Approximately 1,000 people shouted slogans outside the US embassy in central London in a protest inspired by the furore over a US-made anti-Islam film.
A few hundred people, many of them associated with the hardline Hizb ut-Tahrir organisation, which seeks a unified Islamist caliphate in the Arab world, assembled in Grosvenor Square on Sunday before the scheduled 2.30pm start time. The numbers soon swelled, and police moved crowd barriers to pen in the larger crowd.
Though targeted ostensibly at the film, Innocence of Muslims, which denigrates Islam and the prophet Muhammad and which sparked deadly riots around the Middle East, the placards held by many protesters were aimed at the US, saying, “America – get out of Muslim lands”.
Watched by a relatively low-key police presence, the gathering – the majority of whom were men at the front of the crowd, but with a number of women and children at the rear – listened to speakers condemning the film, US foreign policy and “oppression” of Muslims and Islam.
Hizb ut-Tahrir, which organised the protest, is a controversial group with branches in dozens of countries. The Conservatives went into the last general election pledging to ban it in the UK, a vow yet to be realised.
Last year the government’s counter-terrorism watchdog, David Anderson QC, said in a report to parliament he could see no reason for Hizb ut-Tahrir, which has radical aims but espouses non-violent methods, to be outlawed
Nazreen Nawaz, a spokeswoman for the group, explained why the group had chosen to gather outside the US embassy even when the film had no connection to the US government and had been condemned by it.
She said: “This was a movie that was produced, promoted and allowed to be promoted within the US. It comes within a context and an environment. You constantly have attacks against Islamic beliefs by politicians, whether it’s in the US or elsewhere in the west.”
She had few details about what the group would like the US government to do about the film and its makers, beyond “have it taken off air, of course”.
Nawaz stressed that the group condemned violence, but she expressed understanding of “the frustration that you see on the streets of Cairo and Tunis and Benghazi and Bagladesh”.
She said: “We’re very clear today in saying that no violence against any ambassador or civilians is accepted in Islam. We’re not calling for violent actions here. What we’re saying is that Muslims must protest, and you must understand the anger of the streets in the Muslim world.”