British police arrested nine men, including radical cleric Anjem Choudary, in London anti-terror raids early Thursday. 

The Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism command arrested the men, ranging in age between 22 and 51, on suspicion of being members of banned organizations as well as supporting and encouraging terrorism.

Scotland Yard has also raided homes, businesses and community centers as part of the probe. Searches were underway Thursday at 18 sites in London and one residence in Stoke-on-Trent. Police said in a statement that the arrests and searches were part of an ongoing investigation into Islamist-related terrorism rather than any immediate risk to public safety.

Choudary is the former leader of the Islamist group al-Muhajiroun, or Islam 4 UK, which was banned by the British government in 2010. He is suspected of radicalizing hundreds of fighters for the Islamic State militant group, including the man believed to have beheaded American journalist James Foley last month. 

“If Muslims go anywhere in the world to defend their brethren, this is a good thing. Of course it should be permitted to go and fight,” Choudary told last month. “Anyone who goes and stands alongside them [the fighters in Iraq] is noble. In anyone’s book it is the right thing to do.

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"We could easily have conflict here [in the West] soon," he added. "I believe people are ready for it. We want to walk under the beauty of Shariah."

The arrested men were being held at police stations in central London.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.