The British government announced Tuesday that it would ban an Islamic group that had sparked widespread public revulsion over its intention to demonstrate in a town known for paying tribute to soldiers slain in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Home Secretary Alan Johnson said Islam4UK would be outlawed under a measure allowing the government to ban organizations deemed to advocate or glorify terrorism. He said the move was “not a course we take lightly” but was necessary to tackle violent extremism.
The government alleges that the group is the latest incarnation of an organization that had been put on the blacklist under previous names, including Al Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect. A former version of the group was known for praising the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“An organization should not be able to circumvent proscription by simply changing its name,” said Johnson, whose order goes into effect Thursday.
Islam4UK caused a stir last week when members said they would march through the town of Wootton Bassett in honor of the Afghans killed by foreign troops.
The town, about 75 miles west of London, has come to symbolize Britain’s grief over the rising number of troops killed in Afghanistan. On their return to Britain, the remains pass through the town in flag-draped caskets. Hundreds of mourners routinely line Wootton Bassett’s streets to show their respect.
Although the war in Afghanistan has become increasingly unpopular here, Islam4UK’s protest plan provoked an angry response. Prime Minister Gordon Brown condemned the idea as “disgusting,” and a Facebook group opposing it drew hundreds of thousands of followers.
Islam4UK leader Anjem Choudary denied that his group advocated violence.
“We are an ideological and political movement,” he told the BBC.
“It seems to me that in Britain today . . . you can practice your freedom of expression as long as the government agrees, but as soon as you want to expose them and you want to talk about their foreign policy, then freedom very quickly dissipates.”
The ban on his organization came a day after five Muslim men were convicted of threatening and abusive behavior in Luton, about 30 miles northwest of London, at a March parade welcoming British troops home from Afghanistan. The men shouted at the soldiers and called them “butchers,” which led to angry confrontations with spectators.