Anjem Choudary faces 10 years in prison after being convicted of supporting Islamic State – a reflection of his standing as Britain’s highest-profile jihadi cheerleader.
Choudary, whose conviction in July has been kept secret until now, has been described as Britain’s most prolific recruiter for Islamist terror groups. Security sources believe he is linked to 500 British militants who have left the UK for Iraq and Syria.
During his trial the jury heard the father-of-five and his accomplice, Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, had both sworn allegiance to Islamic State. Both men were found guilty despite Choudary’s pleas that he had simply been hypothesising about versions of Islam in his frequent online speeches.
Detectives at Scotland Yard had spent two years combing through 20 years of material in preparation for a trial, and jurors heard a mountain of evidence in the form of videos, speeches and social media posts. They were told that Choudary had planned to turn Buckingham Palace into a mosque, talked of abolishing “idols” such as Nelson’s Column and even joked about the Queen’s bathing habits in one video.
It was all a far cry from Choudary’s early life, which gave no hint of what he was to become.
The son of a market stall trader from Weling, Kent, Choudary studied (and failed) medicine at Southampton University, where he was known as Andy. A variety of photos have surfaced showing him drinking during this period, and he allegedly also smoked cannabis and consumed pornography.
Discussing his past, Choudary was quoted as saying by The Telegraph: "I admit I wasn't always practising. I committed many mistakes in my life."
After flunking medicine, Choudary switched to law, qualified, and became chairman of the Society of Muslim Lawyers. Yet in the mid-1980s his life took a radical turn, which is commonly attributed to the influence of a meeting with Syrian-born Islamist Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammed at a mosque in Woolwich.
Choudary and Bakri became close, the former in thrall to the latter’s passionate rhetoric. They co-founded al-Muhajiroun, a network which advocated sharia law and a fundamentalist version of Islam. The group was proscribed in 2010 under new legislation which prohibited the “glorification” of terrorism.
Yet Choudary would go on to form another network, Islam4UK, and continued to preach his fundamentalist views, urging violence. He has been linked with fellow radical cleric Abu Hamza, currently fighting extradition to the US having been given a life sentence in a New York court, and Michael Adebolajo, one of the men who murdered Lee Rigby in 2013.
Choudary was arrested in 2014 at the same time as one of his key minions, Siddartha Dhar, who subsequently skipped bail and fled to Syria, where he is believed to have replaced the British fighter known as ‘Jihadi John’ as the group’s chief executioner. Dhar is accused of murdering a group of prisoners in an Islamic State video.
It was not the first time Choudary had been arrested, yet he had always been able to escape a severe sentence. Following today’s conviction, Met Commander Dean Haydon was quoted by the London Evening Standard as saying Choudary was “very clever and tried to live within the law.”
Yet when he and Rahman signed an oath of allegiance to Islamic State on July 7 2014, nine years to the day London was ripped apart by a series of terrorist attacks, Choudary finally fell off the tightrope. According to Haydon, this “took him over a line to a criminal offence."