LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will outlaw an Islamist group that provoked anger with a plan to march through a town where British troops killed in Afghanistan are honored, the interior minister announced Tuesday.
After a media outcry and criticism from politicians, the group Islam4UK dropped plans to march through the town of Wootton Bassett in southern England, saying it had successfully highlighted the plight of Muslims in Afghanistan.
Home Secretary Alan Johnson said the ban aimed to help prevent terrorism. It will take effect Thursday and make it a criminal offence to be a member of Islam4UK, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
“I have today laid an order which will proscribe Al Muhajiroun, Islam4UK, and a number of the other names the organization goes by,” Johnson said in a statement.
“Proscription is a tough but necessary power to tackle terrorism and is not a course we take lightly.”
Johnson said the organization was already banned under two other names — Al Ghurabaa and The Saved Sect — and militant groups should not be able to circumvent proscription simply by changing their names.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown last week denounced the group’s plan to march through Wootton Bassett, where mourners regularly line the streets as coffins of British soldiers flown back from Afghanistan pass through on their way from a nearby air base.
The government is keen to show it is tough on Islamist radicals after a Nigerian who had studied in London tried to blow up a plane flying into the United States on December 25. With a general election looming in the coming months, ministers do not want voters to see Britain as a haven for extremists.
The leader of Islam4UK, Anjem Choudary, told BBC radio the ban would not prevent him from continuing his campaigns.
“We won’t be using those names and those platforms which have been proscribed, but I can’t stop being a Muslim, I can’t stop propagating Islam, I can’t stop praying, I can’t stop calling for the sharia,” he said.
“That is something which I must do, and ultimately I will pay whatever price I need to for my belief.”
Islam4UK has links to Islamist militant leader Omar Bakri Mohammed, who has been banned from entering Britain.
Peter Neumann, director of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College in London, said Islam4UK had only 50 to 100 full members, although the group attracted much bigger crowds at its events.
“Islam4UK is very much a group that seeks publicity, that wants to be in the public eye, that provokes people in this country, and as a result gets onto the front page of the Daily Mail,” Neumann said, referring to a popular newspaper.
“That’s why the home secretary felt compelled to react.”
Neumann described the group as a “conveyor belt” toward violent activities, citing evidence that numerous members had gone on to militant training camps in Afghanistan, where they had fought alongside the Taliban.
Choudary denied that any member of his group had ever been involved in violence and denounced the ban as a breach of freedom of expression.
Editing by Jon Hemming