Muslims Against Crusades, the small but controversial extremist Islamist group that was planning to disrupt Armistice Day ceremonies, disbanded today after the Home Office announced that it would become a proscribed organisation by midnight.
The decision to ban the group was made in Parliament by Home Secretary Theresa May who said that Muslims Against Crusades was “simply another name for an organisation already proscribed under a number of names.”
The group is led by Anjem Choudary, an unemployed Islamist and protégé of exiled firebrand cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed. It recent years it has been behind a series of publicity grabbing protests against British foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan that have generated public outrage and led to condemnation from mainstream Muslim organisations who fear that their tactics feed Islamophobia.
The ban makes it a criminal offence for anyone to be a member or fundraise for Muslims Against Crusades although critics say Mr Choudary and his followers will simply avoid publicity for a few months before resurfacing under a new name. In ten years from 2001, only 15 people have been convicted of proscription related offences.
The group said it had cancelled its planned “Hell for Heroes” protest planned for tomorrow. The Home Office said today that police could still take action if protests went ahead not under the group’s banner.
Before today, 47 international terrorist organisations were proscribed under the 2000 Terrorism Act, including the forerunner of Muslims Against Crusades which was proscibed in 2006 under new powers preventing the “glorification of terrorism”.
Previous attempts to proscribe groups associated with Mr Choudary and Omar Bakri have done little to halt them spreading their virulent anti-Western messages. Their groups have previously gone under eight monikers including al-Muhajiroun, the Saviour Sect, Islam4UK and al-Ghurabaa – all of which have been proscribed. The measures mean that the financial assets of the organisation become terrorist property and can be seized.
Houriya Ahmed, an analyst at the Henry Jackson Society who has researched extremist Islamist networks in Britain, questioned both the timing and efficacy of a new proscription. “I’m not sure what, if any, effect this will have,” she said. “It might send out a powerful message but it does little to actually stop the individuals in these groups from propagating their message of hate and intolerance. Muslims Against Crusades have been around for months, so why this proscription now?”
The announcement by the Home Secretary followed a number of meetings with the Metropolitan Police, according to Scotland Yard sources. The decision on timing was taken by the Home Office, embroiled in a dispute over the relaxation of border checks at UK borders.
Last year Mr Choudary and his supporters captured national headlines when they burned two large poppies outside the Royal Albert hall during the Remembrace Day silence. He threatened to do something similar during tomorrow’s ceremonies with a protest dubbed “Hell for Heroes”.
A coalition of Muslim organisations, operating under the banner United Against Extremism, had vowed to hold a counter demonstration to show that the majority of British Muslims are opposed to My Choudary’s views and methods. The Ahmadi community – a sect of Muslims that Mr Choudary’s followers would regard as heretics – also spent two days earlier this month selling poppies at London Underground stations.
There has been much debate over how influential Mr Choudary’s groups are. Some analysts see him as a virulent firebrand whose groups could inspire Muslims to commit political violence or to act as a conduit to more extremist groups. Others say Mr Choudary’s influence is overstated and that he should be treated as a political non-entity in much the way the media, police and politicians treat the publicity hungry anti-homosexual Westboro Baptist Church in the United States.
An analysis of all Islamist terror conviction since 1999 by the Henry Jackson society found that two thirds of perpetrators had no known links to proscribed organisations. But of the third that did, 53 percent had a previous link to Mr Choudary’s organisations, more than the 40 percent associated with al-Qa’ida.
Speaking to The Independent tonight Mr Choudary described the ban as a “victory” for his organisation. “The protest was called to highlight our opposition to the British government and how poppies are used to stifle the debate about the role of British troops in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “That objective has been achieved.”
Asked whether his group supports Islamist terrorism he said: “If terrorism is the use of violence against a civilian population for political purposes then that’s exactly what the British government does. I have been very clear that we have a covenant of security in Britain in that we do not target the life and wealth of people here in return for our wealth and life being protected. We have many platforms and stalls around the UK and we meet many people but that does not mean we encourage them to carry out violent or military operations.”
Shaynul Khan, the deputy diorector of East London mosque, which has previously clashed with Muslims Against Crusade, said opinion was divided over the proscription of Mr Choudary’s latest group.
“Our humble opinion would be that MAC has contributed towards nothing but distress for the British public, whether Muslim, people of other faith or none,” he said. “Their ideology only contributes towards creating separatism and creating community disharmony.”
He added: “Proscribing them means there is recognition of their separatist agenda and we look forward to news reports and discussions without them being the 'representative' voice of Islam. We hope we can go some way in also proscribing the English Defence League."