The al-Muhajiroun network to which at least one of the London Bridge terrorists belonged emerged in an era when the British authorities had a very different attitude towards Islamist extremism.
When Omar Bakri Mohammed, the Syrian-born preacher, arrived in London in 1986 after being ejected from Saudi Arabia, armed Islamists were viewed as cold war allies of the west. Osama bin Laden’s mujahedin and the CIA were on the same side in the fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
Today, the network Bakri nurtured in the UK is the most potent element in an Islamist threat that Britain’s security agencies are struggling to contain.
A 2013 report entitled “Gateway to Terror” by the Hope not hate anti-extremist organisation concluded that “al-Muhajiroun members and supporters make up the overwhelming majority of people convicted of Islamist extremist activities in the UK over the last 15 years”.
Before September 11 2001 and the British-backed invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the unwritten bargain went like this: extreme Islamists were allowed to live and organise in the UK provided they did nothing to menace their hosts.