Arrest of British Islamic radicals might spur attacks against Western targets
Islamic radicals in Britain who vowed in the past not to attack Western targets might feel differently now that their leaders were arrested this week, a University of Pittsburgh expert on terror groups told the Tribune-Review on Friday.
Members of the group called al-Muhajiroun, which means “the immigrants,” have believed in a so-called covenant of security, said Michael Kenney, a Pitt researcher who has interviewed more than 40 of the group’s members over the past seven years as part of his research on terrorism.
The covenant meant they would not attack British targets as long as the government left them alone. Even though they advocated for the creation of an Islamic state, active members of the group participated in protests rather than violent attacks, Kenney said.
“This could very well be a game-changer. It’s still early to say,” said Kenney, who is also working on a book about the group. “For all we know, all these guys might be released in the next 24 hours, and that will be the end of it. It depends on what happens next.”
British counterterrorism police arrested nine members of the group on Thursday, charging them with being involved in a banned group and encouraging terrorism. Police raided homes, businesses and community centers at more than a dozen sites in London and in Stoke on Trent, The Associated Press reported.
A leader who was arrested, Anjem Choudary, announced on Friday on Twitter that he was released from custody just as Prime Minister David Cameron and Parliament approved airstrikes on ISIS fighters.
“Cameron has today plunged Britain in a bloody war with Muslims in Iraq/Syria but who will pay the price when it has repercussions in the U.K.?” Choudary tweeted.
Groups such as al-Muhajiroun pose two threats: commencing an actual attack and more aggressively recruiting people to join Islamic fighters, said Colin Clarke, a researcher at The Rand Corp. in Pittsburgh.
“Western law enforcement is really cognizant there are these people already in the U.K. and in the U.S. that have the potential to lash out and cause some real trouble,” Clarke said. “It’s inevitable something’s going to happen.”
As the British government in the past moved to ban Al-Muhajiroun, its members changed the group’s name to Islam4UK, Muslims Against Crusades and others. But essentially, the mission remains the same, Kenney said.
Al-Muhajiroun had spinoff groups in the United States — Revolution Muslim and the Islamic Thinkers Society — but they quickly fell apart, Kenney said.
British police generally have tolerated the group, even defending its members as they protested against the government. However, the British government became more concerned as an estimated 400 to 500 young British men and women went to fight with ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Kenney said.
“Their motivation is just like ISIS,” he said. “They want to establish the Islamic state. They’ve been working on that for years. Not just in the Muslim world. They want to establish it in Britain, in the West, throughout the world.”
Andrew Conte is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7835 or [email protected].