Cheerleading for IS
Anjem Choudary and al-Muhajiroun’s support for the Islamic State
Anjem Choudary’s, Britain’s most prominent radical Islamist cleric, has been convicted of actively supporting the Islamic State. In a special report, HOPE not hate’s Joe Mulhall reveals how Choudary became IS’s Ambassador-at-large and how his network became the single largest Jihadist recruiting network in Western Europe in the second half of 2014.
With Choudary’s history of defending and supporting the Islamic State, it is perhaps no great surprise that individuals and organisations within his international extremist network have been enthusiastic and important recruiters of international fighters for the war in Iraq and Syria.
In HOPE not hate’s report Gateway to Terror: Anjem Choudary and the al-Muhajiroun Network, published in 2013, we showed how the al-Muhajiroun/Sharia4 network was the single biggest gateway to Islamist terrorism in the UK and highlighted the role it played in encouraging and facilitating activists from across Europe and around the world to go abroad and fight for militant Islamist causes, most notably to what became the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
Since then our findings have been corroborated by numerous experts. According to Raffaello Pantucci, Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), writing in 2015 in the publication of the Combating Terrorism Center at the United States Military Academy West Point, there was: “a reality that was increasingly observable across Europe that the various groups associated with the al-Muhajiroun (ALM) constellation of organizations were at the heart of current European recruitment networks sending radicals to fight in Syria and Iraq’ and that: “There increasingly appears to be a consensus across European security agencies that Choudary’s group plays a role […].” 1
Similarly, when asked by the BBC about the role of Choudary-linked groups in sending people to Iraq and Syria, Jytte Klausen, who leads the Western Jihadism Project at Brandeis University, funded by the UK Home Office, stated: “By my estimate, based on my studies of Western Europeans who have gone to fight, about a third, if not more, are members of these affiliates, these groups.”2
In 2013, when many still believed Anjem Choudary and his followers were clownish and refused to take them seriously because of their almost comically offensive media stunts and inflammatory actions, we set out to explain why the truth was far more disturbing.
Three years on and with the startling expansion of IS and the declaration of the Caliphate back in 2014, it is time to re-explore the networks we exposed and update our findings.
Shockingly the al-Muhajiroun/Sharia4 network we profiled proved to be more important for recruiting foreign fighters for both the war in Iraq and Syria and other warzones in Africa than even we thought. From neighbouring countries like Belgium and Holland to the Iberian Peninsula, and as far away as Indonesia, the role of ALM-linked activists in recruiting for Islamic State is truly impressive (or shocking).
Islamic State ‘ambassador-at-large’
Following IS’s announcement of its Islamic State in June 2014, and as its heinous crimes multiplied, Anjem Choudary became the go-to figure for TV outlets and newspaper journalists across the world, offering IS open and vocal support.
Over the summer of 2014 media outlets in six continents showcased Choudary. In America alone, he appeared on CNN, CBS, Fox News and ABC. He appeared in a major feature in The Washington Post and his arrest was reported in numerous newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune and the LA Times.
Unsurprisingly he also became an international hate figure for the large anti-Muslim “Counter-Jihad” movement and a cause of acute embarrassment for America’s own Muslim communities, who have no comparable extremist of their own.
Welcoming IS’s creation and declaring it “legitimate”, Choudary joined a growing number of radical preachers who offered IS their open and vocal support. Others included the Australian radical preacher Musa Cerantonio, who according researchers at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation was among the most influential of a “new set of new spiritual authorities" who used social media to cheerlead for jihad and persuade young men to join the conflict in Syria and Iraq. Others included Abu Baker Bashir, an Indonesian cleric and spiritual leader of the former Jemaah Islamiyah, as well as the Jamaican national, Abdullah Faisal, who leads the Authentic Tauheed.
Speaking to Lebanese TV in early July 2014, Choudary said that there were now two camps in the world: those who believed in man-made law, which he said were led by President Obama, and those who believed in the law of God and who were led by IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“This propaganda is not just a case of demonising the enemy, even the terminology we use we need to be very careful with, because there is nothing called moderate Islam or extremist Islam, there is Islam. Yes, we are extreme from (sic) democracy and freedom, liberalism and human rights.”
In an interview with The Guardian he called al-Baghdadi "the caliph of all Muslims and the prince of the believers”.
Asked to comment on Obama’s strategy of supporting moderate groups in Syria, Choudary responded:
“What the policy of the West has always been is to divide and rule. What they want to say is that these people are extreme, so support the others so as to cause factions to fight with each other. But, in fact, if you look at the history of the Caliphate, even if you look now in the area controlled by the Islamic State, the Jews, the Muslims and the Christians are living side by side in security. It is not true that people are being slaughtered. Those people who are allied with the previous regime or those who are fighting against the Muslims, certainly they will be fought against.”
Denying IS’s horrific atrocities and blaming Western propaganda became a central theme to Choudary’s comments. He and his cohorts toured the TV studios at the height of media interest in IS, playing down reports of atrocities and urging Muslims to rally behind the new “state”.
In 2015 a key al-Muhajiroun member and leading Choudary acolyte, Abu Rumaysah, who had relocated to the Islamic State in Syria, produced A Brief Guide to the Islamic State which echoed Choudary’s words, ignoring the brutal reality of IS and instead painting a picture of a land of “scrumptious” falafel sandwiches and fruit cocktails.
Despite the huge weight of evidence to the contrary Choudary steadfastly refused to acknowledge the brutal crimes of the Islamic State or even condemn its beheading of US and UK citizens, claiming that they were perhaps guilty of some crime.
"There are circumstances in Sharia where there is capital punishment for crimes that have been committed,” he told The Guardian following the beheading of US journalist James Foley. “Now,” he added, “I don't know anything about these journalists, why they were there, whether they were spying or in fact part of the military. Often it turns out that people have other roles as well."
In the same interview, he then tried to turn the tables by claiming the beheadings were actually the fault of the US and UK authorities for both their foreign policies and their refusal to deal with the IS.
“If you look at the death of James Foley,” he said, “you only have to listen to the person who is executing him to know that the blame is the Americans’ because of their own foreign policy. The fact is that decades of torture, cruelty and mass murder will have repercussions.”
Responding to the British media outcry following the beheading of Alan Henning, who was in Syria on an aid mission, Choudary told the Daily Telegraph: “In the Quran it is not allowed for you to feel sorry for non-Muslims. I don't feel sorry for him…I don't know the real story, I only heard from the British Government and media.”
More provocatively, Choudary revelled in telling the media that he would love to move to the Islamic State – if only the authorities would let him.
“I’d go tomorrow. I’d love to bring my children up there,” he told the Sunday Mirror. And he told The Times: “I believe the world belongs to God and that one day, hopefully, the UK will be part of an Islamic State. Why shouldn’t I be free to travel to the Khalifah [caliphate] and see what life is like under the Sharia?”
Conveniently sidestepping the question as to why he did not go before police raided him in late September, he used the confiscation of his passport as an excuse. “If the Home Office give me back my passport, I could start making plans straight away because I would love to bring up my children under Sharia law. I could do a farewell press conference at Heathrow Airport,” he told IB Times UK.
A Short History of ALM Encouraging Foreign Fighters
While Syria and the Islamic State has been the most recent target for ALM activists, the organisation and its network has a long history of being a conduit through which jihadists have been funnelled to various war zones.
It started in the 1990s with Chechnya, where the newly launched ALM began to send a trickle of activists. In an interview with the author [HNH research editor Joe Mulhall] Choudary explained:
Now before 2000 if you look at our demonstrations we would openly say yes, jihad in Chechnya, you should go, not that we were sending people but we would say yea. […] You know we were actually collecting for Chechnya, you know in Trafalgar Square. There was no problem about supporting the Jihad in those days either verbally, even financially or to go abroad it was not illegal. The fact is that all those things were done openly. We were even recruiting people standing in Trafalgar Square to send them abroad.3
However, since the passing of the 2000 Terrorism Act, Choudary and ALM have curbed open fundraising and no longer publicly call for activists to go abroad. This does not however mean that they have stopped doing it in private. Since the 9/11 attacks the number of activists fighting abroad has increased. As discussed above, the group’s Pakistani branch was used to send British activists to training camps and to fight in Afghanistan and Kashmir. In addition, in 2007 Choudary was found to be posting on Islamist forums under an alias and encouraging people to go to Somalia.
While ALM’s founder Omar Bakri has admitted to sending members of the network to Syria,4 Choudary has denied it. However, he has admitted that ALM funded jihad and looked after the families of those activists who had gone abroad, plus admitted to knowing people who have left from within his movement.5 Former ALM member Hassan Butt contradicts Choudary, stating: “We can help recruits with their air fares to Pakistan – and in some cases will even look after the families they have left behind.”6
Another former member added:
People get radicalised by Choudary and Bakri and then go abroad. By going abroad, they go off the grid. Of course that provides Choudary with the excuse that he has lost contact with these people and so he can’t be blamed for what they get up to. But of course, he encourages them to go abroad, he told them it was their duty. His lieutenants facilitated it and it was into their networks abroad where they ended up.7
It is arguable that the ALM network both in the UK and abroad provides the ideological and theological arguments for (violent) jihad that helps radicalise activists to go abroad to fight.
ALM’s affinity to the Islamic State was of course no great surprise, especially in light of its headline-grabbing expansion. However, there were strong ideological parallels between what ALM had been saying since the 1990s and the goals and objectives of the Islamic State.
Notably, unlike Al-Qaeda which prioritised the attacking of enemies, both ALM and IS stressed the need to form a new caliphate, a territory where their interpretation of Islamic law could be implemented straight away. As a 2014 Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict report stated: “This was later to make it [ALM] the perfect vehicle for promoting ISIS and the Islamic State.”8
Just as UK-based ALM activists headed abroad to fight in Chechnya and Afghanistan, under the guidance of Anjem Choudary they also headed in droves to join the Islamic State, making Choudary’s group in the UK the largest single group channeling recruits to Iraq and Syria.
Choudary denies that he has encouraged people to go and fight, but he also will not condemn them. “Although we don’t recruit people to send abroad,” he told The Daily Star, “we are not surprised if they want to go abroad and stand with their Muslim brothers and sisters who are being killed and whose land is being occupied.
“Surely it is a noble thing to want to liberate Muslim land? I have no shame whatsoever in saying these people were at times in some way or other affiliated with us.”
Despite this many key ALM activists have made the trip, the most notorious of which is Abu Rumaysah. After being released on bail by the British authorities, he fled to Syria in September 2014 with his wife and their four children.
Altogether HOPE not hate estimates that well over 100 Britons with some connection to Choudary and the al-Muhajiroun network have gone to Syria to fight. Most are from London, but others originate from Luton, Crawley, Cardiff, Birmingham, Stoke-on-Trent, Leicester, Derby, Leeds, Halifax and Manchester.
The Luton group alone is believed to be 20-25 strong, though some appear to have been killed.
The al-Muhajiroun International Network
While Anjem Choudary has been at the centre of UK Muslims heading abroad, he is also at the centre of a much larger international network of extreme, interconnected Islamist groups. Many of these have played similarly important roles in recruiting activists in their own country and exporting them to the Islamic State.
Country by Country
Anjem Choudary helped launch Sharia4Belgium in early 2010. In March 2010 the leader of the group Fouad Belkacem (alias Abu Imran) visited Choudary in London with a view to learning from his British operation. In an interview with the author Choudary said:
I was being approached by, at that time Abu Imran, he was the head of Sharia4Belgium, he came to see me in February or March 2010 and he said he was very impressed with our activities and he wanted to know how they could do something similar. […] He started his own movement called Sharia4Belgium after our Islam4UK.9
In May of that year he attended a Sharia4Belgium press conference called ‘Muslims Rise’ where he was joined by the prominent Luton based al-Muhajiroun activist, Sayful Islam, and the leader of Sharia4Belgium Fouad Belkacem (alias Abu Imran).
In 2010 authorities arrested 11 people in connection with a terror plot in Belgium. Those arrested were believed to be linked to Sharia4Belgium. They also investigated the group’s funding of a Chechen terror organisation.10
The Belgian state came down hard on Sharia4Belgium and destroyed the organisation. In 2015 an Antwerp court found a total of 45 members of the group guilty of terror-related offences. Their leader Belkacem was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Belgians in Syria
The role of Sharia4Belgium in inspiring people to head to Syria has long been known. In the same year as our Gateway To Terror report (2013), Europol (European Union’s Law Enforcement Agency) said: “There are indications that the ideology spread by Sharia4Belgium and other groups has contributed to the radicalisation and engagement of EU citizens in the Syrian conflict.”11
It went further in 2014, adding: “...there are more and more indicators that members of Sharia4Belgium, for example, have joined armed groups in Syria […].”12 In 2015 Europol added that the organisation was “suspected of facilitation and recruitment activities.”13
In early 2015 Belgian officials estimated that around 350 Belgians had gone to fight in Syria. In early 2016 Belgian terrorism expert Pieter van Ostaeyen placed that figure at up 562, thereby making Belgium the country with the highest number of Islamic State fighters per capita of all western nations.
During Fouad Belkacem’s trial prosecutors said that he brainwashed dozens of young men to fight in Syria via lectures and social media. Officials said that around 10% of the Belgians in Syria had links to Sharia4Belgium. In late 2015, Raffaello Pantucci, writing in the publication of the Combating Terrorism Center at the United States Military Academy West Point, claimed that 50 Belgian fighters in Syria and Iraq “have roots in Sharia4Belgium” which is in line with Belgian official’s 10% estimate.
The al-Muhajiroun-linked group in Denmark is called Kaldet til Islam. It is one of the oldest group in the network outside the UK with its origins dating back to 2004, when 12 activists from Denmark attended an al-Muhajiroun rally in London.
Abu Asadullah, the group’s spokesman and Abu Musa (aka Shiraz Tariq), the chairman, are said to have regularly watched and listened to Omar Bakri’s preaching over the internet.
The group has modelled itself after the Choudary-run Islam4UK and mimicked the UK-based group’s tactic of provocative public demonstrations. Kaldet til Islam hit the headlines in Denmark in September 2012 when, in a copy of the similar Islam4UK demonstrations, it held a demo on National Flag Day; a day similar to Remembrance Sunday in the UK.
Also in 2012 members held a demonstration in Copenhagen at which Omar Bakri spoke to the audience over the phone from Lebanon and is reported to have said: “Those who insult the prophet shall be killed.”16
Kaldet til Islam in Syria
It is known that members of Kaldet til Islam have gone to Syria to fight though no exact number is available. However, what is certain is that several leading Danish activists have been confirmed killed. The group’s chairman Shiraz Tariq was killed while fighting for IS in Syria.17 He was killed in Syria’s Latakia province in 2013.
It also looks likely that his fellow Kaldet til Islam member Abu Khattab was also killed.
Forsane Alizza [Knights of Pride] was part of the al-Muhajiroun network and has been described by The Telegraph newspaper as “an organisation associated with the group Sharia4UK” which was an ALM front group.18 Forsane Alizza advertised its ideological affinity with British based al-Muhajiroun front groups.19
Following its banning, a French newspaper noted how Forsane Alizza maintained a particularly close relationship with al-Muhajiroun in the UK and how at some of its demonstrations FA members sported the flags and banners of their UK counterparts.20
In fact a number of leading UK al-Muhajiroun activists travelled to France to take part in a protest with Forsane Alizza.21
Terrorism at Home
In March 2012 seven people were killed and five others injured following attacks on a French soldier and Jewish civilians in the French cities of Montauban and Toulouse. The attack was carried out by Mohamed Merah, an Islamist extremist known to the French domestic intelligence agency (DCRI) as a member of Forsane Alliza.
Security sources in Paris stated that Merah had been in contact with British Islamic extremists as recently as 2011, the year before the attack.22
In the investigations following the attack it emerged that Abdelkader Merah, the brother of the attacker and also a member of Forsane Alliza, visited Britain and “may have met radicals in the UK”.23
In 2015, 15 members of the outlawed group were tried for “criminal association with the aim of preparing terrorist acts.”
Recruiters for Foreign War
Forsane Alliza was banned in early 2012, meaning the group had all but disbanded by the time the time the war in Syria had become a major draw to Western Islamist fighters.
However, several supporters of the group were subsequently involved in recruitment, such as Omar Diaby, who the French newspaper Le Monde stated had become a main recruiter in France for the Syrian Al-Nusra Front.24 Raffaello Pantucci claims that Diaby ended up heading up a French brigade in Syria.25
In 2014 French authorities arrested five people on suspicion of recruiting young women to join Islamist fighters in Syria. According to a police source at least one of those arrested had links to Forsane Alizza.26
In Germany the group within the al-Muhajiroun network was called Millatu Ibrahim. It was originally formed in November 2011 by Mohamed Mahmoud (alias Abu Usama al-Gharib) and Denis Cuspert (alias Abu Talha al-Almani).
The links between Millatu Ibrahim in Germany and the al- Muhajiroun network in the UK are very strong.
Anjem Choudary was quoted in German media as having visited Germany and having met with representatives from Millatu Ibrahim. He also offered his support over the social network site Twitter after the group was targeted by German authorities.
Other links can be found via Salafi Media UK, a UK-based group run by Abu Waleed, a one-time supporter of the British al-Muhajiroun network but who in recent years became publicly critical of Choudary. However, this did not prevent him from attending several al-Muhajiroun demonstrations in London during 2013 and 2014. 27
Millatu Ibrahim uses the ‘Salafi Media’ registration for its own website and the UK website has hosted videos by the German leader Mohamed Mahmoud, also known as Abu Usama al- Gharib. Furthermore, Abu Waleed, who founded Salafi Media in late 2009, posted a video of support for Millatu Ibrahim in May 2012.28
Millatu Ibrahim and the Islamic State
As far back as 2012 it was clear the group had fighters abroad when it released a statement claiming that two of its members died in a car accident in the “Land of Jihad”.
In early 2016 it was reported that more than 800 Germans had travelled to fight for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.29
An article in the CTC Sentinel, the publication of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, states that Millatu Ibrahim, formed “the nucleus of German foreign fighter activists in Syria’ and that, ‘many people close to Millatu Ibrahim have likely joined ISIL.”30
After the group was banned its leaders, Mahmoud and Cuspert, fled Germany. Mahmoud was subsequently arrested in March 2014 in Turkey, almost certainly on his way to Syria, while Cuspert made it and linked up with the organization Junud al-Sham (Soldiers of Syria) before pledging his allegiance to IS in April 2014.31
In Syria Cuspert heads up a combat unit of Millatu Ibrahim members called the German Brigade of Millatu Ibrahim.32
Al-Muhajiroun33 in Indonesia
The roots of ALM in Indonesia can be traced back to 2005 when Muhammad Fachry (real name Tuah Febriwansyah) began interacting with Omar Bakri Muhammad through the video chat forum Paltalk (a regular meeting place for Islamist extremists).
Fachry received Omar Bakri’s blessing to form an ALM group in Indonesia and he set up two mailing lists that he called “Al Ghuraba” and “Ahlus Sunnah Waljamaah”, then in 2006 he set up his own study circle and in 2007 launched the first edition of Al-Muhajiroun magazine.34
In 2010 he founded Sharia4Indonesia in the image of the UK-based ALM front group Sharia4UK. The group was headed up by Fachry’s friend Abu Shofiy.
In 2012 the group held a 100-strong demonstration to celebrate the 9/11 attacks. Entitled, ‘You Lost the War’, the event was held in collaboration with Jemaah Anshorut Tauhid, an offshoot of Jamaah Islamiyah, which is best known for being behind the 2002 Bali bombing which killed 202 people.
In early 2013 Fachry and his supporters formed the Forum of Islamic Law Activists (FAKSI) which called for the formation of a caliphate. The group was in contact with Omar Bakri who led discussion via video link. FAKSI began holding public demonstrations in support of IS and then in April 2014 FAKRI activists began swearing formal loyalty oaths to the Islamic State.35 It is estimated that around 2,000 Indonesians have sworn oaths to the Islamic State.36
Anjem in Indonesia
Following an invitation from Fachry, Anjem Choudary attended the official launch of Sharia4Indonesia in March 2010. He appeared at an Islamic Book Fair in Senayan, Jakarta in support of Sharia4Indonesia. The organisation was then later formally launched in August 2010 with a demonstration in Jakarta that attracted around 24 people.37 Other Indonesian branches were then set up including Sharia4Jatim, Sharia4Tanjung Balai and Sharia4Bandung.
In November 2010, following Choudary’s first visit, Fachary posted the transcript of a long interview with him on arrahmah.com, Indonesia’s largest jihadi website, in which he asked Choudary for advice on how to prepare for the resurrection of Islam and the Prophetic Caliphate system. Choudary answered:
Muslims in Indonesia must take the authority from those who have it and appoint a Khalifah who will implement the Shari’ah. In the meantime whilst they are living under the Kufr system they must engage in presenting Islam as an alternative to the man made law and support those who are trying to take back the authority which is their right. The twin duties of Daw’ah and Jihad cannot be separated.38
Choudary then returned in October 2013 for a Sharia4TheWorldCampaign meeting which was held in South Tangerang, Indonesia, at the residence of a Mr Pa Ji.
The main speaker was Anjem Choudary and he was joined by two British activists; spokesman for Al Ghurabaa Abu Izzadeen and ‘revert’ Zakariah (formerly Charles) who worked in Yummy Yummy, a sweet shop in Stepney Green, London owned by Yazdani Choudary, brother of Anjem. The speaker from Sharia4Indonesia was Ustadz Abu Sholeh.
Indonesians in Syria
With the first Indonesian making his way to Syria to fight in 2012, estimates of how many others have since joined him vary greatly.
In August 2015 Densus 88, the Indonesian counter-terror unit, had a list of 166 verified names, while the Indonesian National Intelligence Organisation has estimated 500 for several years. The most recent estimate was made by Security Minister Luhut Panjaitan in December 2015, who claimed the number could be as high as 800.39
Considering that Indonesia is home to 200 million Muslims these numbers are surprisingly small and even more so when one considers estimates of up to 1700 fighters from France alone. One reason for the small numbers is possibly due to the language barrier though they sought to overcome this issue in July 2014 with the creation of a special unit for Malay-speakers in IS.
Of course knowing how many of the possible 800 Indonesians fighting in Syria have links to al-Muhajiroun and Sharia4Indonesia/FAKSI is very hard indeed. However, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service has highlighted FAKSI as one of the groups that make up the “ISIL network in Indonesia” from which recruiters are drawn.40
There are also numerous confirmed cases of ALM-linked Indonesian activists heading to fight in Syria such as Bahrum Syah (real name Muhammad al Indunisi), who left in May 2014. Syah is believed to have been inspired by al-Muhajiroun and was later to star in an IS recruitment video called ‘Joining the Ranks’.
Another activist in Syria is Salim Mubarok (changed name to Abu Jandal Al-Yemeni), a FAKSI member from Malang, who took his family with him. IPAC claim that he has since helped facilitate the journey for other Indonesians heading to Syria, including five of his former students in Malang.41
Muhammad Fachry has not made the journey to Syria himself and in February 2016 was found guilty of supporting the Islamic State in a Jakarta court and was sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of $367.
He was one of seven people found guilty of such charges on the day, all of whom received between three and four years in prison.
Islam4Italy was a tiny Italian group formed in the image of Islam4UK by Anas El Abboubi, a Moroccan who had lived with his family near Brescia, Italy since 1999.
He was arrested for terrorism offences in June 2013 and accused of training with terrorist purposes and incitement to discrimination and violence for racial, ethnic and religious reasons.42 Anjem Choudary reacted to the arrest by tweeting:
Upon his arrest it was reported that Abboubi had become increasingly interested in events in Syria and recruited others to join him in supporting the cause and travelling to Syria if necessary.43 He was released soon after.
Then on 14 September 2013 he travelled to Syria, via Turkey with the help of a small group of Albanian facilitators.
Once in Syria, likely Aleppo, he adopted the name Anas al-Italy but was killed soon after which was confirmed when his name appeared on a leaked list of 122 Islamic State ‘martyrs’.
Sharia4Holland was an offshoot of Sharia4Belgium led by Abu Qasim (Abu Juhayman) who in May 2012 was on charged with making death threats against the far-right Dutch Freedom Party leader, Geert Wilders.44
Sharia4Holland and the linked group Behind Bars/Street Dawah modelled themselves closely on the British movement Islam4UK and adopted the tactics of Choudary and his UK followers. The group was active for several years but fell silent at the end of 2012 and then disbanded; however, individual members stayed in touch and continued to make up the backbone of the Islamist scene in the Netherlands.45
Choudary in the Netherlands
On May 25 2012, Sharia4Holland held a press conference with Anjem Choudary called the Global Sharia Conference. Also in attendance with Choudary was leading Luton-based ALM activist Sayful Islam, Abu Rahin Aziz who fled from the UK to Syria and one other UK ALM activist.
A report by the Dutch Security Services (AIVD) describes how the homegrown jihadist movement in the Netherlands has experienced a sudden and explosive growth in recent years. The 58-page report The Transformation of Jihadism in the Netherlands: Swarm Dynamics and New Strength, cites Anjem Choudary and his Islam4UK movement as major influences on the development of the Dutch jihadist scene, both with the creation of Sharia4Holland and the Behind Bars/Street Dawah initiatives as well as with the adoption of its provocative tactics.
“By making use of activist techniques like demonstrations and leafleting to disseminate provocative jihadist propaganda openly, these groups were able to mobilize some fellow Muslims and attract new recruits,” according to the AIVD. “Many young people, in particular, found a way of venting their jihadist ideals through such activities.”
Also, The New Yorker explains how: “On one occasion, Choudary and a group of his followers travelled to the Netherlands, to deliver a lecture for the brothers of Sharia4Belgium and its partner organization Sharia4Holland “about the methodology to overthrow the regimes”.”46
Dutch Activists in Syria
In early 2016 the Dutch authorities stated that around 200 people from the Netherland’s had headed to Syria to fight.47 The exodus started at the end of 2012 and coincided with the demise of Sharia4Holland and Behind Bars/Street Dawah.
A document issued by the General Intelligence and Security Service of the Netherlands explained how: “Individuals associated with the two movements were at the heart of that sudden exodus.”48 Another report written by a former senior analyst at the transnational affairs desk at the Dutch Ministry of Defense stated about Sharia4Holland that: “It became clear the leaders and most members of their inner circles had travelled to Syria to join the jihad.”49
The group linked to Anjem Choudary and the al-Muhajiroun network in Norway is called Prophet’s Ummah. In 2012 Choudary developed links with the group and met members on several occasions in Oslo.
After a video was posted on YouTube by a leading Prophet’s Ummah activist, Choudary boasted to the media that he encouraged them to post it and claimed he also acted as a mentor to the group.
Choudary’s influence on the group was exposed further by a 2015 BBC investigation. A former Prophet’s Ummah activist, Youssef Bardo Assidiq, explained to the BBC how Choudary had a “huge impact” on the group. He said:
He knows the law. He knows where the limits are. […] And he also knows how to run an organisation and that is something these guys didn't have a clue about. […] We have seen from the first meeting with Anjem Choudary here in Norway, the group has evolved drastically. So they have got a lot more dangerous.
The BBC also met Ubaydullah, a spokesperson for Prophet’s Ummah, who claimed he had visited the UK and met with Choudary as recently as 2015. He said: “I respect him because of his knowledge and we talk from time […]. Of course I learn a lot of things from him. And he also gives us some advice.”50
Norwegians in Syria
The Norwegian Security Service has said that there are strong indicators that the flow of Norwegians to Iraq and Syria has been organised by people belonging to Prophet’s Ummah.51
In late 2014 Norway’s largest newspaper Aftenposten, stated that at least five of the eight to ten Norwegians then killed in Syria were associated with Prophet Ummah.
There are also confirmed examples such as Thomas Alexander, a Prophet’s Ummah member who was killed while fighting for the Islamic State in Kobane.
Choudary also had links with Egzon Avdyli, a 25-year-old from Oslo who was killed in Syria in 2014.
Due to Portugal having such a small Muslim community there have only been tiny numbers of activists who have fled to Syria to fight for the Islamic State. However, extensive investigations by Expresso in Portugal have revealed how one group of Portuguese activists, who are now said to hold prominent positions in the Islamic State hierarchy, were actually radicalised in the UK and linked to al-Muhajiroun.
Between 2012 and 2013 the six Portuguese nationals (Edgar Costa, Celso Costa, Fábio Poças, Nero Patrício Saraiva, Sandro ‘Funa’ Monteiro, Sadjo Ture) were based in Leyton, east London and most studied at the University of East London in Stratford.
While in Portugal none of them were said to be particularly religious and some were actually from Catholic backgrounds. However, the group were radicalised in the UK while living in east London. Choudary has denied knowing the Portuguese men personally, but oral sources report that they were in contact with ALM activists in the UK. Also, Expresso quoted a source close to the British Security Service, which said it was “highly probable” that they had been involved in or at least crossed paths with groups such as Sharia4UK.52
Before the Portuguese men left to fight in Syria they returned to Portugal and aided 10 British jihadists, providing an alternative and less orthodox route (London-Lisbon-Istanbul-Syria) to the Islamic State which was designed to avoid the attention of British intelligence services. The Portuguese ‘London Cell’ managed the “recruitment, transport, accommodation, supply and financing of this terrorist route to Syria.”53
Following this, the militants then headed to Syria. Generally, when tracing what European ALM activists end up doing in Syria it is very low-level work such as religious policing, becoming frontline cannon-fodder or suicide bombers – but the Portuguese group stands out. It has been reported that almost all have risen through the IS hierarchy with some being responsible for new recruits, others for propaganda or managing financial operations.54 Nero Patrício Saraiva is reported to be one of Islamic State’s most senior fighters and Edgar and Celso Costa have both appeared in IS propaganda videos.
It is believed that most still live together in Raqqa, Syria, though some have now died. Sandro ‘Funa’ Monteiro was the last of the Portuguese ‘London Cell’ to fly to Syria and he died in coalition airstrikes near Kobane in late October of 2014. Sadjo Turé was the next of the London group to be killed (and the fifth Portuguese altogether) when he was shot in late 2015 by Assad’s forces.55
Sharia4Spain was originally created in 2010 and has been described by CNN as “a radical pro-jihadist group linked to Al Muhajiroun in the United Kingdom”56 and the Spanish newspaper Diario de Navarra states that it is a franchise of the UK-based Global Sharia Movement which was founded by Choudary.57 At one point Sharia4Spain is said to have had 400 followers.
In March 2014 a joint Spanish/Moroccan operation broke up a jihadist network that was one of the largest of its kind in Europe and responsible for recruiting and sending jihadists to fight in foreign wars.
The crackdown came at the end of a five-year investigation into the network based in Melilla, Spain which police said was responsible for sending 26 men (24 Moroccans and two Spanish citizens) to join the Algerian-led movement Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
The leader of the Melilla network was the Brussels born Spanish citizen, convert Mustafa Maya Amaya.
Maya Amaya is suspected of being responsible for recruiting dozens of jihadists and sending them to fight in Africa and the Middle East, including Syria. The Spanish newspaper Diario de Navarra has described Maya Amaya as one of the biggest recruiters in Europe for the Islamic State.58 It was members of this Melilla based recruitment network that set up Sharia4Spain.59
Following the raids, the group fell dormant. However, just eight months later its online presence was resurrected.
Sharia4Spain is not just a recruiting network for foreign fighters but it has also been linked to terrorist attacks in Europe. On 1 May 2015 German police intervened to stop a plot to attack a cycle race in the town of Oberursel near Frankfurt. Police discovered a pipe bomb, 100 rounds of ammunition and a gun, as well as three litres of hydrogen peroxide. Investigations revealed that the would-be attackers had recently travelled to Spain to meet with members of Sharia4Spain.60
Choudary and Spain
Back in 2013 Choudary was talking excitedly of his growing network in Spain.61
During an interview with The Guardian newspaper published in September 2014, Choudary mentioned that he had recently been to Spain though details have not emerged about why he went or who he met.62
Compiled by: Joe Mulhall, research editor, HOPE not hate
The terror connection
Over the last 15 years hundreds of people connected to al-Muhajiroun network have been convicted in British courts. There are also several people linked to the group who are currently awaiting trial and so cannot be named for legal reasons. Here is a list of over 100 people linked to the al-Muhajiroun network who have been convicted of terrorism or terror-related offences or been killed abroad.Download PDF file here
1 Raffaello Pantucci, ‘Al-Muhajiroun’s European Recruitment Pipeline’, CTC Sentinel, 8:8, August 2015, 22.
3 Interview with Anjem Choudary by author, 18 June 2014.
4 MEMRI: Jihadi Leaders Anjem Choudary and Omar Bakri Acknowledge Sending Western Fighters to Syria, Youtube, [Online], [Accessed 2 July, 2014], Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1mBoWEsw8A
5 Interview with Anjem Choudary by Author, 18 June 2014.
6 Quoted in Armadeep Bassey, ‘The West at War: The Traitor: WE ALL WANT TO DIE; Fanatic Hassan, 22, recruits 400 fellow young British Muslims to be martyrs for the Taliban. The Free Library, [Online]. http://www.thefreelibrary.com/The+West+at+War%3A+The+Traitor%3A+WE+ALL+WANT+TO+DIE%3B+Fanatic+Hassan,+22,...-a079735190
7 Anonymous interview, 2013.
8 The Evolution of ISIS in Indonesia, IPAC Report No. 13, (Jakarta, Indonesia: Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, 2014), 2-3.
9 Interview with Anjem Choudary by Author, 18 June 2014.
10 CNN Wire Staff, Belgium terror probe nets 11 arrests, CNN, 23 November 2010, [Online], http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/europe/11/23/belgium.terrorism/index.html?_s=PM:WORLD
11 Europol TE-SAT 2013: EU Terrorism and Situation and Trend Report (The Hague: Europol, 2013), 18.
12 Europol TE-SAT 2014: EU Terrorism and Situation and Trend Report (The Hague: Europol, 2014), 23.
13 Europol TE-SAT 2015: EU Terrorism and Situation and Trend Report (The Hague: Europol, 2015), 22.
15 Raffaello Pantucci, ‘Al-Muhajiroun’s European Recruitment Pipeline’, CTC Sentinel, 8:8, August 2015, 23.
17 Mette Dahlgaard, Lena Masri, Kasper Krogh and Simon Bendtsen, ‘Martyrvideo: Dansk »emir« kæmpede for al-Qaeda’, Nationalt, [Online], http://www.b.dk/nationalt/martyrvideo-dansk-emir-kaempede-for-al-qaeda
18 Duncan Gardham and Nick Squires, ‘Toulouse killer’s brother ‘may have met radicals in the UK’, The Telegraph, 23 March 2012, [Online], http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/9164004/Toulouse-killers-brother-may-have-met-radicals-in-the-UK.html
19 Philippe Migaux, ‘Forsane Alizza: From radical demonstration to the preparation of terrorist action’, Al-Mesbar Center, 20 April 2016, [Online], http://mesbar.org/paper/forsane-alizza-from-radical-demonstration-to-the-preparation-of-terrorist-action/
20 Christophe Cornevin, ‘Forsane Alizza, un groupuscule dissous en février 2012’, Le Figaro, 30 March 2012, [Online], http://www.lefigaro.fr/actualite-france/2012/03/30/01016-20120330ARTFIG00337-forsane-alizza-un-groupuscule-dissous-en-fevrier-2012.php
22 Peter Allen, ‘Toulouse gunman Mohammed Merah had links to Islamic extremist in Britain’, Mail Online, 24 March 2012, [Online], http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2119994/Toulouse-gunman-Mohammed-Merah-links-Islamic-extremists-Britain.html?ito=feeds-newsxml
23 Duncan Gardham and Nick Squires, ‘Toulouse killer’s brother ‘may have met radicals in the UK’, The Telegraph, 23 March 2012, [Online], http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/9164004/Toulouse-killers-brother-may-have-met-radicals-in-the-UK.html
24 Natalie Muller, ‘Suspected terror group Forsane Alizza on trial in France’, Deutsche Welle, 8 June 2015, [Online], http://www.dw.com/en/suspected-terror-group-forsane-alizza-on-trial-in-france/a-18504039
25 Raffaello Pantucci, ‘Al-Muhajiroun’s European Recruitment Pipeline’, CTC Sentinel, 8:8, August 2015, 21.
26 Hannah Strange, ‘France Arrests Five People for Allegedly Recruiting Young Women for Jihad in Syria’, VICE NEWS, 17 September 2014, [Online], https://news.vice.com/article/france-arrests-five-people-for-allegedly-recruiting-young-women-for-jihad-in-syria
27 Shiraz Maher and Peter R. Neumann, ‘ICSR Insight – German Arrests: The Rise of the Megaphone Jihadists’, ICSR, 14 June 2012, [Online], http://icsr.info/2012/06/icsr-insight-german-arrests-the-rise-of-the-megaphone-jihadists-2/
29 ‘More than 800 Islamists leave Germany to join IS in Syria and Iraq’, Deutsche Welle, 23 February 2016, [Online], http://www.dw.com/en/more-than-800-islamists-leave-germany-to-join-is-in-syria-and-iraq/a-19066880
30 Daniel H. Heinke & Jan Raudszus, ‘German Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq’, CTC Sentinel, 8:1, 20 January 2015, 18-19.
31 Daniel H. Heinke & Jan Raudszus, ‘German Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq’, CTC Sentinel, 8:1, 20 January 2015, 19.
32 ‘Immer mehr Deutsche kämpfen in Syrien und Irak’, Die Welt, 15 June 2014, [Online], http://www.welt.de/newsticker/dpa_nt/infoline_nt/thema_nt/article129089696/Immer-mehr-Deutsche-kaempfen-in-Syrien-und-Irak.html
33 ALM in Indonesia is spelt differently than elsewhere. The group dropped the ‘o’ from their name.
34 The Evolution of ISIS in Indonesia, IPAC Report No. 13, (Jakarta, Indonesia: Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, 2014), 2-5.
35 The Evolution of ISIS in Indonesia, IPAC Report No. 13, (Jakarta, Indonesia: Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, 2014), 7-12.
36 The Evolution of ISIS in Indonesia, IPAC Report No. 13, (Jakarta, Indonesia: Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, 2014), 16.
37 The Evolution of ISIS in Indonesia, IPAC Report No. 13, (Jakarta, Indonesia: Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, 2014), 5.
38 ‘Arrahmah’s Exclusive Interview with Shaikh Anjem Choudary’, arrahmah.com, [Online], https://www.arrahmah.com/read/2010/11/11/9863-arrahmahs-exclusive-interview-with-shaikh-anjem-choudary.html#sthash.btXXIOAQ.dpuf
39 ‘ISIL and the Indonesian dynamic’, Canadian Security Intelligence Service, [Online]: https://www.csis-scrs.gc.ca/pblctns/wrldwtch/2016/2016-05-02/chap-07-en.php.
40 ‘ISIL and the Indonesian dynamic’, Canadian Security Intelligence Service, [Online]: https://www.csis-scrs.gc.ca/pblctns/wrldwtch/2016/2016-05-02/chap-07-en.php.
41 The Evolution of ISIS in Indonesia, IPAC Report No. 13, (Jakarta, Indonesia: Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, 2014), 19.
42 ‘Italy: Police arrest Moroccan blogger for 'plotting Jihad'’, adnkronos.com, 12 June 2013, [Online], http://www.adnkronos.com/IGN/Aki/English/Security/Italy-Police-arrest-Moroccan-blogger-for-plotting-Jihad_32288511447.html.
43 ‘Moroccan held in Brescia for 'planning terror attacks', Gazzetta del Sud Online, 12 June 2013, [Online]: http://www.gazzettadelsud.it/news/english/50111/Moroccan-held-in-Brescia-for--planning-terror-attacks-.html
44 ‘Spokesperson Sharia4Holland arrested’, Radio Netherlands Worldwide, 28 May 2012, [Online], http://www.rnw.nl/africa/bulletin/spokesperson-sharia4holland-arrested.
45 ‘The transformation of jihadism in the Netherlands: Swarm dynamics and new strength’ (The Hague: General Intelligence and Security Service, 2014), 12.
46 Ben Taub, ‘Journey To Jihad: Why are teen-agers joining ISIS?’, The New Yorker, 1 June 2015, [Online], http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/06/01/journey-to-jihad
47 ‘Dutch IS militants in Syria’s ‘deaths’ dispute’, BBC, 1 March 2016, [Online], http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35695681
48 ‘The transformation of jihadism in the Netherlands: Swarm dynamics and new strength’ (The Hague: General Intelligence and Security Service, 2014), 13.
49 Ronald Sandee, Inside the Jihad: Dutch Fighters in Syria (USA: Kronos Advisory, 24 October 2013), 7.
52 ‘Killing and Dying for Allah: Five Portuguese Members of Islamic State’, Expresso, 1 October 2014, [Online], http://multimedia.expresso.pt/jihad/EN/killing-and-dying/
53 Hugo Franco, Pedro Santos Guerreiro and Raquel Moleiro, ‘Portuguese cell helped British jihadists to fly to Syria via Lisbon’, Expresso, 31 January 2015, [Online], http://expresso.sapo.pt/sociedade/portuguese-cell-helped-british-jihadists-to-fly-to-syria-via-lisbon=f908874
54 Hugo Franco, Pedro Santos Guerreiro and Raquel Moleiro, ‘Portuguese cell helped British jihadists to fly to Syria via Lisbon’, Expresso, 31 January 2015, [Online], http://expresso.sapo.pt/sociedade/portuguese-cell-helped-british-jihadists-to-fly-to-syria-via-lisbon=f908874
55 Hugo Franco, Pedro Santos Guerreiro and Rachel Miller, ‘Sadjo is the fifth Portuguese jihadist down’, Expresso, 20 November 2015, [Online], https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=pt&u=http://expresso.sapo.pt/internacional/2015-11-20-Sadjo-e-o-quinto-jiadista-portugues-abatido&prev=search
56 Paul Cruickshank, ‘German police thwart Boston-style plot to bomb cycle race, source says’, CNN, 1 May 2015, [Online], http://edition.cnn.com/2015/04/30/europe/germany-terror-arrests/
57 "Islam will dominate Spain and the Constitution will be replaced by the Sharia", Diario de Navarra, 5 January 2015, [Online], https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&u=http://www.diariodenavarra.es/noticias/mas_actualidad/nacional/2015/01/05/islam_dominara_espana_constitucion_sera_sharia_189903_1031.html&prev=search
58 "Islam will dominate Spain and the Constitution will be replaced by the Sharia", Diario de Navarra, 5 January 2015, [Online], https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&u=http://www.diariodenavarra.es/noticias/mas_actualidad/nacional/2015/01/05/islam_dominara_espana_constitucion_sera_sharia_189903_1031.html&prev=search
59 Carlotta Gall, ‘Spanish Police Target Cells Recruiting War Volunteers’, The New York Times, 16 June 2014, [Online], http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/17/world/europe/spanish-police-target-cells-recruiting-war-volunteers-for-insurgencies-from-western-africa-syria-iraq.html
60 Paul Cruickshank, ‘German police thwart Boston-style plot to bomb cycle race, source says’, CNN, 1 May 2015, [Online], http://edition.cnn.com/2015/04/30/europe/germany-terror-arrests/
61 Nick Lowles and Joe Mulhall, Gateway to Terror: Anjem Choudary and the al-Muhajiroun Network (London: HOPE not hate, 2013), 52.
62 Andrew Anthony, ‘Anjem Choudary: The British extremist who backs the caliphate’, Guardian, [Online], https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/07/anjem-choudary-islamic-state-isis
Issue 25-26 of HOPE not hate is now out.
Summer special 64 pages of investigations, features, interviews and commentary, HOPE not hate is essential reading for all anti-fascists and anti-racists.