LONDON – The British government banned an Islamist group notorious for glorifying Al Qaeda and tied to terror plots at home and abroad, but its Lebanon-based spiritual leader promised to reorganize under a different name.
The group, Islam4UK, will be banned starting Thursday after its British leader, Anjem Choudary, threatened to bring hundreds of people marching in protest through the streets a small market town known for honoring the British soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
The latest ban puts the group in the same league with terror organizations such as Al Qaeda, and the Tamil Tigers. It could lead to the arrest of anyone meeting under the Islam4UK name or using the group's insignia.
The group, previously known as Al-Muhajiroun, was banned before only to change its name and resurface again.
Al-Muhajiroun, which means "The Emigrants" in Arabic, catapulted to notoriety shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, when it organized an event celebrating the airline hijackers who slaughtered thousands in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
The group and its founder Omar Bakri became among of the most aggressive voices of radical Islam in Britain. Officials have said that Omar Khan Sharif, who attempted to blow himself up at an Israeli bar in 2003, was associated with al-Muhajiroun. So too was Mohammed Junaid Babar, a Pakistani-born Al Qaeda member turned FBI informant. Members of the terrorist cell behind the July 7, 2005 London transit bombings and those convicted in 2007 of plotting to set of explosions across southern England using fertilizer-based explosives also had links to the group.
Officials moved to ban Al-Muhajiroun in the wake of the July 7 attacks, but by then it had ostensibly disbanded. Bakri left the country for Lebanon in late 2005.
Since then group has re-formed under new names — such as the Saved Sect or al-Gurabaa — both of which were banned in 2006.
The groups' leaders Choudary and Bakri reacted fiercely to news of the ban.
"It will rally the youth to our side," Choudary told reporters.
Peter Neumann, a professor at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King's College in London, said he doubted the ban would have much of an impact.
"It harasses them, but it doesn't make them go away," he said, explaining that the group would probably have to empty its bank account, change its Web site and reprint its promotional material.
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press from Tripoli, Lebanon, Bakri said his followers were looking forward to regrouping under a different name.
"Tomorrow we can call ourselves whatever we think is suitable for us," he said.
Neumann said Islam4UK had been allowed to operate for the past year or so in part because it kept its activities relatively discrete.
It was the national outrage whipped up by Islam4UK's proposed protest at the town of Wootton Basset which drew the government's wrath. The protest was eventually canceled by Choudary, who said his group had made its point.
The Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella group of British Muslim organizations, questioned whether banning the group rather than going after its leaders is the best way to deal with the issue .
"Shouldn't we, as a democracy and a country which upholds the rule of law and order, be banning individuals who break the law rather than banning organizations?" spokesman Inayat Bunglawala said.
Neumann suggested that the ban would not mean the end for al-Muhajiroun, whatever new form it took.
"They've been playing this game for quite a long time," he said.