By William Maclean, Security Correspondent
LONDON (Reuters) - Radical U.S. Muslim discussion groups are growing in influence much as similar forums did in 1990s Britain, a hardline British preacher said on Wednesday, referring to a period when London was Europe's Islamist hub.
Anjem Choudary, accused by his critics of poisoning young Muslim minds with virulent anti-Western propaganda, added that a ban on a group he had led had backfired on UK authorities by boosting his standing among European and U.S. Muslims who shared his aim of establishing sharia (Islamic law) in the West.
Choudary told Reuters global publicity about Britain's January 2010 prohibition of Islam4UK had provoked the creation or expansion of similar groups in Belgium, France, Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark and even in Australia and Indonesia.
He had visited France, Belgium and Indonesia this year to meet sympathizers, he said.
In a separate development in the United States, he added, debating groups such as Revolution Muslim, the Islamic Thinkers' Society and Authentic Tawheed launched in the past two years were at the stage "we were at maybe about 10 years ago."
"I believe they (U.S. groups) are on the verge of something big," said Choudary, who follows the ultra-conservative Salafist brand of Islam, admires Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni-based preacher who has called for attacks on the United States and says he has empathy with Somalia's al-Shabaab Islamist fighters.
"The seeds have been laid down by organizations like Revolution Muslim and Authentic Tawheed."
"CALLING FOR JIHAD"
U.S. officials are worried about the emergence of so-called homegrown militants in the United States who apparently radicalized themselves by visiting Internet sites that host strongly anti-Western Islamist commentary written in English.
Among sites hosting such material are Revolution Muslim, the Islamic Thinkers' Society and Authentic Tawheed, which say they are non-violent, their online material is intended for education only and they merely speak up against tyranny and injustice.
Asked if such U.S. Muslim groups would grow as strongly as those in Britain, even if the forums these days tend to be online rather than in a mosques, Choudary replied: "Definitely."
"The Muslim community in Britain are a good five or 10 years ahead of America. What they were talking about now, we've been talking about for the last 15 years.
"Now they've suddenly started to call for the sharia and are coming out publicly...In general there's more freedom there."
"In the videos they are openly calling for jihad on the streets of New York whereas we can't do that anymore here because you have (a law against) glorification of terrorism."
Islam4UK was banned under counter-terrorism laws after it provoked public anger with a plan to march through a town where British troops killed in Afghanistan are honored.
The International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King's College in London described Islam4UK as a "conveyor belt" toward violent activities, citing evidence that some members had gone on to militant training camps in Afghanistan.
Choudary has denied that any member of the group had ever been involved in violence.
Islam4UK had links to Lebanon-based Islamist Omar Bakri Mohammed, who has been banned from entering Britain and who gained notoriety when he referred to the hijackers behind the September 11, 2001 attacks as the "magnificent 19."
Bakri has insisted his message is peaceful and has said his controversial "magnificent 19" comment was a stunt.
(Editing by Charles Dick)