Hardline group faces rapid eviction and a Scotland Yard investigation

War against terrorism: British Muslims
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The Independent Online

A London-based Islamic group which allegedly claimed that Tony Blair was a "legitimate target" for assassination is facing a police investigation and eviction from its premises.

Scotland Yard began a formal inquiry into al-Muhajiroun after one of its spokesmen was reported as saying that Downing Street and military installations in Britain were in the firing line following the bombing of Afghanistan.

Labour-run Haringey Council has also told the hardline group that it has until tomorrow to leave its subsidised site in Tottenham, north London, because it has breached its tenancy agreement, The Independent has learnt.

Operating under the name Info 2000 Software Ltd, al-Muhajiroun has been based at the Tottenham Technopark, but recently applied to Haringey Council to change its name to South London, Middle Eastern and South East Asian Issues.

After checking with the Charities Commission, the council decided that the group did not have either a local connection or a technology background and decided this week to evict it.

A Haringey council spokeswoman said: "It is quite obvious they are not running a technology-based company. Clearly, the alleged remarks made by one of their spokesmen did not help their case."

The move came as Abdel-Rahman Saleem, an al-Muhajiroun official, speaking in Lahore, is said to have claimed: "He [Blair] has also become a legitimate target ... This means that if any Muslim wanted to kill him or to get rid of him, I would not shed any tears."

Scotland Yard confirmed that it had begun a "formal investigation" into the alleged comments and would "continue to monitor comments made by other individuals". The comments could fall under the jurisdiction of the Terrorism Act 2000 which covers incitement offences committed overseas, the police said.

The Home Office said: "Attempting to inflame an already intense situation is grossly irresponsible and undermines the fundamental right of freedom of expression."

Mr Saleem, a British citizen, could not be contacted for comment. But Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, the leader of al-Muhajiroun, insisted his spokesman's words had been misinterpreted.

Sheikh Omar, who is under investigation for allegedly pronouncing a fatwa against the President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, said: "I think [Mr Saleem's] comments might have been taken out of context because I doubt he would have said that.

"Mr Blair was visiting Pakistan and he has sent his forces to bomb Afghanistan. Many Muslims there will think he has declared war on Islam. Even though Mr Blair has said that is not the case, they will think that."

Sheikh Omar added: "We are living here peacefully. We don't declare war against our neighbours, on the West.

"Our role is to engage in political and intellectual attacks, not violent ones."

He said the police had interviewed him six or seven times about his views but claimed he had a "relaxed" relationship with them.

"They monitor my calls – I said they could," he said.

Sheikh Omar, a Syrian national, was expelled from Saudi Arabia and has been living in London since 1986.

He said his group organised peaceful campaigns opposing the war. He said he condemned the terror strikes against the United States on 11 September, which he believed were the work of a secretive group of "Anglo-Saxon Americans" trying to stir up a war between the West and Islam.

Al-Muhajiroun claims to have 6,500 to 7,000 members in Britain, mainly among the student population.