What is ‘antisemitic’ Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir and what does it want? | UK security and counter-terrorism

Hizb ut-Tahrir, the revolutionary Islamist organisation that is to be banned from organising in the UK, has been agitating and recruiting in Britain for nearly 40 years.

A ban on the group, which has been called “antisemitic” by the home secretary, James Cleverly, will come into force on Friday if approved by parliament, in a move that will put it on a par with al-Qaida and Islamic State.

What are the group’s origins?

Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), whose name translates into English as “party of liberation”, was founded in 1953 in Jordan by Taqiuddin al-Nabhani, an Islamist intellectual and Palestinian graduate of an Egyptian university.

Nabhani’s focus was Arab unification based on Islam, as opposed to the secular ideology of pan-Arabism which was in the ascendancy at the time.

Originally, HT’s main method of trying to gain power was by infiltrating militaries in countries with Muslim majorities. It was behind failed attempts to stage coups in Jordan, Iraq and Syria in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Its first European branch was established in the 1960s in West Germany and it soon spread to dozens of other countries.

What does it want?

Its official aim has been to re-establish the Islamic caliphate, a reference to the original caliphate that flourished briefly after the death of the prophet Muhammad in 632.

But while it claims to disavow violence, the ultimate aim of its totalitarian ideology is the imposition of sharia law worldwide and the destruction of Israel. This particularly narrow interpretation of Islam means that it views universal human rights as concepts that are antithetical to Islam, regarding them as a western construction.

What has been its role in the UK?

HT was first established in Britain in 1986, focusing initially on Muslims who were living in the UK temporarily and setting up study groups.

It moved from organising protests outside embassies to recruiting young second-generation British Muslims on campuses. After it encountered opposition from the National Union of Students (NUS) and others, it pivoted towards creating front-groups based around single issues.

Key figures have included Omar Bakri Muhammad, who founded the UK branch of HT and remained leader until 1996, as well as Abdul Wahid, a doctor who has been the chair of its British branch.

Why has it not been banned before?

Several countries – including Germany, Egypt, Pakistan and several central-Asian and Arab countries – have banned HT, while the group has been the subject of political controversy in the UK for decades.

Tony Blair said that he would ban the group shortly after the 7/7 bombings in 2005 as part of a plan to combat Islamist extremism, but then dropped the plan amid reservations from the Home Office and senior police officers, who feared this would backfire in terms of boosting recruitment.

Successive home secretaries have also mulled enacting a ban, but decided against it – including Theresa May, who said she wanted to but had opted not to on the basis of legal advice.

What has changed now?

A catalyst for the ban has been the increased spotlight on the activities of HT in recent months amid street protests sparked by the Israel-Gaza conflict.

The Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, said hate crime laws “probably need redrawing” as the force came under pressure over its policing of a pro-Palestinian protest in London.

The force also issued a statement saying it was taking no further action after footage appeared online of a man chanting “jihad, jihad” at a smaller rally organised by HT.

Announcing the move to ban the groups’s activities, Cleverly specifically referenced its praise for the 7 October attacks by Hamas, which killed 1,200 people.

Since those events, HT had not condemned Hamas, a group already proscribed in the UK, but instead had hailed the attacks on Israeli citizens by saying: “If this can be done by a resistance group, imagine what a unified response from the Muslim world could achieve.”

Its praise for those attacks and description of Hamas as heroes on its website constituted promoting and encouraging terrorism, Cleverly said. HT has denied it was antisemitic, saying: “We do not support the Hamas group, but support the people of Palestine.”


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