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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 July, 2004, 14:46 GMT 15:46 UK
Islamic group moves London rally
Omar Bakri Muhammad
Omar Bakri Muhammad accused London's authorities of bias
An Islamic group has held a rally in Essex after cancelling plans to meet in London because of "security fears".

A spokesman for Al-Muhajiroun, which is alleged to have extremist views, said a "few hundred" people had turned up for the event.

The group said there were security concerns over the original plan to gather in Trafalgar Square.

And it said it was "prudent" not to meet in central London because of the threat of an attack by al-Qaeda.

'Not controversial'

Anjem Choudary, the leader of Al-Muhajiroun in the UK, told BBC News Online Sunday's meeting at an undisclosed location in Essex had been "very peaceful."

We didn't want to be inviting people, then facing a situation where it's difficult to ensure people's safety and well-being
Anjem Choudary, Al-Muhajiroun
He added: "There was a good mix of people from across the country, and there was a real family atmosphere."

He said the decision to cancel the central London meeting had been made because the "safety and security" of those attending could not be guaranteed.

"It was very difficult to calculate how many people were going to come from overseas and around Britain.

"We didn't want to be inviting people, then facing a situation where it's difficult to ensure people's safety and well-being."

Mr Choudary said groups such as the British National Party and National Front may have attended which could have sparked trouble.

He added: "If something did happen, our people are not going to turn around and go home.

"They are going to defend themselves and their families."

But he said moving the rally to Essex had meant neither the BNP nor the National Front had been able to send activists to the meeting.

Deadline

He said the group had also decided to move the rally because of the threat of a terrorist attack by al-Qaeda.

In an audiotape broadcast by two Arabic television stations on April 15 this year, Osama bin Laden, the head of the terror group, offered a "truce" to European governments if they pulled troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the tape, which the CIA said it believed was genuine, Bin Laden set a three-month deadline, presumed to have expired on July 15.

Mr Choudary said the spiritual leader of Al-Muhajiroun, Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, had been told al Qaeda had repeated its warning of attacks

He added: "We decided it would be prudent not to go into central London.

"There hasn't been a specific threat, but you've got to be careful."

He added: "It could be anywhere in Europe but the most likely target is Britain."

But a spokeswoman for London's Metropolitan police said there was a long-standing national terrorism threat but she was not aware of any specific threat having been issued or repeated.

'Appropriate location'

Al-Muhajiroun had been threatened with prosecution by London authorities if it went ahead with its plans to meet in central London.

Mayor Ken Livingstone wrote to Al-Muhajiroun's leader in Britain, Anjem Choudary, to warn him he risked breaking the law if the Trafalgar Square meeting went ahead.

The Greater London Authority was successful in using by-laws to prosecute Mr Choudary after a rally there in 2002.

The sheikh had earlier claimed London's authorities were biased in their treatment of Al-Muhajiroun.

He insisted the group's "controversial" tag was not warranted and said he was committed to peace and decency.

Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, leader of the Muslim Parliament, had said a mosque or Islamic centre was a more appropriate place for such a rally to be held.




SEE ALSO:
Inside Britain's Islamic colleges
15 Jan 04  |  Magazine
Police raid Islamic group
30 Jul 03  |  London


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