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UK cleric Anjem Choudary guilty of inviting support for Islamic State

Choudary was notorious in the UK for his media appearences in which he praised al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group
Choudary spoke for an hour on how IS was a 'legitimate' caliphate (AFP)

Anjem Choudary, one of Britain's most high-profile Islamist preachers whose followers have been linked to numerous militant plots across the world, has been found guilty of inviting support for the Islamic State (IS) group.

Choudary, 49, was convicted at London's Old Bailey of using online lectures and messages to encourage support for the banned group which controls large parts of Syria and Iraq.

He will be sentenced in September and could face a jail sentence of up to 10 years. 

Choudary was the former head of the now banned organisation al-Muhajiroun, and became infamous for praising the men responsible for the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

Notorious in Britain where the tabloids denounced him as a hate preacher, he is also well-known abroad, making regular TV appearances in the wake of militant attacks during which he blamed Western foreign policy for stoking hatred and sparking retaliation. 

Prosecutors said that in postings on social media, Choudary and his close associate Mizanur Rahman, 33, had sought to validate the "caliphate" declared by IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and said Muslims had a duty to obey or provide support to him.

In a one hour-long speech, Choudary set out the requirements for a legitimate caliphate under Islam and why he believed IS met those criteria.

Both men, who had denied terrorism charges and claimed the case was politically motivated, were found guilty last month but their convictions could not be reported until Tuesday for legal reasons. They will both be sentenced next month. 

Despite his controversial comments and refusal to condemn attacks such as the London 2005 bombings, Choudary has always denied any involvement in militant activity and has never been charged with any terrorism offence.

Rahman served two years in jail for encouraging followers to kill British and American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq during a protest in 2006.

Breeding ground for militants

Muhajiroun was regarded as a breeding ground for militants since it was founded in the late 1990s by Syrian-born Islamist cleric Omar Bakri, who was banished from Britain in 2005, and was banned under anti-terrorist laws in 2010.

Michael Adebolajo, one of the men who hacked to death British soldier Lee Rigby on a London street in 2013, had attended protests Choudary had organised.

Last year, the trial of a teenage Muslim convert found guilty of plotting to behead a soldier in London was told he had fallen in with Muhajiroun.

The group's influence is said to extend far beyond Britain. Those connected to it include Abu Hamza al-Masri, jailed for life in the United States last year for terrorism-related offences.

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, the gunman who shot and killed a soldier in Canada's capital and then stormed parliament in 2014, followed Choudary on Twitter, although the preacher told Reuters at the time he had no links to him.

Both Choudary and Rahman say they abide by a "covenant of security" which forbids Muslims from carrying out attacks in non-Muslim lands where their lives and wellbeing are protected.

"We're living in a global community and no doubt Muslims around the world who have their eye on what's happening in Syria and Iraq or want to know about the sharia [law] will come across us at one point or another," Choudary told Reuters in 2014.

"That does not mean that we're encouraging people to carry out any acts of terrorism."

Fox News presenter Sean Hannity previously described Choudary as "one sick miserable SOB".