A British Muslim father who police fear is travelling to Islamic State with his four young children was a member of a banned extremist group, it has emerged.
Police are hunting Asif Malik, his partner Sara Kiran and their family who have gone missing and are feared to be travelling to Syria.
The parents and daughter Zoha, seven; son Essa, four; son Zakariya, two; and one-year-old son Yhaya – have not been seen for nearly two weeks.
Anjem Choudary, the radical Muslim cleric, confirmed Malik had been a member of the banned group al-Mujahiroun and described him as a “champion for shariah” who regularly attended the group’s events and demonstrations.
As fears were growing for the safety of Malik’s four young children, Choudary said Malik remained “very influential in the community” after al-Mujahiroun was banned five years ago.
“Back in the day he was a member until the group was banned. He was still part of our demonstrations and lectures but I hadn’t seen him for a few months,” Choudary said.
“Asif is a very good friend of mine, I haven’t seen him for a while but from what I gather in the reports he and his family have left the country.
“I last saw him a couple of months ago, he used to attend my lectures in Slough and west London.
“He attended many lectures over the years and is a very good friend.”
He went on: “He is a very studious man, a very good Muslim character. He was always a champion for shariah and is very influential in the community.”
Choudary criticised the Government for attempting to restrict British Muslims from travelling to Syria.
“I think they want to live under sharia and escape the oppressive life they have in this country and under this government,” he said.
Police said the family’s disappearance was not reported to the authorities for nine days.
Officers fear the family, from Slough, Berkshire, might be travelling to a region of Syria controlled by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).
Neighbours claimed the family had been investigated by police four years ago for unknown matters – but it was unclear whether those inquiries had been extremism-related.
John Campbell, Thames Valley Police acting deputy chief constable, refused to discuss earlier contact with the family but said Malik had spoken of wanting to live in a Muslim country.
He said: “I don’t want to be discussing any previous contact or any suggestions of any particular contact we’ve had with the family previously.”
The force disclosed the family were last seen on Tuesday April 7.
They were reported missing to police last Thursday, April 16.
Malik, 31, and Miss Kiran, 29, whom neighbours said usually wore the full Islamic veil, left home without mentioning any holiday or travel plans to family members, which a force spokesman said was “entirely out of character for this family”.
Police said the family boarded a ferry from Dover to Calais at 00.30am on Wednesday, April 8.
Further enquiries suggest that the family have then travelled south through Europe, possibly by train.
Police also believe the family may have travelled through Budapest, Hungary, on or around Sunday, April 12.
The couple had not informed either their landlord or their children’s primary school that they would be leaving the country.
“We are concerned about anyone who has or is intending to travel to the part of Syria that is controlled by the terrorist group calling themselves Islamic State,” said Mr Campbell.
“It is an extremely dangerous place and not a place where young children should be taken.”
The senior officer went on: “We know that having gone into Europe their general direction of travel is towards Turkey, thereby we make the assumption towards Syria.
“At the same time we know that the family have voiced some concerns about the family’s intentions.
“There’s been a suggestion that Mr Malik in the past has said that he would like to live in a Muslim state.”
Neighbours said the alarm was raised after the four children failed to attend school.
Their grandmother was also seen looking for them and knocking on other doors in the modern block of flats where they lived, asking if anyone had seen the family.
Neither Malik nor his partner have attempted to contact any family members or friends since, despite taking their mobile phones with them on the trip, police said.
This lack of contact had led detectives to believe their reason for leaving Britain may not be legitimate, Mr Campbell said.
“Whichever way you look at this, it is highly unusual behaviour.
“If a family is keen and willing and wants to leave to another part of the world to live, it is entirely legitimate to do so.
“We’re guided by family interpretations in many ways,” he said.
All six of the family travelled on British passports.
Police broke into the family’s flat with a battering ram after the alarm was raised and the premises were searched.
“I’m not going to go into specifics of what was seized or not, but we will look at whatever evidence will help to locate the family,” said Mr Campbell.
Detectives do not know whether or not they have reached Syria, but Mr Campbell admitted that was a “real concern” given the time period that had lapsed.
“The choice of returning home from Syria is often taken away from those under the control of Islamic State, leaving families in the UK devastated and with very few options to secure their loved ones safe return,” he said.
“Asif and Sara need to know their family are very concerned and want them to return to the UK.”