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Radical Islamic Group Banned in Britain

The British government has banned an Islamic group under the country's counter-terrorism laws. Islam4UK had planned to stage a march through the British town Wootton Bassett to honor Muslims killed in Afghanistan.

Britain's home secretary has announced that from Thursday it will be a criminal offense to be part of the radical Islamic Group Islam4UK or its "parent" organization, al-Muhajiroun.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson said the group has already been banned under two different aliases and had tried to escape the ban by changing its name. He said the move was needed in order to "tackle terrorism."

But Islam4UK leader Anjem Choudary told VOA the ban, made under the Terrorism Act 2000, is unfair because the group is not involved in violent activity.

"We are an ideological and political movement. We do not engage in any military activities or any violence," he said.

Islam4UK was originally founded in the 1980s under the name al-Muhajiroun. The tiny Islamic group has since won much publicity in Britain by threatening to carry out controversial demonstrations.

Last week, the group announced plans for a march through Wooton Basset, a small market town where British soldiers killed in Afghanistan are honored, but the demonstration was called off on Sunday.

Choudary says by banning his group, the British government is undermining freedom of speech in Britain and discriminating against Muslims.

"If one looks at the Terrorism Act and the list of proscribed organizations, you will find that the majority of them in fact are Muslim based and they are involved in one way or another either in working to implement the Sharia or to liberate Muslim land," he said.

Dr. Chris Allen is an Islam specialist and author based in Britain. He says the Terrorism Act does largely target Muslim groups, but this is because the legislation emerged as a result of terror attacks in the United States and Britain carried out by extremist Muslims.

"The legislation which has come in has been on the back of looking at sort of Islam as a 'problem' - I use the word problem in speech - so yes, it has had a focus on Muslims but I think that it's in response to the legislation that was largely driven by the acts of a handful of unrepresentative Muslims," he said.

He says the majority of Muslims in Britain do not support extremist groups like Islam4UK, but he says many may see the ban as an unfair target against Muslims.

"And I think that could increase some support for groups such as Islam4UK, so I do think it's a very fine line that the government are actually currently walking," he said.

According to the Home Office, 15 people have been convicted of criminal offenses related to banned groups since 2001. A total of 45 groups are listed on the Home Office Web site as banned under the Terrorism Act.