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One time London-based militant Islamist preacher Omar Bakri Fustaq was arrested in the northern coastal city of Tripoli (Daily Star [Beirut], November 15). Bakri was previously tried and convicted in absentia and sentenced to life in prison by Lebanese authorities for incitement to murder and possession of weapons and explosives. He faces a retrial in a Lebanese military court that leaves him desperate. He is reaching across sectarian lines and seeking the assistance of Hezbollah by appointing Nawwar Sahili, a Hezbollah MP, as his lawyer (AFP, November 17). Bakri, a 50-year-old dual Lebanese-Syrian national, founded the radical Salafi al-Muhajiroun movement in the United Kingdom  and left the UK after the August 7 bombings and was prevented from returning by the Home Office. In a 2007 interview, he portrays himself as a humble “Islamic caller” who manages an Islamic library in Tripoli, gives occasional sermons at various mosques in the city and distances himself from Lebanon’s official Dar al-Fatwa clergy (al-Sharq al-Awsat, August 14, 2007). Bakri was a professional provocateur in the British polity for many years. He is often cited for infamously referring to the 9/11 hijackers as the “Magnificent 19,” which incensed many. Upon returning to Lebanon in 2005, Bakri attempted to add nuance to some of his more outrageous public statements in Britain:
“We said the 'magnificent 19 terrorists.' Undoubtedly, the use of the word 'magnificent' is a form of propaganda that we use in Britain in order to attract the attention of the media because we want to discuss the 11 September incidents. We do not want to say that they are terrorist incidents and we condemn them. This kind of statement does not yield any results. We need to search for the incentives behind these incidents, their repercussions, their negative aspects, their reasons, and their results. We want to work on preventing and averting an incident similar to 11 September, which had a huge effect on the existence of the community and the fate of the call in the western world in general, whether these effects are negative or positive.”
When pressed directly about 9/11, Bakri stated, “That it is a terrorist act, and that those who executed it out committed an act that no normal human being can carry out” (Al-Arabiya, September 8, 2005).
After his voluntary departure which morphed into a de facto expulsion, Bakri very carefully tried to exonerate himself, perhaps in hopes of being able to visit his children from whom he is now cut off, while still maintaining a hardened stance and without disenfranchise his militant following. However, the Lebanese judicial system is not looking at his past and present activities as kindly as the British one that he taunted for years while living under its protection. A Lebanese military court has released him on a 5 million Lebanese pound bail (approximately $3,300) and declared his previous trial in absentia void since his actual detention after a violent standoff on November 14 (Daily Star [Beirut], November 25). Bakri told the court that his was virtually a show trial because of his outspoken views on the American and British political systems and was not related to his questionable role in northern Lebanon’s Islamist milieu. Interestingly, Bakri, a known Salafist, has now been provided comfort under the wing of Shia Hezbollah at the specific direction of Secretary-General Nasrallah who personally directed MP Nawwar Sahili to come to Bakri’s legal aid “due to his innocence” while Bakri now regrets his career-long anti-Shia stance (Nowlebanon.com, November 25).
1. For an extensive interview with Bakri, please see “Al-Muhajiroun in the UK: An Interview with Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed,” Mahan Abedin, Spotlight on Terror, May 25, 2005, www.jamestown.org/single/.
Iraqi security forces arrested Hudhayfah al-Batawi, who is believed to be the current leader of the Sunni insurgent group the Islamic State of Iraq following the capture in March of Munaf Abdul Rahim al-Rawi and the subsequent killings of Abu-Umar al-Baghdadi and Abu-Ayyub al-Masri in April (Al Hayat, November 28). Members of the group were wanted in connection with the October 31 vicious assault and hostage taking of a Syriac Catholic congregation at Baghdad’s Our Lady of Salvation Church in central Baghdad in the Karrada district, which left at least 53 hostages, clergy and guards dead. The brazenly public killing of such a large number of Christians may risk further alienation of al-Qaeda elements in Iraq vis-à-vis indigenous Sunni militant groups whose stance in more against occupation forces and the Shia-led government than nihilistic Salafi in nature. Al-Batawi was reportedly captured in Baghdad’s upscale Mansour district along with 11 other Islamic State of Iraq operatives (some of whom were captured in a second raid and at a location on Palestine street) and was wanted not only for the church siege but also for an attack on Iraq’s Central Bank, a goldsmith’s market and the office of al-Arabiya television (Al Hayat, November 29). Iraqi forces confiscated six tons of explosives and canisters of toxic gas in the two raids and disrupted a large plot aimed against Baghdad’s Green Zone (AFP, November 27). Iraq’s Major General Qassim al-Moussawi stated that al-Batawi and his followers were disguised as guards working for a private security contractor and carried false IDs (Tehran Times, November 3). The attack was condemned worldwide and, interestingly, by Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who issued a statement from his home in Najaf directing Iraqi security forces to do a better job of protecting Iraqi civilians from terrorism. The capture of Hudhayfah al-Batawi is a huge victory for Iraq’s struggling interim government that has suffered from a recent spike in Islamist violence in the capital.