- The Washington Times - Friday, August 12, 2005

LONDON — Britain’s crackdown on Islamic extremism widened yesterday as officials barred radical Muslim cleric Omar Bakri from returning to the country that has been his home for the past two decades.

Bakri’s close associate, Anjem Choudary, said the ban would not silence the cleric, who left Britain for Lebanon after saying he would not tell police if he knew fellow Muslims were planning attacks such as last month’s deadly transit bombings in London.

“With the Internet and other means, we can still hear from him wherever he is preaching,” Mr. Choudary said. “I don’t think he will stop his activities.”

Bakri was briefly detained by security officials in Beirut, but was released yesterday after being questioned about his entry into Lebanon, officials there said.

Some leaders of Britain’s moderate Muslim community welcomed the ban.

“Omar Bakri will not be missed,” said Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain. “With his very offensive media antics, he contributed toward the demonization of British Muslims. The only group who will miss him will be the tabloid media.”

The 45-year-old cleric, who holds Syrian and Lebanese citizenship, left Britain on Aug. 6, saying he was going to visit his mother. British authorities, who have monitored his activities for years, acted swiftly to block his return.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke wrote to Bakri saying his indefinite leave to remain in Britain had been revoked “on the grounds that his presence is not conducive to the public good.”

Although Bakri is not suspected of having links with the bombers, his declaration about never turning in a fellow Muslim to police sparked renewed anger at the cleric.

Police say Bakri’s now-disbanded group al-Muhajiroun once recruited young British Muslims for jihad, or holy war, in Afghanistan and Chechnya, and that some members praised the September 11 terror attacks.

Mr. Clarke’s announcement yesterday came as Jordan said it wanted to extradite another firebrand cleric, Abu Qatada, who is among 10 foreigners detained in Britain and facing deportation.

Abu Qatada, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Othman Abu Omar, is a radical Muslim preacher previously described by Spanish officials as Osama bin Laden’s “spiritual ambassador in Europe.” Jordanian authorities convicted him in absentia in 1998 and again in 2000 for involvement in a series of explosions and terror plots.

Britain had long monitored Abu Qatada’s activities and had him in custody or under house arrest since 2002. But it was unable to deport him to Jordan because as a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, Britain cannot send people to countries where they may face torture or mistreatment.

The British government signed a memorandum of understanding with Jordan on Wednesday guaranteeing any deportees would be treated humanely, and is working on similar agreements with nine other countries, including Algeria — the home country of the nine other men in custody.

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