Anjem Choudary, one of the most outspoken and provocative Islamists in Britain today, has been remanded in custody, charged with the terrorism offense of encouraging people to join the Islamic State.
The charge is related to Choudary sending messages to his 32,000 social media followers, allegedly encouraging them to join the Islamic State -- the radical Sunni Islamist group that has taken control over large parts of Syria and Iraq, and has threatened to attack targets in Europe and North America.
The effort to prosecute Choudary -- well known for his relentless efforts to implement Islamic Sharia law in the UK -- indicates that the British government intends to follow through on its recent pledge to crack down on radical Islam in the country.
It remains to be seen, however, if Choudary's detention will serve as a deterrent to other Islamists in Britain. A recent BBC poll found that 45% of British Muslims believe extremist clerics who preach violence against the West are not "out of touch" with mainstream Muslim opinion.
Choudary was originally arrested in September 2014 during police raids in London, as part of an ongoing Metropolitan Police investigation into Islamist-related terrorism. He was subsequently released on bail while police continued their investigation.
On August 5, Choudary, 48, and an associate, Mohammed Rahman, 32, appeared at Westminster Magistrates' Court and were charged with repeatedly violating Section 12 of the Terrorism Act 2000 between June 2014 and March 2015.
Addressing the court, Sue Hemming, the head of special crime and counter-terrorism at the Crown Prosecution Service, said:
"It is alleged that Anjem Choudary and Mohammed Rahman invited support for ISIS [also known as the Islamic State] in individual lectures which were subsequently published online. We have concluded that there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to prosecute Anjem Choudary and Mohammed Rahman."
When asked by the judge to indicate how he would plead, Choudary said: "Cameron and the police are guilty." The judge replied that he took that to mean that he would be pleading not guilty. Choudary will remain in police custody until August 28, when he is set to appear at the Old Bailey, the Criminal Court of England and Wales. If convicted, Choudary faces up to ten years in prison.
Until now, Choudary, a lawyer by training, has managed to avoid prison by treading the fine legal line between the inflammatory rhetoric of Islamic supremacism and the right to free speech. He has never been convicted of any offense.
Choudary is the former leader of the Muslim extremist group, al-Muhajiroun (Arabic: "The Emigrants"). Al-Muhajiroun, which celebrated the terrorist attacks on the United States in September 2001, was banned in January 2010.
Since then, al-Muhajiroun has repeatedly reinvented itself under an array of successor aliases. These include, among others: Islam4UK, Call to Submission, Islamic Path, Islamic Dawa Association, London School of Sharia, Muslims Against Crusades and Need4Khalifah, all of which have also been banned.
A study published by the London-based Henry Jackson Society in September 2014 found that one in five terrorists convicted in Britain over more than a decade have had links to al-Muhajiroun.
A report published by the British anti-extremist group Hope Not Hate in November 2013 concluded that al-Muhajiroun was "the single biggest gateway to terrorism in recent British history."
Al-Muhajiroun is said to have also played a major role in radicalizing Michael Adebolajo, who was found guilty of murdering (and attempting to decapitate) the British soldier Lee Rigby outside London's Woolwich Barracks in May 2013.
Choudary said Rigby would "burn in hellfire" as a non-Muslim, and also praised Adebolajo as a "martyr." He said:
"Allah said very clearly in the Koran 'Don't feel sorry for the non-Muslims.' So as an adult non-Muslim, whether he is part of the Army or not part of the Army, if he dies in a state of disbelief then he is going to go to the hellfire.
"That's what I believe so I'm not going to feel sorry for non-Muslims. We invite them to embrace the message of Islam. If they don't, then obviously if they die like that they're going to the hellfires."
Police say that Choudary's rhetoric has become more incendiary since June 2014, when the Islamic State proclaimed itself to be an Islamic Caliphate, a theocracy ruled according to Sharia law. Since then, police say, Choudary has repeatedly crossed the legal threshold for criminal prosecution for encouraging terrorism, such as justifying the beheading of the American journalist, James Foley, and the British aid worker, Alan Henning.
Choudary believes that the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is "the caliph of all Muslims" and that Shariah law will eventually "be in command even in America and in Britain and in China and in Russia and everywhere else."
The expansion of the Caliphate, the global implementation of Sharia law and Islamic supremacism are common themes in Choudary's Twitter universe, where -- through a daily barrage of anti-Western tweets -- he repeatedly admonishes his nearly 33,000 followers to avoid assimilating into British culture.
In one tweet, Choudary wrote:
"Eventually the whole world will be governed by Shari'ah & Muslims will have authority over China Russia USA etc. This is the promise of Allah."
He also tweeted:
"Under the Shari'ah, the false Gods that people worship instead of Allah will be removed, like democracy, freedom, liberalism, secularism etc."
In another tweet, Choudary wrote:
"A Muslim always prefers: Shari'ah over Democracy, Submission over Freedom, Khilafah over Secularism, Jihad over oppression, Allah over [Prime Minister David] Cameron!"
Again, he tweeted:
"Cameron needs to accept that Islam is the fastest growing religion/way of life in Britain today & that one day Shari'ah will be implemented!"
On July 14, Choudary tweeted:
"The Khalifah [Caliphate] must ensure that no non-Muslim criticizes Islam or tries to convert Muslims to their own false belief, only Islam is propagated."
On July 10, he tweeted:
"When the Shari'ah comes to UK/France/US/Russia/China we'll ban Alcohol, Gambling, Fornication, Pornography, Usury, Democracy, Freedom, The UN etc."
On July 6, Choudary wrote:
"The only time Muslims, Christians & Jews lived together peacefully with their honor protected in Europe was under the Shari'ah in Spain."
After the July 2015 shootings of American servicemen by a Muslim in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Choudary tweeted:
"There's a conflict in the world between those who believe Sovereignty belongs to Allah & those who believe it belongs to Obama! #Chattanooga."
"The cycle of violence that we find ourselves in can be resolved. Muslims, Christians & Jews can live peacefully under Shari'ah! #Chattanooga."
Choudary, who was born in the UK, has also explained how he feels about his British citizenship:
"We are Muslims first and Muslim last. Passports are no more than travel documents. If you are born in a barn that doesn't make you a horse!!"
Choudary, who is married and has four children, enjoys a comfortable lifestyle that is being paid for, year after year, by British taxpayers. In 2010, the newspaper The Sun reported that he takes home more than £25,000 (€35,000; $38,000) a year in welfare benefits.
In February 2013, Choudary urged his followers to quit their jobs and claim unemployment benefits so that they could have more time to plot holy war against non-Muslims. He said Muslims are entitled to welfare payments because they are a form of jizya, a tax imposed on non-Muslims in countries run by Muslims. According to Sharia law, the jizya is a reminder that non-Muslims are permanently inferior and subservient to Muslims.
In a video, Choudary said:
"We [Muslims] take the jizya, which is ours anyway. The normal situation is to take money from the kuffar [non-Muslim]. They give us the money. You work, give us the money, Allahu Akhbar. We take the money."
Meanwhile, Choudary's Twitter followers have threatened violence unless he is released. In one tweet, a supporter used the hashtag #FreeAnjemChoudary with a picture of Big Ben and the flag of the Islamic State. Another tweet said: "The black days is coming to Britain if it doesnt [sic] release the Muslims." Yet another said: "O Allah! Whoever has harmed them, then harm him, n whoever has shown enmity to them, then show enmity to them." And another: "The shariah of Allah is the only solution for UK. #democracy is rotten."
According to data compiled by an online analytics company, the hashtag #FreeAnjemChoudary was shared nearly 600 times in first the 24 hours after Choudary's detention, potentially reaching 700,000 people. The data shows that most of Choudary's supporters are living in the West: 69% of Choudary's supporters are tweeting from Britain, Canada and the United States, and another 10% tweeting from Australia.
Choudary says he is not afraid of going to prison, which he describes as a fertile ground for gaining more converts to Islam. "If they arrest me and put me in prison, I will carry on in prison," he warned. "I will radicalize everyone in prison."
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.