As Britain announced it was considering charging Islamist clerics with treason if they incite violence or praise suicide attacks, it was reported that Syrian-born cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed had left the country.
A close associate of the cleric says Bakri, who holds Lebanese citizenship, left for Lebanon on Saturday and did not plan to return.
Anjem Choudary said: “I think it’s very sad that our scholars and our thinkers should be demonised in this fashion, and that they should be forced to make a decision whether to go abroad or to be threatened with incarceration in this country.” Authorities say they are looking at remarks by three preachers including Bakri, formerly involved in the al-Muhajiroun group, which the government is planning to ban in the wake of July’s deadly London bombings.
Bakri, shunned by mainstream Muslim groups, has said he would not inform the police if he knew Muslims were planning a bomb attack in Britain.
The government believes treason or incitement to treason charges could be effective until new security legislation comes into force, but opposition politicians argue the treason laws are outdated and impractical.
Meanwhile four suspects in the failed London bombings of July 21 have appeared in court charged with counts including attempted murder and possessing explosives. Three are suspected of being the would-be bombers.
Later on Tuesday, British police will, for the first time, question a man being held in Italy and suspected of trying to blow up a tube train on July 21.
Also in court on Monday was Haroon Rashid Aswat, a 30-year-old Briton arrested in Zambia. He denied any link to terrorism. He has said he will fight extradition to the US, where he is accused of plotting with others between October 1999 and April 2000 to set up a terrorist training camp in the state of Oregon.