British police arrest Islamist preacher, 8 others in sweep
British police arrested nine men in a counterterrorism raid Thursday in London that authorities described as part of an “ongoing investigation into Islamist-related terrorism” but said was not in response to an immediate threat.
All of the men, ranging in age from 22 to 51, were being held on suspicion of encouraging terrorism and belonging to a banned organization. London’s Metropolitan Police Service said it was also searching a number of residential, commercial and community center properties in the capital and elsewhere in Britain.
Among those in custody was Anjem Choudary, a controversial Islamist preacher in Britain who has been an outspoken critic of U.S. and British actions in Iraq and Syria against the extremist group Islamic State.
Choudary has been active in the founding of several Islamist organizations in Britain that were later banned by the government, including most recently Islam4UK and its predecessor, al-Muhajiroun, which was proscribed in 2010 as a terrorist organization.
Jonathan Russell of the Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism think tank in London, said Choudary is a “known proponent of Islamist ideology.” However, he said, as a lawyer by training, the preacher is typically careful not to break the law in his public statements and activism.
“He’s renowned for being very, very clever with the law and staying just the right side of it most of the time,” said Russell. “That’s where I imagine he’s fallen foul this time.”
Choudary has consistently denied allegations that he has encouraged or supported terrorism.
The preacher has made frequent appearances in British and American news media, including CNN and “The Sean Hannity Show” on Fox News. He is a proponent of sharia, or Islamic law, and often portrays allied action against Islamic State as a war against Muslims.
In Twitter messages posted just hours before his arrest, Choudary denounced the U.S.-led coalition’s attacks against Islamic State.
“It has already been foretold by Muhammad ... that Muslims & Christians will fight a big battle in As-Sham & that Muslims will prevail,” Choudary wrote, using an Arabic term for the region that includes Syria.
Werth is a special correspondent.