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Kenya to Deport Controversial Muslim Cleric

Kenyan Muslim leaders protest action against Jamaican-born preacher, plan court challenge

Kenya is deporting a visiting Jamaican-born Muslim cleric who was jailed in Britain for hate speech and is reported to be on an international terrorist watch-list. Kenyan Muslim leaders are protesting the action as unfair and discriminatory.

Muslim preacher Abdullah al-Faisal was arrested by Kenya's anti-terrorism units in the Indian Ocean coast city of Mombasa, an area predominantly populated by Muslims.

The cleric was imprisoned in Britain in 2003 after being convicted of preaching racial hatred. He was accused of calling for the murder of Jews and Hindus and was allegedly a strong influence on one of the bombers of the July 2005 London attacks.

He was sentenced to seven years behind bars, but was deported before finishing his term in 2007.

Kenya's immigration minister told the local Daily Nation newspaper the cleric is on a terrorism watch-list and had been previously denied entry into the country. He said the religious leader only gained tourist entry into Kenya from Tanzania by crossing through a border point that was not connected to the country's central-data networks.

Leaders of the Kenyan Muslim community say they are going to try to block the deportation in court.

The deputy head of the National Muslim Leaders Forum, Al-Haji Yusuf, says the arrest is an affront to the nation's Islamic faithful. He contrasted the government's position towards Faisal with the free access given to conservative American Christian speakers, many of whom he says come into the country and falsely malign the Muslim religion.

He says the government should have consulted the Muslim community before acting against the controversial preacher.

"We feel harassed as Muslims. What the government should do is to involve the Muslim leaders in Kenya in clearing the people who come here," al-Haji said.

He also took issue with the characterization of Faisal being a "terrorist," saying Kenyan authorities were merely acting on the words of others instead of doing their own homework.

"The Kenya government has to grow up and do its own thing. They should be able to vet people before they come in, not to be told by somebody, 'This guy is bad.' It is not fair," al-Haji said.

Kenya is a majority Christian nation, but has a large minority Muslim population concentrated mainly along its eastern coast and northeastern ethnic Somali region.

The two religious communities have co-existed relatively harmoniously since independence, but tensions have been rising between the two camps as an American brand of Christian evangelism has taken root in Kenya and as eastern Africa becomes an increasingly central point in the conflict against militant Islamic extremism.

Muslim leaders have complained of the illegal recruitment of ethnic Somalis by Kenyan authorities to fight the al-Qaida-linked Islamic militant group al-Shabab in neighboring Somalia.

Kenyan Christian evangelical leaders are threatening to urge their flock of followers to vote against a vital new constitution if it retains special Muslim "kadhi" courts which have existed parallel to the main judicial system since the country's founding.

In 1998, local militants linked to Osama bin Laden blew up the United States embassy in Nairobi, killing 218, the vast majority of whom were Kenyans.