As part of ongoing research on both radical Islamist and far-right extremism, I spent the best part of 2009 following the activities of one British city’s al-Muhajiroun group. Also known as Islam4UK, this small group led by Omar Bakri and then Anjem Choudary has been a long-term irritant to the government, as well a staging post in the lives of many British terrorists.
Khuram Shahzad Bhat, Shahzad Bhat, Bhat, Pakistan-born British terrorist, British terrorist, terrorist Pakistan-born British terrorist Khuram Shahzad Bhat. Photo: PTI
Many of those who have committed terrorist violence in the UK and abroad have been part of or connected to the group. Khuram Butt – one of the three London Bridge attackers – is just the latest. Butt was a known follower of the al-Muhajiroun network.
Demonstrations and media appearances by its leaders have caused outrage time and time again – and led to the forming of the right-wing English Defence League (EDL) in opposition to its ideas. In both 2006 and 2010, the group was banned on the grounds of glorification of terrorism, only to reappear under other names.
The group was formed in 1996, when Omar Bakri was expelled from Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist group that aims to restore the historic Caliphate to unite all Muslims. Hizb ut-Tahrir works politically and intellectually, and so did not appreciate Bakri’s “aggressive populist approach and high media profile … street demonstrations, mass rallies and public conversions”. While al-Muhajiroun shared some of Hizb ut-Tahrir’s long-term goals, it seems its immediate aim was to be visibly disruptive.