Islamist firebrand draws harsh words, light sentence from UK judge

Anjem Choudary, a firebrand Muslim cleric based in London, calls Islamic State fighters "noble." (Reuters)

Anjem Choudary, a firebrand Muslim cleric based in London, calls Islamic State fighters "noble." (Reuters)

Firebrand Muslim cleric Anjem Choudary, who radicalized dozens of ISIS recruits including the man believed to have beheaded American journalist James Foley, was sentenced Tuesday to more than 5 years in prison for inciting others to commit acts of terrorism.

In handing down what was deemed a lenient sentence, Sir Timothy Victor Holroyde, justice of the High Court of Justice of England and Wales, Queen’s Bench Division, had harsh words for Choudary, who he said “crossed the line between the legitimate expression of your own views and a criminal act."

He was facing up to 10 years.

"A significant proportion of those listening to your words would be impressionable persons looking to you for guidance on how to act," he said, noting that the 47-year-old former barrister had failed to condemn "any aspect" of what ISIS was doing.

"In that way you indirectly encouraged violent terrorist activity," he said.

Choudary will likely get out in less than the five-and-a-half years to which he was sentenced.

For 20 years Choudary preached hate on the streets of the UK and Europe, and tried to split Britain along religious lines. Choudary, whose extremist group Islam 4 UK was banned under a terrorism crackdown, praised the people who traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight for ISIS, but always stopped short of openly supporting them himself. He also praised those responsible for the 9/11 attacks

By doing so he always stayed in a gray area of the law – using freedom of speech against the police. British authorities finally got him for postings on social media in which he pledged allegiance to the caliphate, saying that Muslims had a duty to obey or provide support for it.

He often repeated his mantra that he hoped Sharia Law would take hold in the United Kingdom and that the black flag of Islam would fly over Downing Street.

“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,” said Choudary. “Anyone who goes and stands alongside them is noble. In anyone’s book it is the right thing to do.”

Choudary denied motivating the Islamic State member known as “Jihad John,” and suspected of beheading Foley, to join the twisted holy war. But in an earlier interview with Fox News, Choudary proclaimed that the hooded executioner showed more mercy than the U.S. military.

“Better a quick swift death at the hands of this man than a decade of humiliation in Abu Graib or Guantanamo,” he said. “I know which I would prefer. The U.S. are the champions of execution.”

 Choudary has long been the face of the United Kingdom’s problem with violent Islam. Now he will serve his time isolated from other prisoners, after a new law which keeps radical prisoners segregated in order to prevent them radicalizing others.