THE extremist cleric Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed has fled Britain amid fears that he could be arrested for his support of the London suicide bombers.
Scotland Yard is understood to have been considering bringing charges against the controversial leader of the al-Muhajiroun group, who reportedly flew to Lebanon at the weekend.
The news of his departure came hours after seven men appeared in court — three of them charged with trying to kill themselves and commit mass murder — accused of involvement in the failed London bomb plot on July 21.
Muktar Said-Ibrahim, Yasin Hassan Omar and Ramzi Mohammad, the alleged failed suicide bombers, and four other men appeared at brief hearings in a courthouse next to Belmarsh prison in southeast London. They were remanded in custody until November 14.
Last night, a close aide of Sheikh Bakri Mohammed told The Times that the cleric, who had managed to fly out without being noticed, would never return to Britain.
Only days after Tony Blair gave warning that the activities of radical preachers would no longer be tolerated, Ahmed Choudary said: "The sheikh has left the country and I don't think he will come back. He has said that he is willing to destroy his British documents."
Even if he did try to return, security sources suggested last night that he would be likely to be arrested. The Times can reveal that the Crown Prosecution Service has been studying a file on the 47-year-old Syrian-born radical to assess whether to bring charges over his lectures to young Muslims that they should "fight Jihad" against Britain. He has described the July 7 bombers as "the fabulous four".
Sheikh Bakri Mohammed, a father of seven, has lived in Britain since 1982. He has received tens of thousands of pounds in benefits payments and told followers to claim as much as they can while doing all that they can allegedly to "wage war" against Britain.
Syrian officials have given warning that he could face prosecution if he attempts to return to his homeland.
Even after news of Mr Blair's crackdown on extremist clerics, Sheikh Bakri Mohammed appeared on television claiming that he would never inform the police if he knew that Muslims were planning another attack in Britain. He also supported Muslims who attacked British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sheikh Bakri Mohammed claimed to have disbanded his al-Muhajiroun group earlier this year, but his followers simply split into new organisations with different names, while still allegedly taking their orders from him. He had boasted at the weekend that he could "live with" being deported.
His aides would not say last night when and how he had planned his escape. They insisted that he was not scared of Mr Blair's new rules.