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We are allowing terrorism to thrive by failing to act

OF ALL the comments in the wake of Thursday's guilty verdict on Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, much the most sensible came from Lee Rigby's stepfather, Ian.

It's not Islam that's to blame, he said. "They're using religion as an excuse for whatever they've been brainwashed with." Both Adebolajo and Adebowale were well-behaved, well brought-up children. In their teens they joined gangs when they started to go off the rails. Something far more terrible, however, happened to them which then led them to terrorism. It's cheap, easy and wrong to say that it was their conversion to Islam that set them on a path to murder. Hundreds of thousands convert to Islam. A tiny fraction end up as terrorists. It wasn't conversion that turned them into terrorists. It was something far more worrying: their exposure to hate-preachers. That's why Ian Rigby's words are so important. They were, indeed, brainwashed. Brainwashed into believing that their duty as Muslims is murder. What's frightening is that the security services say that where Adebolajo and Adebowale were led, so too are hundreds if not thousands of others. One source was reported yesterday as saying: "The context is that these are two among a very large number of people from similar backgrounds with similar outlook and motivations." In other words, many more al-Qaeda sympathisers who believe their religious duty is to kill us are walking our streets today. YOU'D think that the fact this is so widely known would prompt action. You'd be wrong. We know from Adebolajo and Adebowale's trial that MI5 knew Adebolajo was involved with terrorists - yet it did nothing to stop him. After he was arrested in Kenya in 2010 for trying to join Al Shabaab, a Somali terrorist group, MI5 tried to recruit him as an informant. That failed. But MI5's response was to ignore any threat he posed. At no point was any action taken to stop him - bizarrely, given how much the security services knew of his actions, he was allowed to keep his passport. He wasn't prosecuted for attempting to engage in terrorism overseas and there was no attempt to impose a control order. But that's the least of it. We know that there have been a series of plots by Muslims associated with the banned group Al Muhajiroun and its fellow organisations, Al Ghurabaa, Saved Sect, Islam4UK and the London School of Sharia. Associates have been imprisoned for planning attacks on Royal Wootton Bassett and a Territorial Army base in Luton.

Research carried out by the Henry Jackson Society in 2011 showed that one in five of those convicted of Islamist-related terrorism offences between 2001-2011 in the UK was linked with Al Muhajiroun. I describe it as "banned". Yet in reality it simply exists under a series of different names. Since the Henry Jackson Society research in 2011, at least nine other people associated with it have been convicted of three further bomb plots.

It's cheap, easy and wrong to say that it was their conversion to Islam that set them on a path to murder

You'd think that the leader of such a banned group would be, well banned. But its leader Anjem Choudary remains one of the most active and notorious hate-preachers in the country. Yesterday he was given the lead interview slot on BBC Radio 4's Today programme and allowed to spew his bile and sly word games. Is it any wonder these people think our society is weak when we offer such platforms to them? As a solicitor, Choudary is careful in his public statements to remain within the letter of the law. Even when he says, as he put it after the murder, that Lee Rigby will "burn in hellfire" and that Adebolajo is "a nice man". When he refuses to condemn the terrorism of his associates he is careful not to "glorify" them - because "glorifying" a terrorist act is a crime under the 2006 Terrorism Act. But what this shows is not that he is a law-abiding citizen but that we have decided to tie one hand behind our backs in the fight against Islamist terrorism. We huff and puff and express our outrage about it but we carry on as before. The lesson is that instead of throwing up our hands in frustration because a man such as Choudary cannot be caught by the law of the land we will have to change our approach completely.

Because the law can deal with these people - if we choose to let it. Take the banned organisations. The law would have to be spectacularly stupid if a simple name change for a banned organisation, as is Choudary's habit, was all that was needed to act within the law. The law says that "professed membership" of a banned group is a crime. That means that when former members of Al Muhajiroun meet, even under a new name, it is a crime. As is "inviting support" for such a group - which is the basis of what hate-preachers do all the time. There are any number of other offences: "to arrange or attend a private meeting with the intention to support" a banned organisation; to further its activities; or to be addressed by a person who belongs or professes to belong to such a group. But instead of going after the hate-preachers the authorities sit on their hands. Indeed we even finance Choudary through the so-called "jihad-seeker's allowance". He is handed up to 25,000 a year in benefits. The real issue is that the authorities take the wrong approach. They believe that the presence on the streets of men like Choudary helps them, because it "flushes out" potential terrorists to monitor. Surely their failure to do anything to stop Adebolajo destroys that argument once and for all.