Analysis: Al-Qaida ideologue’s arrest blow to ME jihadis

Bakri Muhammad has been linked to Mike’s Place bombers; recently claimed he would "not spend one day in prison."

OMAR BAKRI MUHAMMAD (photo credit: Associated Press)
(photo credit: Associated Press)
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 East.
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 bars.
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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 counterparts.
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.
He incited recruits to commit terrorist atrocities in the name of creating an Islamic caliphate, in line with the puritanical Salafi doctrines which he championed.
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 bombings.
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 shaheed [martyr].”
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 join.”
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 Arabia.
In 1986, Bakri Muhammad arrived in Britain, and over the next two decades, he worked to form a recruitment center there aimed at radicalizing young Muslims.
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 UK.
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.
He 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 prison.
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.)