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Radical Cleric Leaves Britain Under Cloud of Suspicion

A radical Muslim cleric, who has said he would shield suicide bomb plotters from the police, has left Britain for Lebanon as authorities consider treason charges against him. The cleric, Omar Bakri Mohammed, says he intends to return to London if British officials allow it.

Omar Bakri Mohammed says he flew from London to Beirut on Saturday without any interference from British authorities.

Word of his departure comes as the attorney general's office confirms it is considering treason charges against three extremist Muslim clerics, including Mr. Bakri.

In interviews from Lebanon broadcast Tuesday, Mr. Bakri said he intends to visit his mother there for the next four to six weeks, and then he plans to return to Britain, if authorities allow it.

Prime Minister Tony Blair last week announced plans to expel radical Muslim preachers as part of new anti-terrorism measures stemming from the July 7 attacks on London's transport system by a team of British Muslim suicide bombers.

After the Blair announcement, Mr. Bakri said he would not tell police if he learned of a similar plot by other suicide bombers, because, he says, Islamic law forbids it.

One of Mr. Bakri's key aides, Anjem Choudry, says supporters lament the cleric's departure.

"If he should leave on a permanent basis, then I believe it's a great loss for the Muslim community to lose someone who is not going to compromise about his beliefs and he's going to say it the way that it is," he said.

But moderate Muslim groups say they are glad Mr. Bakri is gone. The Muslim Council of Britain calls it "good news."

Omar Bakri Mohammed has courted controversy since first arriving in Britain in 1985 after Saudi Arabia deported him.

The Syrian-born cleric has been a founder or leading member of various radical Islamic groups, including al-Muhajiroun, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

He has praised the 19 hijackers who attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, and as recently as January he told an interviewer that suicide attacks in Britain were a possibility.