Hardline Arab-Israeli imam held in Britain

Date: 6/28/2011

By Joseph Eid | AFP – Tue, Jun 28, 2011

Controversial Arab–Israeli Islamist leader Sheikh Raed Saleh has been arrested in London after entering Britain in defiance of a government ban, Home Secretary Theresa May said Wednesday.

British authorities have begun arrangements to deport Saleh, who is the head of the radical northern wing of the Islamic Movement, and have launched an investigation into how he managed to enter the country, she said.

However, Saleh's lawyer Farooq Bajwa said Saleh had no idea he was banned and was not stopped when he flew into Britain last weekend for a week of public events. He said his client was looking at how he could challenge the exclusion.

Saleh was arrested at about 11pm (2200 GMT) on Tuesday after returning from an event in the central English city of Leicester, by immigration officials who said his presence in Britain "may not be conducive to the public good", Bajwa said.

Although ministers rarely comment on individual cases, May issued a statement saying: "I can confirm he was excluded and that he managed to enter the UK.

"He has now been detained and the UK Border Agency is now making arrangements to remove him. A full investigation is now taking place into how he was able to enter."

The Home Office could not confirm press reports that Saleh was excluded only last week, nor would it say why.

Bajwa said the first his client knew of his exclusion was when media reports began emerging online on Tuesday afternoon.

"He arrived last weekend on his own passport, in his own name and walked right through immigration without any problems whatsoever," the lawyer told AFP.

"He's never been hiding from anyone. Everyone knew he was coming."

Saleh had been due to speak alongside three opposition Labour lawmakers at a publicised event organised by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign at the House of Commons on Wednesday evening.

Sheikh Kamal Khatib, a spokesman for the Islamic Movement in Israel, blamed "the Zionist lobby in Britain" for pushing police into arresting him.

Bajwa also denounced Saleh's detention as political, adding that he had been instructed to take action against British newspapers which repeated "damaging and baseless" allegations of anti–Semitism.

He said: "He feels that this is a campaign by the Israeli government and people sympathetic to them to exclude him even though he's not a violent person."

Saleh has had multiple run–ins with the law in Israel, including most recently being arrested at the Israeli border with Jordan after allegedly striking an interrogator.

In 2010, he spent five months behind bars for spitting at an Israeli policeman, and he has been detained on a number of other occasions, including in connection with an alleged arson incident.

He was also held after taking part in a Gaza–bound aid flotilla that Israeli naval commandos stormed on May 31, 2010 in a botched operation that left nine Turkish activists dead.

The Islamic Movement is tolerated in Israel but is under constant surveillance due to its perceived links with the militant Hamas movement that controls the Gaza Strip, as well as with other Islamist groups worldwide.

Palestinian Solidarity Campaign director Sarah Colborne defended Saleh's invitation to their event, saying his movement was a "legitimate organisation".

"Before coming to Britain, he faced horrific allegations of anti–Semitism, which he completely refuted," she added.

"He has clarified his position of being opposed to all forms of racism, including anti–Semitism, Islamophobia and racism against his own people, the Palestinians."

Israel's Arab community numbers 1.3 million, about 20 percent of the population. It is made up of 160,000 Palestinians who remained in Israel after the 1948 establishment of the Jewish state, and their descendants.


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