSD-taking, notorious womaniser of Southampton University. Friends who knew him as 'Andy' say he was far removed from Islamic fundamentalism.
The Sun quoted a friend from the time as saying, "When I knew him, he liked to be called Andy, would often smoke spliffs all day, and was proud of his ability to drink a pint in a couple of seconds. And he was ruthless with girls. He would pull one of them every few days, sleep with her, then move on to another.”
Choudary admitted to being a 'party animal' and was heard commenting, "I admit that I wasn't always practising... I committed many mistakes in my life."
In 1996 he married his wife Rubana Akhtar, with whom he has five children. According to reports, Rubana, who is the leader of the female wing of Choudary's banned terror group — Al-Muhajiroun — encouraged Choudary to sign an oath of allegiance to the Islamic State caliphate. She played a key role in Choudary's circle, joining Al-Muhajiroun in 2003 straight out of university.
Counter-terrorism experts also went on to describe her as a 'dangerous' extremist, who played a major role in recruiting 100 women for IS since 2014.
Choudary was the chairman of the Society of Muslim Lawyers and founded groups under the name of al-Muhajiiroun and Islam4UK, which were later banned.
He was a student of the Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tiharir (HT), which was led in the UK by Islamist militant leader Omar Bakri Muhammed. He later co-founded Al-Muhajiroun, a Salafi Wahhabi organisation, with Bakri. The duo engaged with local Muslims giving lectures outlining the ideas for a parallel system of Islamic education. They would hold public meetings and organise assemblies, explaining the group's ideology.
Bakri was later banned from entering the United Kingdom and Choudary condemned the government's decision of banning Bakri on the grounds that his presence in Britain was "not conducive to the public good."
Choudary was also a spokesperson for Al-Ghurabaa — an offshoot of Al-Muhajiroun. The organisation was later proscribed by the then home secretary. His other organisation Islam4UK was also a splinter group of al- Muhajiroun and "was established by sincere Muslims as a platform to propagate the supreme Islamic ideology within United Kingdom as a divine alternative to man-made law" and to "convince the British public about the superiority of Islam... thereby, changing public opinion in favour of Islam in order to transfer the authority and power... to the Muslims in order to implement the Shariah in Britain."
Choudary has been condemned by fellow Muslims and has also been often laughed upon as a joke figure of no signaficance. Yet he is known to have links with various terrorists.
When asked in an interview by The Guardian to comment on the beheading of American journalist James Foley and his fellow hostage, US-Israeli journalist Steven Sotloff, he revealed, "I'd recognise his voice if it was someone I knew," but he refused to condemn the executions. He said, "There are circumstances in Sharia where there is capital punishment for crimes that have been committed, Now I don't know anything about these journalists, why they were there, whether they were spying or in fact part of the military. Often it turns out that people have other roles as well."
Choudary was often seen on news channels defending the brutal killings by the IS in a matter-of-fact tone of voice. He repeatedly asserted that there was a consistent suppression of Muslims in the west and Islam will inevitably triumph.
A sample of Choudary's inflammatory opinion:
In a BBC interview, former Islamist, British activist, author and politician Maajid Nawaz talked to Choudary about what it meant to be a Muslim. This interview became really popular and brought to fore, the extreme radicalism that Choudary practices.
First Published On : Aug 17, 2016 12:00 IST