Omar Bakri Muhammad, formerly one of Britain’s most infamous radical preachers, has been arrested in Lebanon.
Bakri was wanted by authorities for his alleged role in north Lebanon clashes and was arrested on Sunday in Aley, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk announced.
“At dawn today we arrested Omar Bakri Fustoq in the house he was hiding in,” the minister said during a ceremony in Beirut. “He is a man who has contributed to the logic of terrorism. I am certain some people will say that he is one of us but we are civil and wise people,” he added.
Bakri had fled his home in the northern city of Tripoli before the Lebanese Army and security forces launched a security plan to restore law and order to the city, which was plagued by several rounds of clashes linked to the crisis in Syria. Bakri’s residence was one of the first houses the military raided in search of wanted suspects.
Bakri sympathises with Al-Qaeda and recently called for the group’s black flag to be flown over the Baabda presidential palace.
Born in Syria, he lived in Britain for many years, where he was a leading member of Islamic political party, Hizb ut-Tahrir before breaking away in the 90s to form Al Muhajiroun. Upon arrival in Lebanon in 2005, he was informed by the British government that he could not return.
The Tripoli-based preacher has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), urging the radical Syrian rebel group to “reactivate its cells” in Lebanon.
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An-Nahar newspaper reported that security forces had been monitoring Bakri’s relatives and friends after they received information indicating that he was still in Lebanon. The landlord of the building where he was hiding said a man by the name of Khodr Ahmad Hussein rented the apartment.
“Khodr presented me with his passport and documents and told me he wanted to rent the apartment for three months,” the landlord told Al-Jadeed television. Hussein is the uncle of Bakri’s wife and sought to rent the apartment for her.
As news of Bakri’s arrest broke his supporters in Britain held a demonstration outside of the Lebanese embassy in London.
In a statement Anjem Choudary said: “Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad has had many lies attributed to him by the Lebanese authority in order to affect his arrest on behalf of the Syrian regime who are keen to stop any opposition to their slaughter of Muslims. Claims that he is representing Al-Qaeda or that he is instigating any unrest are completely unfounded.
“Rather Sheikh Omar Bakri has released numerous communiques in which he has made it explicit that he is an expert in Islamic movements, that he has not allied himself with any of the factions fighting each other in North Lebanon and that what he says privately is the same as what he has said in front of the worlds media.
Choudary added: “Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad is one of the true scholars of Islam in our era and he is a reference point for many Muslims worldwide. Targeting the ulama (scholars) is a concern for every Muslim and we urge Muslims everywhere to take the Lebanese regime to account and put pressure on them to release the Sheikh.”