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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.”
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
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.32Next: Gateway to Terror report