BEIRUT: Lebanese security forces arrested an influential Syrian-born Islamist cleric on Sunday who went into hiding last month after a crackdown in the northern city of Tripoli to end sectarian violence fuelled by civil war in neighboring Syria.
Omar Bakri, who praised Al Qaeda in recent speeches, founded outlawed British Islamist group Al-Muhajiroun and was banished from Britain to Lebanon in 2005.
He sought refuge in the mainly Sunni city of Tripoli where he was popular among young hardline Sunni Muslims.
“In the early hours of the morning we have arrested Omar Bakri from where he was hiding in Aley,” Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said at a conference.
“This person has contributed in every aspect in supporting terrorism.”
Divisions among Lebanese factions were worsened by Syria’s civil war and the coastal city of Tripoli where pockets of minorities live including Alawites, has seen the worst spillover of violence.
Dozens of people were killed in months of on-and-off street fighting between Sunnis and Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam to which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad belongs.
Bakri fled Tripoli last month after security forces raided homes of several figures suspected of involvement in the fighting.
A security source said he was arrested in a furnished apartment he had moved to few days earlier in the mainly Druze city of Aley, in the mountains southeast of Beirut.
The conflict in Syria began as peaceful protests against Assad’s rule but turned to armed struggle due to his forces heavy crackdown. At least 160,000 people have been killed and millions have fled.