Ten years in jail for joining extremists

Islam4UK, which planned to march through Wootton Bassett, is outlawed
Click to follow

The Islamist group that provoked public outrage by planning a march through Wootton Bassett is to be banned from operating in Britain, the Government announced yesterday.

A parliamentary order, which comes into effect tomorrow, will make it a criminal offence punishable by up to 10 years in prison for anyone to be a member of Islam4UK, or any other known alias.

The ban extends an existing order made under the Terrorism Act 2000, which prevented the group from using the names Al Ghurabaa and The Saved Sect. Arranging a meeting under any of the group's names is now illegal, as is wearing its emblems or clothes, and its assets can be seized.

The Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, said: "I have laid an order which will proscribe Al Muhajiroun, Islam4UK, and a number of the other names the organisation goes by. It is already proscribed under two other names – Al Ghurabaa and The Saved Sect.

"Proscription is a tough but necessary power to tackle terrorism and is not a course we take lightly. We are clear that an organisation should not be able to circumvent proscription by simply changing its name."

The group caused controversy by threatening to march through Wootton Bassett, the town in Wiltshire close to RAF Lyneham where fallen servicemen are repatriated. Its leader Anjem Choudary, who founded Al Muhajiroun in the 1980s alongside the radical cleric Omar Bakri Mohammad, cancelled the proposed protest on Sunday.

Yesterday, he denied that any members of Islam4UK were involved in violence and described the Government's decision as "a failure of the concept of democracy and freedom".

He told the BBC's Today programme: "The word 'terrorism' has been defined in the dictionary as the use of violence against a community or a section of the community. I have been campaigning to say that that is precisely what the British Government is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan and even domestically.

"Oddly, we are now being targeted as an extremist or terrorist organisation and even banned for merely expressing that. Ultimately, what the people will see is if you don't agree with the Government and you want to expose their foreign policy, then freedom quickly dissipates and turns into dictatorship."

He also warned that banning the group would push young Muslims "underground" where they might turn to violence.

Inayat Bunglawala, from the Muslim Council of Britain, said that while the "overwhelming majority" of British Muslims strongly disapproved of Islam4UK's actions, he felt uncomfortable about the Government's decision to outlaw the group.

He said: "Shouldn't we, as a democracy and a country which upholds the rule of law and order, be banning individuals who break the law rather than banning organisations?"