|Members of al-Muhajiroun, a Muslim organisation now banned in England, once followed Omar Bakri as their spiritual guide [GALLO/GETTY]|
Lebanese authorities have arrested Muslim leader Omar Bakri in the northern city of Tripoli, days after a military court sentenced him in absentia to life in prison.
Bakri, who said on Friday that he would not spend a day behind bars, was arrested in his home “by a patrol of intelligence agents from the Internal Security Force,” a security official told the AFP news agency on Sunday.
A military court convicted Bakri on Thursday of terrorism charges and sentenced him to life in prison with hard labour. Bakri told AFP the day after his sentencing that he had 15 days to appeal.
He was among 54 people sentenced as part of ongoing trials against those who were allegedly involved in a three-month battle between Fatah al-Islam and the Lebanese army in 2007 in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp.
Bakri was convicted of “belonging to an armed group with the aim of carrying out terrorist acts and plotting to kill Lebanese soldiers”.
The cleric, who holds Syrian and Lebanese citizenship, lived in Britain for 20 years and once headed the now-disbanded group al-Muhajiroun.
He held comparatively mainstream Islamist views, working to build the Hizb al-Tahrir group, but after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, he began to issue controversial statements, praising the hijackers as “magnificent”.
After the July 7, 2005, London bombings, committed by young Muslim men with al-Qaeda sympathies, Bakri left Britain for Lebanon, and the British government barred him from returning.
Bakri had become a focus of British attention after he said he would not inform the police if he knew Muslims were planning attacks such as the 7/7 bombings.
After leaving Britain, he continued to broadcast his views incognito over the internet, according to the BBC, saying the 7/7 bombers were “in paradise” and telling a questioner who asked if it would be alright to attack Dublin Airport, a transit point for US troops, to “hit the target and hit it very hard”.
Britain later said it had barred Bakri from returning to that country because his presence was not “conducive to public good”.
Judicial officials said Bakri was sentenced to life because of his failure to show up in court for his trial.
Bakri said through his lawyer on Friday that he was “shocked” to learn of the verdict.
“I never received any summons for a trial, or any arrest warrant,” he said, adding that the charges were “lies and fabrications”.
Bakri’s lawyer informed him he had 15 days to appeal the ruling, but the cleric had refused to hand himself in.
Bakri says he is now “retired” and spends his time preaching and teaching students and followers in Europe, Australia and Canada.
He appears often on local Lebanese TV stations as a guest on political talk shows, including an appearance last week.
“Everyone knows my address, I go on TV and army intelligence interrogate me after each TV appearance. Now all of a sudden Omar Bakri is a fugitive who failed to appear in court. Why?” he asked.
In addition to Bakri, 53 other people – 20 of them in absentia – received sentences ranging from one year to life imprisonment.