Radical cleric flees Britain after threat of treason trial

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The spiritual leader of the al-Muhajiroun group provoked outrage last week when he said he would not inform police if he knew Muslims were planning a bomb attack in Britain.

Mr Bakri was among three radical Islamist preachers whose public pronouncements were to be scrutinised by Crown Prosecution Service lawyers and police. One possibility was that the ancient offence of treason could have been revived to prosecute them.

Anjem Choudray, Mr Bakri's spokesman, told Channel 4 News last night that the cleric left Britain on Saturday. "He is considering his Islamic duties in Lebanon and is looking to go on to one of the Emirate countries and I think you should be hearing from him soon.

"It's an obligation on Muslims that if they can't fulfil their Islamic duties in a certain place then they need to ... emigrate to a place where they can, where their lives and their religion is protected." Defending Mr Bakri's comments, he said it was an "Islamic duty" to protect Muslims from non-Muslim authorities even if they were oppressors. He said Mr Bakri had been "demonised for many years" in the UK.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said the news would bring "real joy and happiness to the community".

His departure came as confusion deepened over the Government's latest set of proposals for countering terrorism. Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of anti-terror legislation, warned that treason charges were not very practical or sensible and said he would be "very surprised" if treason was used.

"It is remotely possible, but treason law is very specific. I suspect that there are far more appropriate crimes already on the statute book," he told Radio 4's Today programme.

"I don't think there is a lawyer still working who has ever appeared in any part of a treason case and I think we should tread in that historic territory very carefully. Treason tends to apply to war between nations."

Downing Street played down the prospects of prosecutions for treason being mounted and the CPS signalled that a charge of treason was the least likely course of action.

A former Home Office minister, John Denham, now chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said he was disturbed at the latest handling of the crisis. He said media pressure meant Downing Street had returned to its "old instincts" to try to win back the headlines. "The issues at stake here are just far too serious to play it like that," he told Radio 4's PM programme. "The last few days really give the sense the Government has got into a real state of nerves about the whole thing, displaying a lack of confidence in its own strategy.

"They have got to get a grip on it very, very quickly, stop floating half-baked ideas and get back to proper cross-party consensus on the serious measures that need to be taken."

Edward Garnier, a Tory home affairs spokesman, said: "They will get the support of the Opposition for proper, fair, good proposals that deal with the problem. But what we find difficult to deal with is a Government which says one thing on one day and another thing on another. We are getting mixed signals."

The Independent has learnt that the Government is seriously examining the possibility of introducing a French-style system where a security-cleared judge compiles the initial case against a terror suspect. The prosecution will then begin if the judge considers there is enough evidence to bring charges. The system, under which suspects can be held for 92 hours without charge, was brought in to combat Algerian terrorism.

Sadiq Khan, the Labour MP for Tooting, said Muslims in his constituency in south London were worried by several elements of the Government's anti-terror package. The former human rights lawyer said sections of the Human Rights Act could not be simply suspended and criticised moves to close down mosques used by controversial preachers.