Radical preacher blames 'Kevin Keegan effect' at trial

Islamist preacher Anjem Choudary said the "Kevin Keegan effect" meant people still viewed him as a member of a group banned under UK terror laws, a court has heard.

Mr Choudary, 57, faces charges including that he "directed" the group Al Muhajiroun (ALM) - which he told the court was wound up in 2004 - as well as being a member for "many years" and encouraging support for it through online meetings.

Giving evidence, he said: "If you ask about Kevin Keegan, people say ‘he plays football for Liverpool'. People look at me and think Al Muhajiroun.”

He is on trial alongside Khaled Hussein, 29, from Edmonton in Canada, who is accused of being a member of a banned organisation. Both men deny the charges.

Mr Choudary, of Ilford, east London, was giving evidence for the first time at his trial at Woolwich Crown Court, where he is charged with directing a terrorism organisation, and being a member of and supporting a banned group.

He told the jury he was one of the original three members of ALM, which was founded in 1996 after his mentor Omar Bakri Mohammed left another Islamist group called Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

He said over time Bakri Mohammed became more salafist - a purist branch of Islam that relies almost entirely on the teachings of the Companions of the Prophet who had known Prophet Mohammed - and that to avoid confusion the organisation was wound up in 2004.

His barrister Paul Hynes KC asked: “Was Al Muhajiroun replaced by another organisation?”

“No," Mr Choudary said. “People from the outside said that’s the same people.”

When asked if his role in the group is what he is most famous for, he replied: "Yes, it was the Kevin Keegan effect, I've never moved on from him playing for Liverpool."

Mr Choudary said he became known as a member while the group sought publicity between 1996 and 2004.

He added: "People still remember you, in the same way Nigel Farage is UKIP, George Galloway is Respect."

The prosecution argues that ALM continued as an organisation, merely changing its name.

It was first banned - or proscribed - by the home secretary in 2006 under the name Al Ghurabaa. In 2010, ALM was included in the ban as an alternate name.

The prosecution says Mr Choudary was still acting as the effective leader of ALM as late as July 2023, making online speeches to an offshoot in America called the Islamic Thinkers Society (ITS).

Mr Choudary said the suggestion that ALM continued under the name of ITS was "nonsense", saying the organisation was formed in 2003 amid disagreements with ALM over ideology.

He told the court that ITS members were "attacking" ALM's positions in online posts.

During his evidence, Mr Choudary explained to the jury why he tweeted “Allah bless Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the Khalifah” in 2014 about the leader of the Islamic State group.

He said he had done this because he believed a legitimate Islamic caliphate had been established in parts of Iraq and Syria.

He was jailed in 2016 for encouraging support for the Islamic State group. He told the jury that after his release he had continued to do his best to propagate Islam.

“When I came off my licence period, there was nobody doing anything," he said.

“I did what I could by myself. Sometimes with my wife, sometimes with my children.”

The trial continues.

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