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Muslim Cleric's Visit Ignites Complaints in Britain - 2004-07-09


British prosecutors have received complaints against a visiting Muslim cleric, who approves of Palestinian suicide attacks on Israeli Jews. There are calls for the British government to expel the cleric, Egyptian-born Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

The visit to London of Mr. al-Qaradawi has ignited a wave of controversy, because he says Palestinian suicide bombings are justified.

The police opened a file on Mr. al-Qaradawi after British Jewish leaders complained that he was advocating violence against Jews, in apparent violation of British law. The file is now in the hands of British prosecutors, who have declined comment.

What set off the complaints was an interview the Doha-based Mr. al-Qaradawi gave to British television, in which he defended Palestinian suicide bomb attacks on Israeli Jews.

"It's not suicide," he said. "It is martyrdom in the name of God. Islamic theologians and jurisprudence have debated this issue, referring to it as a form of jihad under the title of 'jeopardizing the life of the mujahedeen.' It is allowed to jeopardize your soul and cross the path of the enemy and be killed."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair was asked in Parliament why his government did not bar the cleric, as the United States has done since 1999.

"Let me make it absolutely clear, we want nothing to do with people who support suicide bombers in Palestine or elsewhere, or support terrorists," he said.

But Mr. Blair said his home secretary, David Blunkett, would have to decide if there was sufficient justification to remove Mr. al-Qaradawi.

One prominent Jewish member of Parliament, Louise Ellman, said there is plenty of evidence against the cleric.

"Dr. Qaradawi is on record supporting mass murder through suicide bombings," she said. "That means killing young children at pizza parlors, it means folk singers on Tel Aviv beach being blown up, it means people at religious festivals being blown up. And he is inciting mass murder."

Mr. al-Qaradawi's defenders in Britain say his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict represent mainstream opinion among most Muslims. They also point out that he condemned the terrorist attacks against the United States in 2001, as well as the bombings in Madrid last March.

The Muslim Association of Britain, which is sponsoring his visit, said he was delivering a sermon Friday at London's Central Mosque that emphasizes the responsibility of Muslims to be active and law-abiding participants in Britain's democracy.