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Europe: Britain Seeks To Silence Islamic Militants Who Advocate Violence

London, 26 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Britain has drawn up legislation to curb Islamic fundamentalists who use London as a base to campaign for the violent overthrow of Middle East governments.

The legislation is targeted at the many Arab opposition groups and dissidents who have moved to London in recent years, making it the most significant Arab center anywhere outside the Middle East.

Britain is upset because the Egyptian, Algerian and other groups have called for revolutions against their own governments, and for a jihad, or holy war, against regimes seen as pro-Western and anti-Islam.

The calls for violence emanating from London are said to have damaged Britain's diplomatic and trade relations with the Arab world.

In a bid to silence the London militants, the Home Office has drawn up legislation that could lead to the imprisonment of Islamic and other dissidents who advocate violent revolution.

The proposed legislation would make it illegal for opposition groups in Britain to engage in conspiracy or to incite violence in other countries. At present anyone inciting violence in Britain is liable to prosecution, but the law does not extend to incitement overseas.

Commentators say the legislation could end Britain's tradition of providing a safe haven for revolutionaries, a tradition that dates well back into the last century, the most notable being Karl Marx.

Home Secretary Michael Howard pressed for the new legislation after his failure to deport one of the best-known Islamic dissidents, Dr Mohammed Al-Masari. He is a Saudi physicist who has upset Britain with calls for removal of the Saudi monarchy -- he denies calling for its violent overthrow -- and the creation of an Islamic democracy.

Howard sought to deport Al-Masari to a remote Caribbean island, Dominica. But the High Court in London ruled that Al-Masari can stay in Britain. It said Howard had circumvented Britain's obligations under the UN Convention for Refugees for "diplomatic and trade reasons."

One of the arguments raised against Al-Masari's deportation was that Dominica was an inappropriate destination because it had no place for Muslim worship. But the bigger argument was that Howard had bowed to political pressure from the Saudi government.

Aside from the Al-Masari case, Britain was angered when Islamic militants announced plans in September to hold a London rally that was expected to hear messages from jailed fundamentalist terrorist leaders.

The rally was called by the al-Mujahiroun (The Emigrants), a London-based radical Muslim group that opposes the Arab-Israeli peace process and urges a holy war against governments in the Middle East.

In the end, the organizers were forced to cancel the rally amid security fears triggered by bomb scares and threats to hold demonstrations by Jewish students and a British neo-fascist group.

The rally drew diplomatic protests from Egypt and Algeria, both fighting fundamentalist violence at home, and other Arab governments concerned over Britain's role as a safe haven for radical Islamic groups.

Now, in drawing up legislation aimed at stopping Islamic groups from inciting revolution abroad, Howard hopes it will be taken up by legislators who will force it through parliament. But the measure may not win approval because the opposition Labor Party, which led a campaign to prevent the deportation of Al-Masari, may block it.