Pockets of extremist activity in universities by Hizb ut-Tahrir are being identified as the Government prepares a fresh crackdown on hardline Islamist groups.
David Cameron and ministers are examining whether new legal restrictions short of an outright ban can be imposed on Hizb ut-Tahrir, which has several thousand members in Britain. The issue has been discussed by the anti-terror taskforce set up by the Prime Minister after Drummer Lee Rigby’s murder in Woolwich in May.
Efforts both by Labour and Coalition governments to outlaw Hizb ut-Tahrir have foundered because the organisation does not advocate terrorism and condemned the 11 September attacks in New York and 7 July bombings in London.
Ministers have also been shown reports discounting claims that it acts as a “conveyor belt” to violent extremism. But ministers are preparing to return to the subject amid warnings they have “significant concerns” about its activities.
A Whitehall source said: “We think it is right to keep looking at this, especially after Woolwich. That is what we are doing.
“The problem has been the level of proof that we need to proscribe a group as there is an appeals mechanism built in to the system. But we are looking at other things we could do to ensure that groups like them, which we are concerned about, are not allowed to prosper.”
The source said ministers were grappling with the problem of how to counter and challenge extremist rhetoric at the same time as defending principles of free speech.
One possibility is that Hizb ut-Tahrir would be banned from holding meetings in public buildings such as universities.
When he was in opposition, Mr Cameron called for the group to be banned and attacked Labour for failing to act.
James Brokenshire, the Security minister, told MPs this week that the issue was back on the agenda. He said: “We are looking again at how we might deal with groups that fall below the current threshold for proscription but none the less espouse extremist views.”
Saying the Government had “significant concerns” about the organisation, he added: “We will seek to ensure that Hizb ut-Tahrir and groups like it cannot operate without challenge in public places in this country. We will not tolerate secret meetings behind closed doors on premises funded by the taxpayer, and we will ensure that civic organisations are made well aware of Hizb ut-Tahrir and groups like it.”
In a separate written answer, Mr Brokenshire said the Government had “unambiguous evidence” that the group was targeting universities and colleges with large numbers of Muslim students.
Newly-appointed experts were “identifying pockets of extremist ideology in universities and helping to equip institutions and student groups to challenge those ideas”, he said.