Britain on Friday barred radical Muslim cleric Omar Bakri from returning to the country that was his home for the past 20 years, saying his presence was no longer “conducive to the public good.” The decision came as the country’s top legal official defended plans to deport another radical Muslim cleric and nine other foreigners suspected of posing a threat to national security.
The moves are an indication of the dramatic impact of last month’s transit bombings in a country until recently regarded as something of a safe haven for radicals.
Jordan said Friday it would ask Britain next week to extradite one of those detained, cleric Omar Mahmoud Othman Abu Omar, also known as Abu Qatada. Spanish officials have described him as Osama bin Laden’s “spiritual ambassador in Europe.”
Bakri, 45, left Britain on Saturday, one day after Prime Minister Tony Blair proposed tough new anti-terrorism measures including the deportation of extremist Islamic clerics who preach hate. Bakri was arrested in Lebanon on Thursday.
Bakri, who has dual Syrian and Lebanese citizenship, had come under increasing pressure from the British government for his hard-line rhetoric after last month’s bombings. He had insisted that he planned to return to north London, where his wife and children live.
Home Secretary Charles Clarke had written to Bakri to inform him he would not be allowed back into Britain. The cleric has 14 days to appeal.
“The Home Secretary has issued an order revoking Omar Bakri Mohammed’s indefinite leave to remain and to exclude him from the U.K. and the grounds that his presence is not conducive to the public good,” the Home Office said in a statement.
Bakri founded the now-disbanded radical Islamic group al-Muhajiroun, which came under scrutiny in Britain, particularly after some of its members praised the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
A spokesman for Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service said Thursday prosecutors were looking at Bakri’s recent remarks to assess whether he could be charged with solicitation of murder or incitement to withhold information known to be of use to police.
Fears for deportees safety
Meanwhile Britain’s plans to deport the 10 foreigners have sparked fears for their safety in their destination countries.
The Home Office did not identify the detainees. But a government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, confirmed that Abu Qatada, the Palestinian cleric who carries a Jordanian passport, was among them.
A statement from Abu Qatada’s lawyer said the detainees were “primarily Algerians.”
Lord Chancellor Charles Falconer said it was necessary to balance the risk of a deportee being mistreated against the threat they pose to Britain. He added that the government may seek new human rights legislation to make the deportations easier. The measure would be among a raft of tough new anti-terrorism laws announced in the wake of the July bombings.
“The deportee has got rights, but so have the people of this country,” Falconer told British Broadcasting Corp. radio. “If they are threatened in terms of national security, that is something that the government has got to protect them against as much as possible.”
As a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, Britain is not allowed to deport people to countries where they may face torture of mistreatment. The government has been trying to sign agreements guaranteeing humane treatment of deportees with 10 countries, including Algeria, Lebanon, Egypt and Tunisia. The first such memorandum of understanding was signed with Jordan on Wednesday.
“The circumstances of our national security have changed, it is vital that we act against those who threaten it,” Home Secretary Clarke said.
Abu Qatada was granted political asylum in Britain in 1993. He has been in jail or under close supervision here since 2002, but now faces deportation to Jordan where authorities convicted him in absentia in 1998 and again in 2000 for involvement in a series of explosions and terror plots.
British authorities believe Abu Qatada inspired the lead Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and he is suspected of having links with radical groups across Europe.
Jordanian Interior Minister Awni Yirfas said his country would request Abu Qatada’s extradition next week. A spokesman for Britain’s Home Office had no immediate reaction.
The cleric’s lawyer, Gareth Peirce, condemned the detentions. Her firm said in a statement that the detainees had not been allowed to see their lawyers.
Not their first detentions
Like Abu Qatada, some of the foreigners detained Thursday had spent up to three years in jail without trial under sweeping anti-terror legislation until their release in March after Britain’s highest court ruled the detentions unlawful. Since then, they have been supervised under so-called control orders, such as curfew or house arrest, and banned from using the telephone or Internet.
The Home Office said the detainees had five working days to appeal deportation — a process that could drag on for months. A spokeswoman insisted they would not be deported until the British government gained assurances from the destination countries that they will not be treated inhumanely.
Civil rights campaigners and the U.N. special envoy on torture, Manfred Nowak, have warned, however, that such assurances carry no weight in international law and would not sufficiently protect the deportees.
“The assurances of known torturers, many of whom deny the use of torture even when it is widely documented, are not worth the paper they are written on,” said Mike Blakemore, a spokesman for Amnesty International.