The streets around London Bridge were full of Saturday night revelers spilling out of restaurants and bars. Many had just watched Real Madrid win the Champions League.
Just after 10 p.m. on June 3, 2017, a white van struck pedestrians on London Bridge, then continued toward Borough Market, a popular nightspot. Three men leapt out and stabbed anyone in their path, shouting “this is for Allah.”
Within eight minutes, the attackers were shot dead. Eight Londoners were killed. The ringleader, Khuram Butt, dressed in an Arsenal football club shirt, had reportedly stabbed his victims “calmly.”
Four years prior, he was less calm. Butt was said by former friends to be “like a lion out of a cage” when he was with convicted Daesh supporter Anjem Choudary, the UK’s most infamous hate preacher.
At the inquest into the London Bridge attack, contemporaries said Butt had become “energized” when meeting Choudary, who led the banned Al-Muhajiroun group.
Butt turned from an “earnest and hard-working” schoolboy to an extremist who told a colleague that the murder of soldier Lee Rigby in a 2013 terror attack was “an eye for an eye.”
That year, Butt was spotted alongside Choudary, who has subsequently been jailed for inviting support for Daesh, at a protest following Rigby’s murder.
Experts warned that Butt’s transformation from an apparently non-violent extremist to a terrorist could be echoed by countless British Islamists brought to a “tipping point” by the ideology espoused by hate preachers such as Choudary.
Direct proof is hard to assert, but research has claimed that Choudary and his associates have “inspired more than 100 British jihadis,” including a quarter of all Islamist terror offenders in the UK between 1998 and 2015.
Choudary was born in London in 1967, the son a market trader of Punjabi-Pakistani descent.
A failed medical student, he studied law before moving to London to work at a legal firm and complete his qualifications.
This legal knowledge would help him evade prison during his future career as a preacher of hate. Choudary went on to become a qualified solicitor and chairman of the Society of Muslim Lawyers. Various reports say he was barred from practicing in 2002.
Choudary embraced radical Islamism and joined the extremist organization Al-Muhajiroun, working with Islamist militant leader Omar Bakri Muhammad.
The organization was banned in 2004 under UK anti-terror legislation. Muhammad later left for Lebanon, and Choudary assumed the leadership position.
Al-Muhajiroun’s official disbanding had little real impact on its British supporters, and in the next few years Choudary led various groups that were just rebadged to circumvent anti-terror laws.
These included Al-Ghurabaa, which hosted links on its website to hardline internet chat forums that justified attacks on civilians.
Another group, Islam4UK, campaigned for a hardline Daesh-style global caliphate. Its website featured a picture of Buckingham Palace converted to a mosque.
Choudary marked the first anniversary of the 7/7 London bombings in 2006 by saying Muslims in Britain were “oppressed” and had the right to defend themselves “by whatever means.” This represented a core part of his strategy.
Choudary used the controversy of the US-led “war on terror” to incite hatred aimed at British soldiers. He labeled homecoming parades for British soldiers “vile,” and called them “brutal murderers.”
Servicemen were subsequently confronted with placards branding them killers, rapists and terrorists when they came home.
To grow his influence and recruit members, Choudary deliberately courted controversy at events and high-profile demonstrations.
He was a regular media performer due to his shocking statements, which were lapped up by the UK press.
Choudary met small groups of supporters to lecture, used YouTube and hosted video conferences on private platforms to spread his messages far and wide via social media messaging services.
Al-Muhajiroun and its various offshoots played a role in radicalizing a number of UK jihadists. These included Michael Adebolajo, who brutally murdered Rigby.
Choudary admitted he had been involved in the group and with Siddartha Dhar, a senior member of Choudary’s group who ended up fighting for Daesh.
Throughout the last decade, Choudary continued to feature at demonstrations and give controversial media interviews, increasingly being arrested and detained.
In August 2015, he was finally charged for encouraging active support for Daesh. Just over a year later, he received a five-and-a-half-year sentence.
The judge said Choudary had finally “crossed the line between the legitimate expression of your own views and a criminal act.”
The words of hate that finally led him to jail
After treading carefully for many years, Choudary appeared to abandon his carefully calibrated remarks, which were designed to prevent him from being sent to jail.
He posted an oath of allegiance to Daesh on an extremist website. Between August and September 2014, he posted a series of speeches on YouTube encouraging support for the group.
In a video titled “How Muslims Assess the Legitimacy of the Caliphate,” Choudary set out how Daesh fulfilled the criteria for a legitimate Islamic caliphate.
In another clip, he expressed his support for the murderous activity undertaken by the group to create its so-called caliphate.
“We don’t have any borders, my dear Muslims. It’s about time we resumed conquering for the sake of Allah,” he said.
“Next time, when your child is at school and the teacher says, ‘what do you want when you grow up, what’s your ambition?’ they should say, ‘to dominate the whole world by Islam, including Britain. That’s my ambition’.”
Choudary was released in October 2018, but strict conditions and monitoring have so far prevented him from being active.
However, the damage he has caused lives on through the estimated 23,000 Islamist radicals currently residing in the UK, a large proportion of which the country’s security services believe movements such as Al-Muhajiroun helped inspire over several decades.