Anjem Choudary, former spokesman of the banned group Al-Muhajiroun, has posted a statement on a jihadist internet forum telling followers they must join the “divine call of jihad” in the African state.
His call in the password-protected site came days before America mounted air raids on suspected Al-Qaeda units in southern Somalia and news emerged that seven British passport holders had been captured in Somalia by Ethiopian troops.
This weekend the Ethiopian embassy in London said its forces had five Britons in custody, although it has failed to provide any documentary evidence.
The Britons are said to have been fighting against the interim Somali government alongside the Union of Islamic Courts, an Al-Qaeda-linked movement.
Choudary is a well-known figure on the forum called Followers of Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama’aah Muntada (Followers of the Prophet and His Companions). The site, which has about 700 members, is visited by some of Britain’s most notorious Muslim extremists, members of groups such as Al-Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect, offshoots of Al-Muhajiroun and banned after the London bombings on July 7, 2005. Applicants have to be recommended by a member.
Choudary, who uses the pseudonym Abou Luqman, declares in the forum: “The Ethiopians, with . . . support (from the Christian crusader regimes) and backed by illegitimate Israel (Zionists), have violated the blood of Muslims in Somalia. By committing such an act of terrorism the Muslims in Somalia and nearby lands have responded to the divine call of jihad.”
He then reminds followers of their duty to fight jihad: “The obligation of supporting jihad all over the world is fard ayn (an individual obligation) . . . This honourable act must be carried out according to your own capabilities because our beloved prophet Muhammad said strike the mushrik (infidels) with your wealth, hands and tongue.”
The forum has videos and images produced by Al-Qaeda that call on Muslims to join the jihad. Images of corpses of Ethiopian soldiers are captioned “dead kuffar (infidel) bodies”.
Forum members routinely quote the last wills of Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, two of the London bombers. There are also videos by Omar Bakri, the founder of Al-Muhajiroun who has been banned from Britain. In these, he claims to have lectured in Beeston, Leeds, the home town of three of the bombers.
Forum members also analyse British news. In one posting, George Galloway, the Respect MP, is ridiculed for criticising Omar Brooks, the Muslim extremist who heckled John Reid, the home secretary, in east London. One posting says: “What a dog this Galloway guy is . . . (he) can go to hell.”
The website was set up a year ago by Mizanur Rahman, 24, a web designer from north London found guilty of inciting murder at a protest last year outside the Danish embassy against the publication of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad by a Danish magazine.
Intelligence agencies fear Muslim extremists from Europe may be going to Somalia, a haven for Al-Qaeda in Africa, to fight jihad.
In October six western nationals, including a Briton, were arrested in Yemen, accused of being part of a cell that tried to smuggle weapons into Somalia. Rasheed Laskar, 34, was held for more than a month but has since been released without charge and returned to Britain with his wife and four children.
Laskar, a Muslim convert from Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, is to be interviewed by MI5 agents. He said this weekend: “The Yemenis did not tell me what I was arrested for. They beat me and tortured me.”
When The Sunday Times contacted Choudary he refused to confirm whether he was Luqman or if he knew of the website. He put the phone down.
Choudary, 39, a trained lawyer from Ilford, east London, has in the past called for the execution of Pope Benedict.
Patrick Mercer, Tory spokesman for homeland security, said: “Choudary must be closed down. It’s appalling that the Home Office has not done anything against this man so far.”
Additional reporting: Ginny Hill in Sanaa, Yemen