Formerly British-based radical cleric faces Lebanon retrial

14th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Lebanese police on Sunday arrested radical Islamic preacher Omar Bakri, just days after the formerly British-based cleric boasted he would "not spend one day" of a life sentence behind bars.

He now faces a retrial because his first trial was held in absentia.

"He was arrested by a patrol of intelligence agents from the Internal Security Force in his home in Tripoli," a security official told AFP.

Police said that Bakri tried to flee in a car as the patrol closed in on his house in the main northern city, prompting an officer to open fire to prevent him from escaping.

"As the patrol went to arrest him... he tried to flee. A member of the security forces opened fire and two bullets hit the back tyres" of Bakri's getaway vehicle, a police statement said.

He was duly arrested and transferred to Beirut, police said.

A judicial source told AFP that Bakri must be retried before a military court in line with Lebanese law because he had been sentenced in absentia.

Bakri, a fundamentalist Sunni Muslim who has praised the September 11, 2001 attacks and hailed the hijackers as the "magnificent 19," was sentenced to life by a military court on Thursday.

The 50-year-old, who lived in Britain for 20 years, was found guilty, along with more than 40 other Lebanese, Palestinians, Syrians and Saudis, of "incitement to murder, theft and the possession of arms and explosives."

The day after the sentence was handed down he vowed he would "not spend one day in prison."

"I will not hand myself in to any court. I do not believe in the law in Britain as in Lebanon," he told AFP at his home.

Bakri, who failed to show up for sentencing on Thursday, said he had not been formally told the court would issue a verdict and insisted he was innocent.

The Syrian-born cleric, who also has Lebanese nationality, denied he had any links to Al-Qaeda.

"I have no ties to Al-Qaeda, direct or indirect, other than the fact that I believe in the same ideology," he said at his home in Tripoli's Abi Samra neighbourhood, a hub for radical Islamist groups.

On Saturday Bakri appealed to Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah for help.

"I urge Hassan Nasrallah to look at the injustice facing Omar Bakri who backs all resistance (movements) against Israel," Hezbollah's arch-foe, he said in an interview on the private television station NTV.

Bakri was banned from Britain in 2005 as part of government measures following the London underground and bus bombings that year.

He sparked outrage in Britain in the wake of the bombings for saying he would not hand over to police Muslims planning to launch attacks.

He also called Britain's former prime minister John Major and Russia's former president Vladimir Putin "legitimate targets."

Upon his arrival in Beirut in 2005, Bakri was detained but freed the next day. No charges were pressed against him at the time.

Born in 1960 to a wealthy Syrian family, Bakri began studying Islam at the age of five and at 15 joined the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.

He later abandoned the Brotherhood and joined the Hizb ut-Tahrir (Arabic for Party of Liberation), a movement that aims to join all Islamic states under one caliphate.

He split with Hizb ut-Tahrir in 1983 and founded his own group, Al-Muhajirun (The Emigrants), in Jeddah that year.

When expelled from Saudi Arabia in 1986, he moved to Britain and gained a following as a preacher before his expulsion. Al-Muhajirun has also been proscribed under the UK Terrorism Act 2000.

Bakri has two wives -- British and Lebanese -- and seven children. He is expecting an eighth child with his Lebanese wife.

© 2010 AFP

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