Mirza refused to disclose why he had ordered Bakri's release. "All that I can say is that he is now a free man," he told Aljazeera.net on Friday.

In a separate statement to the Associated Press, Mirza said: "He has not committed any crime and there are no criminal records against him."

Asked if Damascus has officially filed to extradite Syrian-born Bakri, Mirza said: "If I have an extradition file, the procedures in dealing with [Bakri] would have been different."

Damascus asked the Lebanese authorities on Thursday to hand over Bakri, 45, who is wanted in Syria on criminal charges related to his alleged involvement with Sunni Islamists trying to overthrow the ruling Alawite government in the early 1980s.

Charges

Lebanon's Justice Minister Khalid Qabbani, however, said his country would hand over Bakri to Syria only if the neighbouring country provided a file detailing the charges levelled against him and the reasons for the arrest warrants issued by the Syrian authorities.

"Once this file is presented to Beirut, Lebanese authorities will then have a duty to examine it and hand over Bakri to Syria"

Khalid Qabbani,
Lebanese Justice Minister

"Once this file is presented to Beirut, Lebanese authorities will then have a duty to examine it and hand over Bakri to Syria, especially that the two countries have an extradition treaty," said Qabbani.

Bakri, who holds Lebanese citizenship, had left the UK over the weekend amid speculation he could face charges in Britain based on his views that are said to encourage violence against civilians.

Earlier on Friday, Britain said it had barred Bakri from returning to the country.

The Home Office said Home Secretary Charles Clarke had written to Bakri to inform him he would not be allowed back into Britain. Bakri would have 14 days to write to Clarke to appeal.

"The Home Secretary has issued an order revoking Omar Bakri Mohammed's indefinite leave to remain and to exclude him from the UK on the grounds that his presence is not conducive to the public good," the Home Office said in a statement.

Incitement

Bakri has been living in the UK since 1985. He came to Beirut a day after British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced tough new security measures that will allow the UK authorities to expel or exclude persons it believes are inciting hatred.

The measures came in the wake of the 7 July bombings in London that killed 56 people.

The British Home Office has
revoked Bakri's right to remain

Bakri sparked outrage in Britain for saying he would try to convince bombers not to plant bombs in Britain but that if they insisted on doing so, he would not inform the police.

Blair made a phone call to Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora on Thursday and asked about the "circumstances of Bakri's detention and the way he landed in Beirut," according to the Lebanese premiere. Siniora said Blair did not request to extradite Bakri.

However, Qabbani explained it was not possible to hand over Bakri to Britain because there was no extradition treaty between the two countries.

Barki founded the now-disbanded Islamic group al-Muhajiroun, which came under scrutiny in Britain, particularly after some of its members praised the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States.

A spokesman for Britain's Crown Prosecution Service said on Thursday that 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 the police.