The group’s external security organisation was already included in the government’s list of outlawed terror groups, drawn up under legislation passed eight years ago. Now Hizbollah’s entire military structure is to be banned. This reflects UK anger that the organisation, which faced Israel in the second Lebanon war, also supports terrorism against British troops in Iraq.
The ban, which must be approved by Parliament, was welcomed by Jewish security chiefs who have become concerned at increased support for Hizbollah in Britain.
A Community Security Trust official said: “There has been a dramatic escalation in the open promotion of Hizbollah in Britain in recent years and we hope this decision helps to counter it.”
He pointed to the London demonstration organised by the Stop the War Coalition in August 2006, during which many participants chanted “We are all Hizbollah now”, and waved the movement’s yellow flag, with its image of a Kalashnikov rifle.
The decision to impose the ban was made by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who laid an order in Parliament. Home Office Minister Tony McNulty said that it would be a criminal offence to belong to, fundraise for, or encourage support for the military wing of the organisation. However, he stressed that Hizbollah’s social and humanitarian activities would not be affected.
“Hizbollah’s military wing is providing active support for terrorism in Iraq and occupied Palestinian territories,” he said. The ban sent out a “clear message that we condemn Hizbollah’s violence and support for terrorism... We call [on it] to abandon its status as an armed group and participate in the Democratic process.”
The ban will also outlaw encouragement or membership of the banned group, and the wearing of clothing or the carrying of articles in public which “give rise to reasonable suspicion that a person is a member or supporter of the proscribed organisation”.
But Conservative MP Lee Scott believed that the ban should apply to Hizbollah as a whole. He said: “I am going to ask the Home Secretary in a written question how you identify someone as being a supporter of Hizbollah’s non-military sector alone. How can you differentiate?”
The planned ban was welcomed by Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor.