Bakri case highlights disarray on terror laws

John Prescott, who is in charge of the Government while Tony Blair is on holiday, said: "I don't think he's welcomed by many people in this country, but at the moment he has a right to come in and out."

Mr Bakri, who praised the London suicide bombers as the "fabulous four", fled on Saturday to Beirut. "If there is a crime in the UK and my name has been mentioned I will be the first one to return to challenge all these allegations. There is no treason. I am not a British subject and I never committed any form of crime whatsoever," he said from Beirut. "I am going to return back in four weeks unless the Government say we are not welcome, because my family is in the UK."

The Home Office is planning to tighten immigration rules before the end of the month to prevent Mr Bakri from returning.

A two-week consultation on expanding the circumstances in which foreign nationals could be deported or excluded from the UK is due to end next week. The consultation document set out a list of "unacceptable behaviours" including preaching to justify or glorify terrorism or "fostering hatred". The new rules would not be subject to parliamentary approval and could be enforced almost straight away.

If Mr Bakri arrived after then he could be excluded.

Mr Bakri, the so-called "Tottenham Ayatollah", sparked outrage last week by saying he would not inform police if he knew Muslim extremists were planning a bomb attack in Britain, claiming it would be "forbidden" by Islam.

The self-styled sheikh, who ran the radical al-Muhajiroun group from Tottenham in north London until it was disbanded last year, is famous for praising the 9/11 hijackers as the "magnificent 19".

Michael Howard, the Conservative leader, said that the judiciary must support the Government in the fight against terrorism. Writing in The Daily Telegraph, he urged Britain to respond to changes in the country because of the threat of terrorist attacks. "We all have a duty to play our part in dealing with the threat of terrorism and those who foment terrorism," he wrote. "That includes the Government and Opposition. It should also include the judiciary."

He added that one of his colleagues wrote to Jack Straw, when he was home secretary, seven years ago asking for Mr Bakri to be deported.

Interviewed on BBC2's Newsnight, the Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer was invited to say that Mr Bakri was not welcome to return to Britain. Lord Falconer said: "I don't want to talk about individual cases, because [there could be] a legal process in relation to that.

"But the fundamental point, which I believe all the political parties agree with, and the wider community, is that people from abroad who come here to seek to foment terrorism should not be allowed to stay here."

Earlier Lord Falconerdismissed the idea that he and other radical clerics could be charged with treason as "extraordinarily unlikely".

The Government is also facing increasing frustration over efforts to have extradited from Italy Hamdi Issac, the Ethiopian also known as Hussain Osman, who allegedly tried to detonate a bomb on a bus in Shepherd's Bush on 21 July. Prosecutors in Rome yesterday raised the possibility that he might stand trial for murder in Italy, complicating British efforts.

They said that if a firm link could be made between Mr Issac and the July 7 London bombings, the suspect could be charged with involvement in the murder of Benedetta Ciaccia, an Italian who died in one of the blasts. The extradition hearing for Mr Issac is set for 17 August. Yesterday British and Italian investigators jointly questioned him at Regina Coeli prison in Rome, where he has been held since his arrest in Rome on 29 July.

Yesterday the civil rights organisation Liberty reacted angrily to the possibility of introducing special anti-terror courts.

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