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Goodbye Al Muhajiroun?

13/01/2012

The decision to proscribe Al Muhajiroun, Islam4UK, and a cluster of their successor groups is not entirely surprising. The combination of a successful prosecution in Luton of five members (or individuals linked to Al Muhajiroun or one of its off-shoots) after their performance at a homecoming parade for troops from Iraq in March 2009 and the fact that the Prime Minister got dragged into the public debate over whether the group was going to make some sort of ceremonial march through Wootton Bassett, all pointed to things coming to some sort of a head. The question really is whether this time it might mean something final for the group?

The short answer is: no. It would seem highly unlikely that this is the last we shall hear of Omar Bakri Mohammed’s acolytes. Last time the Home Office went forwards with a decision to proscribe some of them in July 2006 (that time it was Al Ghurabaa (the strangers) and the Saved Sect), the decision was made in the months after a group of them had been picked up and charged by police for comments they made at a protest outside the Danish Embassy in which they crossed the line and “solicited murder.” In that instance four group members were given custodial sentences, while in April and May of 2007 another six group members were arrested on charges of “inciting terrorism overseas” and “terrorist fundraising.”

This clamp-down of sorts appeared to work for about a year, though the group did not go away and simply adopted a lower profile. Then the websitehttp://www.islam4uk.com popped up and things started to take off again, culminating with ever more confrontational and loud statements, an attack on Conservative Muslim peer Baroness Warsi and the protests for which the aforementioned Luton group were just convicted. And while I have seen nothing linking Christmas Day underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to the group, the renewed attention he drew to today’s Londonistan meant some reaction was likely.

If history is anything to go, this should mean that we will see some further arrests in the near future – recent comments by some prominent members appear to tread close to the lines laid out in recent terrorism legislation of incitement or glorification of terrorism. But this will undoubtedly not stop them from reappearing once again, as such groups thrive on the oxygen of publicity (Anjem Chaudhury was quite open in his admission that the main reason for their raising the idea of the march in Wootton Bassett was to attract publicity), and given the relatively light sentences that will be imposed, these individuals will be in and out of jail (some of those from the previous swathe of arrests are already back out). These boys believe they are about God’s work and a short stint inside is unlikely to deter them.

The more interesting question is what is their relationship to terrorism? The fact they have been proscribed under anti terrorism legislation means that the British government says there is a link – according to the BBC the impetus for the ban was a JTAC report that was commissioned after Al Muhajiroun reappeared last year – but it is hard to imagine that serious terrorists would associate with people who go around drawing the sorts of attention to themselves that the Al Muhajiroun chaps seem to thrive on. Instead, it is more likely that individuals who are involved in terrorism operate on the fringes of such groups – keeping an eye out for possible recruits amongst the zealous youngsters who are drawn in by to these groups. By shutting them down in this way, the government is at least creating a further hurdle to making them quite so easily accessible – though it is likely that they will in the long-term simply reappear under a new guise. For a period at least, they will have to tread carefully.

Conveniently I suppose, this decision to ban the group comes just ahead of an upcoming article that I have in March’s Studies in Conflict and Terrorism journal entitled “The Tottenham Ayatollah and the Hook Handed Cleric: An examination of all their jihadi children,” which catalogues the links to terrorism from Al Muhajiroun and Supporters of Shariah (Bakri and Hamza’s groups respectively). More on that later!