A short history of ALM encouraging foreign fighters

While Syria and the Islamic State has been the most recent target for ALM activists, the organisation and its network has a long history of…

While Syria and the Islamic State has been the most recent target for ALM activists, the organisation and its network has a long history of being a conduit through which jihadists have been funnelled to various war zones.

It started in the 1990s with Chechnya, where the newly launched ALM began to send a trickle of activists. In an interview with the author [HNH research editor Joe Mulhall] Choudary explained:

“Now before 2000 if you look at our demonstrations we would openly say yes, jihad in Chechnya, you should go, not that we were sending people but we would say yea. […] You know we were actually collecting for Chechnya, you know in Trafalgar Square. There was no problem about supporting the Jihad in those days either verbally, even financially or to go abroad it was not illegal. The fact is that all those things were done openly. We were even recruiting people standing in Trafalgar Square to send them abroad.”3

Al-Muhajiroun connections (2013 Gateway to Terror)

However, since the passing of the 2000 Terrorism Act, Choudary and ALM have curbed open fundraising and no longer publicly call for activists to go abroad. This does not however mean that they have stopped doing it in private. Since the 9/11 attacks the number of activists fighting abroad has increased. As discussed above, the group’s Pakistani branch was used to send British activists to training camps and to fight in Afghanistan and Kashmir. In addition, in 2007 Choudary was found to be posting on Islamist forums under an alias and encouraging people to go to Somalia.

While ALM’s founder Omar Bakri has admitted to sending members of the network to Syria4, Choudary has denied it. However, he has admitted that ALM funded jihad and looked after the families of those activists who had gone abroad, plus admitted to knowing people who have left from within his movement.5 Former ALM member Hassan Butt contradicts Choudary, stating: “We can help recruits with their air fares to Pakistan – and in some cases will even look after the families they have left behind.”6

Another former member added:

People get radicalised by Choudary and Bakri and then go abroad. By going abroad, they go off the grid. Of course that provides Choudary with the excuse that he has lost contact with these people and so he can’t be blamed for what they get up to. But of course, he encourages them to go abroad, he told them it was their duty. His lieutenants facilitated it and it was into their networks abroad where they ended up.7

It is arguable that the ALM network both in the UK and abroad provides the ideological and theological arguments for (violent) jihad that helps radicalise activists to go abroad to fight.

ALM’s affinity to the Islamic State was of course no great surprise, especially in light of its headline-grabbing expansion. However, there were strong ideological parallels between what ALM had been saying since the 1990s and the goals and objectives of the Islamic State.

Notably, unlike Al-Qaeda which prioritised the attacking of enemies, both ALM and IS stressed the need to form a new caliphate, a territory where their interpretation of Islamic law could be implemented straight away. As a 2014 Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict report stated: “This was later to make it [ALM] the perfect vehicle for promoting ISIS and the Islamic State.”8

United Kingdom

Demonstration by female supporters of Anjem Choudary in London

Just as UK-based ALM activists headed abroad to fight in Chechnya and Afghanistan, under the guidance of Anjem Choudary they also headed in droves to join the Islamic State, making Choudary’s group in the UK the largest single group channeling recruits to Iraq and Syria.

Choudary denies that he has encouraged people to go and fight, but he also will not condemn them. “Although we don’t recruit people to send abroad,” he told The Daily Star, “we are not surprised if they want to go abroad and stand with their Muslim brothers and sisters who are being killed and whose land is being occupied.

“Surely it is a noble thing to want to liberate Muslim land? I have no shame whatsoever in saying these people were at times in some way or other affiliated with us.”

Despite this many key ALM activists have made the trip, the most notorious of which is Abu Rumaysah. After being released on bail by the British authorities, he fled to Syria in September 2014 with his wife and their four children.

Altogether HOPE not hate estimates that well over 100 Britons with some connection to Choudary and the al-Muhajiroun network have gone to Syria to fight. Most are from London, but others originate from Luton, Crawley, Cardiff, Birmingham, Stoke-on-Trent, Leicester, Derby, Leeds, Halifax and Manchester.

The Luton group alone is believed to be 20-25 strong, though some appear to have been killed.

Next: Choudary’s International Network


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