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Leader of Islamist terrorist network jailed for over 3 years after sparking manhunt at UK borders

Man known as LF became senior leader of al-Muhajiroun in Anjem Choudary’s absence

Lizzie Dearden
Security Correspondent
Monday 22 February 2021 10:59 GMT
Police checks at ports caused long tailbacks at Dover under Operation Stack
Police checks at ports caused long tailbacks at Dover under Operation Stack (Getty)

A senior leader of a terrorist network has been jailed after sparking a manhunt that caused nine-hour tailbacks in Dover.

The man, known as LF, is part of the banned al-Muhajiroun (ALM) Islamist group formerly led by Anjem Choudary.

The government proscribed ALM as a terrorist group in 2006 but no one has ever been prosecuted for membership.

Supporters have carried out atrocities including the London Bridge attack, 7/7 bombings and the murder of Lee Rigby, while others plotted attacks and fought for Isis, al-Qaeda and the Taliban abroad.

A High Court case heard that Choudary had been “unable to remain as a key leader in ALM” because of his 2016 prison sentence for inviting support for Isis, and strict licence conditions after being freed.

It said that LF had resumed the role of senior leader “in his absence”, along with others.

He was made subject to Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIM), which allow wide-ranging restrictions to be placed on people deemed to pose a terrorism risk by the security services, even if they have not committed a terror offence.

The Old Bailey heard that on 15 September, LF cut off his electronic monitoring tag and disappeared from his home in Northampton after burning documents.

Prosecutor Kate Wilkinson said that security operations were put in place at British ports “to prevent him from leaving the jurisdiction”, causing nine-hour tailbacks towards Dover.

She said LF, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had been due at a court hearing on the day he disappeared for a review of a previous suspended sentence.

Judge Leonard QC jailed LF for three years and two months on Monday. He received two years and four months for breaching the TPIM, and an additional 10 months for violating the conditions of a 2019 court order.

Anjem Choudary released from prison

“It is clear to me that the conditions imposed were necessary to cope with the threat you pose,” the judge said.

LF had avoided jail for breaching a previous TPIM on the condition that he committed no further offences within two years and abided by all requirements.

Judge Leonard said LF had fled his home because he feared he would be imprisoned at the 15 September court hearing for failing to fully comply with a deradicalisation programme.

“I’m sure it was in your mind when you left in the early hours of the morning of 15 September that you were not coming back,” he told LF. “Fortunately you came to your senses and gave yourself up.”

The judge said that police operations to prevent him fleeing the country had “caused significant disruption to legitimate travellers”.

He described LF as one of the senior leaders of ALM, and said he had a leading role in communication and logistics.

The Old Bailey heard that LF had used online talks to encourage people to travel to Isis-controlled territories.

After his first TPIM expired in October 2018, he returned to London and set up a Twitter account where he continued to publish extremist views.

LF declared that the Islamic concept of a covenant of security had been broken, meaning that attacks on the UK and other countries hosting Muslims were allowed, the court heard.

London Bridge attack ringleader Khuram Butt was a member of ALM at the same time as LF (Channel 4)

Security services found he had met ALM members on a number of occasions in London and other locations, twice hosting them in his own home.

A new TPIM was imposed in November 2019 after he was found to be acting for the benefit of ALM and in possession of Islamist extremist material, including some condoning violence.

A psychiatric report said that the extreme restrictions, which prevent LF from living with his wife and two young children, had put strain on LF and that he was suffering a “moderate depressive episode” during the incident in September.

But Judge Leonard told him that “it was because of your behaviour and stated beliefs these measures were imposed on you”.

In mitigation, defence barrister Catherine Oborne said LF’s motivation in absconding “was not to engage in terrorist-related activity or criminal activity”.

“Having been relocated to a different city, he missed his family and young children,” she added.

“The order had imposed strain on his relationship with his family and particularly his wife, looking after two small children on her own.”

Officers visited LF’s home for a welfare check at around 10.30pm on 14 September, after probation officers raised concerns about his low mood.

Ms Wilkinson said LF would not let police enter his home but made arrangements for them to pick him up for the court hearing the next day.

“At four minutes to 1am that night, the monitoring company received an alert that his electronic tag had been tampered with or removed,” she added.

“Police officers attended the address, arriving at 1.20am. There was no answer at the door, they could hear the phone ringing within the property and an alarm coming from electronic monitoring equipment.”

Ms Wilkinson said police had to break the door down, even though they had keys to the property, because steps had been taken to stop them getting in.

They found that papers had been burned, and that LF had left his approved mobile phone and the tracking tag, which he had removed.

He did not attend his court hearing or check in with a monitoring company as required by his TPIM later that day.

The Old Bailey heard that on 14 September, LF had arranged for a taxi to collect him at 1am and drive him to London for £100.

He was missing until 11.30am on 16 September, when LF handed himself in by asking his solicitors to contact police and tell them he was outside a Sainsbury’s supermarket in Charlton, southeast London.

LF was found sitting on a bench, and with an unapproved mobile phone, and was arrested.

The court heard he had breached his first TPIM by buying a DVD player without permission, failing to report on occasions in 2018, and having conversations with banned associates at his father-in-law’s funeral.

LF has previous convictions for fraud and offensive weapons possession.

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