|Omar Bakri Mohammed (Michael Crabtree / PA) |
Omar Bakri Mohammed, the extremist Islamist cleric under police investigation in Britain for possible incitement to murder, has today been arrested by security forces in the Beirut.
Mr Bakri Mohammed was seized at just after 12.30pm as he left the seafront studios of Future TV, in the west of the Lebanese capital, where he had given a taped interview to the local news channel.
A spokesman for the station said that the 47-year-old spiritual leader of the al-Muhajiroun group was told that the General Security department wanted to question him regarding his entry to the country.
Mr Bakri Mohammed left Britain, where he has lived for 20 years, on a Lebanese passport at the weekend, reportedly to visit his ill mother.
He said yesterday that he planned to return to his home in North London, describing the visit - which came 24 hours after an announcement by Tony Blair of proposals to deport radical clerics - as a 'holiday' of between four and six weeks.
However the Government is investigating whether it has the power to prevent his return and John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, yesterday told reporters that he hoped Mr Bakri Mohammed's holiday would be a "long one."
The preacher provoked outrage last week when he said he would not inform police if he knew Muslims were planning a bomb attack and had reportedly lauded the July 7 London bombers as the "fantastic four".
Local news channels in Lebanon today said that Mr Bakri Mohammed had spent a short time at his parents' apartment before moving to a mountain house overlooking the capital.
The nature of the police questioning is unclear. It is not believed to be related to an ongoing investigation by British authorities, which could lead to his prosecution for treason and permanent exclusion from the UK. He can be held for up to 72 hours without charge.
Last night Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, said that he would refuse a request that had been received from the cleric to return to Britain for a heart operation on the NHS.
The cleric claimed to have an appointment at a London hospital for an operation to widen an artery which would cost up to £8,000 if he had to have private treatment. He said: "I have every right to come back. Britain is my home. My family are there and I have done nothing wrong."
Officials believe that Mr Bakri Mohammed is trying to test the Home Office's promised immigration rules. His followers said yesterday that they might challenge any ban on medical grounds.
Senior officials said that the Home Secretary could exercise leniency if it were a life-or-death matter, but a routine operation was unlikely to be grounds for lifting any ban.
One said: "His heart condition was not serious enough to prevent him flying to Beirut last weekend and I am sure they have very fine hospitals in Lebanon where this procedure could be done".
Mr Bakri Mohammed, who has collected up to £300,000 in various benefits during his 19 years in Britain, had been given leave to remain indefinitely after claiming that his life would be in danger if he returned to the Middle East.
He says that he is suffering from a congenital heart problem and has had to postpone a number of appointments. The Syrian-born cleric says his treatment is scheduled for November or December.
By then the new rules will be in place which gives the Home Secretary powers to exclude extremists on the grounds they foster hatred that may lead to intra-community violence.
His followers are keeping their leader up to date with the latest announcements by senior legal officials, such as Ken MacDonald, QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, who says he is discussing with the police "possible offences of solicitation to murder."
Radical cleric leaves, but his legacy remains
Wednesday August 10, 2005
The government plans to tighten immigration rules to prevent Omar Bakri Mohammed from re-entering the country. But what about the followers and supporters of the extremist cleric? Besides Bakri, the Crown Prosecution Service is considering prosecuting two of his associates, Abu Izzadeen and Abu Uzair. It is not clear what will happen to a third follower, Anjem Choudray, who has also made controversial statements about British Muslim suicide bombers.
Leader of the Saviour Sect
A civil engineering graduate who lives in north London, Abu Uzair is a former leading light of the extremist Islamic movement, al-Muhajiroun, which repeatedly praised the September 11 hijackers as "magnificent".
After the disbandment of al-Muhajiroun, Abu Uzair - born Sajid Sharif - helped found the Saviour Sect, which this year staged a violent protest against the Respect party's George Galloway during hustings for the May general elections.
In a Newsnight interview, Abu Uzair said the "covenant of security" which stopped British Muslims from attacking the UK because they were given safety here no longer existed.
"We don't live in peace with you any more," he said. "The banner has been risen for jihad inside the UK, which means it's allowed for the bombers to attack."
Asked if British citizens were targets, he said: "Yes, that's right," adding that he believed there were more cells in the UK. He refused to accept they were terrorist cells, preferring to call them "Muslim cells".
He said: "I would never go to the police because I believe that spying on Muslims is never allowed. I am a British citizen but I am a Muslim first, a Muslim second and a Muslim last. Even if I am British, I don't follow the values of the UK - I follow the values of Islam."
A 38-year-old solicitor from Ilford, Essex, Choudray joined al-Muhajiroun in the late 90s where he quickly established himself as Bakri's right-hand man, as well as a more media-friendly spokesman for the organisation. After the disbanding of al-Muhajiroun last year, he has frequently spoken in praise of Muslim terrorists.
He called the 9/11 terrorists "magnificent martyrs" and in an interview with BBC Radio 4's Today programme after the Tel Aviv suicide bombings in 2003 he appeared to endorse terrorist attacks by British Muslims, saying al-Muhajiroun would "encourage people to fulfil their Islamic duties and responsibilities". But he added that the group was a political movement and did not take responsibility for the actions of any individuals.
Last March he said a terror attack in Britain was "just a matter of time" and after the London bombings he pointedly refused to condemn the atrocities. "Al-Qaida are not targeting people arbitrarily. There are specific targets," he said, adding: "The time for talking is over. You can't sit down and negotiate while you are murdering Muslims in Iraq."
Since Bakri's departure to Lebanon, however, he has been at pains to distance himself from the cleric. But he told the Guardian yesterday that he still considered Bakri a "close friend" and "missed him already".
Abu Izzaddeen's real name is Omar Brooks. Now aged 30, he was born into a Christian family of Jamaican origin and grew up in Hackney, east London, converting to Islam when he was 17.
He is believed to have become involved with Bakri in the late 90s at the Finsbury Park mosque. Abu Izzaddeen speaks fluent Arabic, although it is not known where he learned the language. He once boasted to a journalist of visiting terror camps in Pakistan, and, in 2001, he led demonstrations outside the Pakistani embassy in London supporting the 9/11 hijackers and condemning Pakistan's cooperation with the US's bombing of Aghanistan.
On its website in June, his organisation, al-Ghurabaa, praised terrorism as "part of Islam", and said the responsibility for the London bombings rested not only with the perpetrators but also with the British government, the public and moderate British Muslim organisations.
On Newsnight on August 2 Abu Izzaddeen said the explosions would make people "wake up and smell the coffee". Characterising suicide bombings as "martyrdom operations", he said: "I would never denounce the bombings, even if my own family was to suffer, because we always stand with the Muslims regardless of the consequences."
An electrician by training, he lives in Edmonton, north London, with his wife and two young children