Anti-Islam movement Pegida yesterday launched its UK branch, branding the religion a "fascist ideology".
Set up by Tommy Robinson, one of the founders of the English Defence League, Pegida UK will campaign against what it calls the "Islamification of Europe".
Pegida originated in Dresden, Germany, and was established to protest against mass immigration. The movement gained huge support when it first began in late 2014, with a peak of around 25,000 people at its weekly rallies in January last year, and demonstrations spread throughout Europe. Though support then waned, Pegida has seen a surge of popularity in response to the influx of refugees into Germany over recent months. Previous rallies in the UK have been met with powerful counter-protests and often descended into violence.
"We have an ideological problem in this country with Islam. It's not assimilated in any sort of way," Robinson told reporters yesterday.
"Our political leaders and our European leaders are working against the interests of the people with the refugee influx – which is a migrant invasion – and we want to replicate the resistance of Pegida in Germany in the UK. It will be very different to how the English Defence League used to do things."
Robinson insisted that Pegida is "not an anti-Muslim group" and said that it would no longer take part in demonstrations, and will hold peaceful meetings outside of city centres.
"I'm opposed to Islam as a fascist ideology," he said. "We feel Muslims are victims of Islam."
Paul Weston, who stood as a candidate for Liberty GB in the 2015 general election, was announced as the new leader of Pegida's UK branch. UKIP candidate and Sharia Watch chairwoman Anne Marie Waters will join him in the senior management of the group.
Pegida UK came under fire in December when its scheduled march in Birmingham was criticized by the local leaders of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties.
Robinson told the IB Times that Birmingham had become the "terrorist epicenter of Britain" and announced a rally would be held there on February 6.
However, a joint statement from Birmingham councilors said: "On the day that Birmingham was formally awarded City of Sanctuary status (December 4), it was disappointing to hear of the plans for the launch of a new anti-Islamic far-right group.
"Birmingham is a city that has a proud history of tolerance, cohesion and integration – with people from around the world of all faiths and heritage welcome to make their home here. Brummies do not subscribe to ideas based on prejudice, intolerance and hate. That is why the planned launch of a new group in Birmingham is rejected by the council."
It is not clear whether the Pegida march will still go ahead as planned, though it is still being advertised on the group's Facebook page.
Additional reporting by Reuters.