British radical preacher Anjem Choudary, who was jailed for encouraging support for ISIS, has had his ban on public speaking lifted.
Members of his banned Al Muhajiroun group have been linked to terrorist attacks internationally and a quarter of jailed terrorists in the UK were also associated with it.
Choudary, 54, was released early from a five and a half year sentence from HMP Belmarsh in 2018 imposed after he used online lectures and messages to encourage support of ISIS.
He was subjected to more than 20 conditions, and was separately added to a UN sanctions list, which meant he was barred from travelling and had his assets frozen.
The conditions, which expired this week, included a ban on public speaking, restricted internet and mobile phone use and a ban on contacting suspected extremists.
Speaking for the first time since the restrictions were lifted, he claimed he was “a prisoner of faith”.
“I don’t think I have ever incited violence,” he said.
Choudary led the ALM network, which has inspired terrorists including Usman Khan, who killed two people on London Bridge in 2019. Khan was on licence after being released early from a terrorism sentence for plotting to bomb the London Stock Exchange.
Other former ALM members included the leader of the three attackers who killed eight people at London Bridge in 2017, and Khalid Masood, who murdered five people on Westminster Bridge that year.
The group’s influence is said to extend far beyond Britain. Those connected to it include Abu Hamza Al Masri, jailed for life in the US in 2015 for terrorism-related offences.
Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who shot and killed a soldier in Canada’s capital, Ottawa, in 2014, followed Choudary on Twitter.
Choudary’s influence in Europe was such that the Dutch intelligence agency Avid accused him of being a prominent ISIS influencer in the Netherlands.
In Belgium, he helped to set up Sharia4Belgium and praised its leader after more than 40 of its members were convicted of terrorism.
Campaign group Hope Not Hate said the networks Choudary created “became the largest recruiter for ISIS in Europe”.
Previously, he has praised those responsible for the September 11 attacks and said he wanted to convert Buckingham Palace into a mosque.
Choudary’s restrictions expired when his sentence ended, but the intelligence services can apply to impose Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures on him.
The monitoring tool is used by the police against people suspected to be involved in terrorism or to present a threat, but who cannot be prosecuted or deported.
ALM has been regarded as a breeding ground for militants since it was founded in the late 1990s by Syrian-born Islamist extremist cleric Omar Bakri. He was banished from Britain in 2005, and was barred under anti-terrorist laws in 2010.
In 2019, Hope Not Nate warned that ALM was starting to re-emerge, “albeit on a much smaller and more tentative scale”, with street stalls in east London and social media appearances by some of its most prominent members.
“While Choudary himself will not be able to have any contact with any of his old Al Muhajiroun associates, his release will obviously act as a spur for others,” it said. It issued a warning that to impress Choudary, younger leaders would become more active.
Former UK prime minister Theresa May previously said the authorities were well-equipped to deal with him.