Lebanon arrests formerly British-based radical cleric

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

"He is currently being transferred to Beirut."

An AFP correspondent at the scene said police had fired in the air to disperse curious onlookers who had gathered around Bakri's home.

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 Lebanese 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, a holder of Lebanese nationality, also 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.

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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