For hate preacher Anjem Choudary, freedom has mostly been sweet since he was released from Belmarsh prison in 2018 after serving half of a lengthy prison sentence for inciting support for Islamic State.
Despite severe restrictions on his movements — he’s electronically tagged and effectively gagged — he’s since been spotted out and about as late as 11pm.
And just weeks ago the north London resident had his ban on public speaking lifted.
The ban on his accounts by big social media companies will be a set-back to him reaching his following, but he has other ways to spread his message such as sending essays promoting Shariah Law to a network of Whatsapp contacts.
For hate preacher Anjem Choudary, freedom has mostly been sweet since he was released from Belmarsh prison in 2018 after serving half of a lengthy prison sentence for inciting support for Islamic State
Yet many might think it deeply offensive that this disgraced Islamist, who co-founded the British jihadist network al-Muhajiroun and has been an avowed supporter of terrorism here and abroad, is once again walking the streets of the capital.
Security experts have told the Mail that Choudary’s very presence in public is providing succour to followers of his despicable ideology.
Choudary is now back living with his wife Rubana Akhtar, 43, and their five children. Akhtar has been investigated for promoting extremism, but enquiries were dropped in September 2019. Their household, of course, ticks along thanks to generous benefit payments.
There is concern that Choudary’s new visibility is reigniting interest in his banned jihadist network al-Muhajiroun (which means the Emigrants).
In recent years this deadly group has been disrupted by arrests and anti-terrorism laws, but there are fears it is now reconstituting itself, splintering into smaller cells meeting in secret.
Hope Not Hate chief executive Nick Lowles, who has spent years monitoring Islamist and Far-Right groups, warns that even while depleted, al-Muhajiroun remains ‘Britain’s most proliﬁc and dangerous extremist group’.
All of this however is a world away from Choudary’s previous incarnation as a fun-loving student at Southampton University. Then he was known as ‘Andy’ and was a smoking and beer-swigging womaniser.
He became radicalised after meeting the Syrian cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed at a mosque in Woolwich, South-East London. He was Bakri’s lieutenant, helping to found al-Muhajiroun in 1996.
The group gained worldwide prominence in 2002 when it advertised ‘The Magnificent 19’, a conference convened to celebrate the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and honour those who carried them out.
Choudary would eventually succeed Bakri as leader when the latter quit Britain for Lebanon in the wake of the London bombings of July 7, 2005, which killed 56 people. (The leader of the 7/7 attacks, Mohammad Sidique Khan, was linked to al-Muhajiroun.) Bakri now languishes in prison in Lebanon following his arrest in 2010.
Banned in 2006, al-Muhajiroun has over the years simply mutated, adopting new names to keep one step ahead of the authorities.
According to American academic Michael Kenney, author of The Islamic State In Britain, it has adopted 181 separate identities in the UK and abroad.
Having avoided arrest for years despite his overt sympathy for extremism and his terrorist links, Choudary was convicted at the Old Bailey in 2016 for swearing an oath of allegiance to Islamic State. It was the culmination of a police inquiry that involved 20 years of material, 333 electronic devices and 12 terabytes of data.
Professor Kenney, who believes hardcore supporters of Choudary can be counted in dozens, says: ‘He doesn’t want to go back to prison. These people are very careful when they are on licence. But it will be interesting to see what will happen in the summer of 2021 [when the licence expires].’
More than 25,000 people in the UK are thought to be radicalised, of whom 3,000 to 4,000 are being watched. Returnee jihadists add hugely to this burden.