The arrest on Sunday of al-Qaida ideologue Omar Bakri Muhammad by Lebanese
security forces in Tripoli is a blow to the al-Qaida network in the Middle
Should Bakri Muhammad’s appeal against his life sentence fail, the
Lebanese state could succeed in doing what Britain could not in the two decades
the cleric lived in the UK, and place the al-Qaida recruiter behind
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Bakri Muhammad’s recent claim that he would “not spend one day in
prison” in Lebanon has been proven false, showing once again that Middle Eastern
governments are far less tolerant of Salafi Islamism than their Western
On the other hand, Lebanon’s complete inability to confront
Shi’ite extremism in the form of Hizbullah continues to cast an enormous cloud
of uncertainty over the country’s future.
Before being banned from
Britain following the 2005 London bombings, Bakri Muhammad, originally from
Syria, established a base in the UK and on the Internet, from which he
encouraged young Muslim men to join the ranks of Osama bin Laden.
incited recruits to commit terrorist atrocities in the name of creating an
Islamic caliphate, in line with the puritanical Salafi doctrines which he
Bakri Muhammad has been linked to the two British suicide
bombers who carried out a suicide bomb attack at the Mike’s Place pub in Tel
Aviv in 2003, in which three civilians were murdered.
Tahira Sharif, the
wife of one of the bombers, Omar Sharif, went on trial in Britain for failing to
reveal details to authorities of the attack before it took place. She was
acquitted, though the trial revealed that Tahira had Omar Bakri Muhammad’s
cellphone number, and took notes from a lecture glorifying suicide
Bakri Muhammad exploited Internet forums and chat programs like
the Paltalk Internet network to call on Muslims in Western countries to declare
their countries of residence to be “lands of war,” and instructed them to target
Britain with bombing campaigns.
Six months before the London Underground
bombings in 2005, Bakri Muhammad announced to dozens of online listeners on the
Paltalk network, “If you want to be killed, you’ve got to have
fire. Fight until Allah’s deen [law] is dominant or until you become a
He continued, “We lost the caliphate in 1924 but
continue the victorious group into today.
We have Sheikh Osama bin Laden,
our leader, and he is admired by every single person, so that is the victorious
group. Al- Qaida and all its branches and organizations of the world, that is
the victorious group, and they have the emir [leader], and you are obliged to
Bakri Muhammad first became involved in Islamism as a young man in
his native Syria, where he joined the Muslim Brotherhood, before moving to
Lebanon and Egypt to study Islamic law.
He moved to Saudi Arabia in 1979,
and joined Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization that believes in replacing Muslim
states with a caliphate. He then split with Hizb ut-Tahrir and founded his own
Salafi Islamist organization, Al- Muhajiroun, before being expelled from Saudi
In 1986, Bakri Muhammad arrived in Britain, and over the next two
decades, he worked to form a recruitment center there aimed at radicalizing
Over the past decade, Bakri seized on the 9/11 attacks and
the proliferation of the Internet to form an al-Qaida recruitment branch in the
When 52 Londoners were murdered by al-Qaida bombers on July 7, 2005,
Bakri feared arrest by British authorities, and fled to Lebanon, claiming he was
just “visiting his mother.” The British government declared him to be a public
threat and banned him from returning.
Once in Lebanon, Bakri Muhammad
continued broadcasting Internet sermons, ensuring that his message would go on
reverberating among recruits back in Britain, and around the world.
also joined forces with the radical Salafi groups in Lebanon and took part in
attempts to stage a coup in Tripoli, according to a Lebanese court which
sentenced him to life in prison last week in absentia for “incitement to murder,
theft and the possession of arms and explosives.”
Bakri Muhammad has
denied the charges, but his attempt to distance himself from the jihadi forces
he has represented for so long is unlikely to keep him out of
Hizbullah, a mortal enemy of the Sunni Salafis, will quietly
applaud the arrest, while continuing to prepare its own plans for
war.Yaakov Lappin is author of the forthcoming book Virtual Caliphate
(Potomac Books, Inc.)
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