Libya’s most senior religious authority, the grand mufti Sheikh Sadik al-Ghariani, is believed to have fled Britain after it emerged that he was helping to direct the Islamist takeover of Tripoli from the UK. Ghariani left the UK for Qatar as Home Office officials began examining broadcasts he had made to Islamist groups using an internet television station owned by a relative in Devon, according to a Guardian report.
“The radical cleric used the website Tanasuh to celebrate the violent capture of Tripoli by an Islamist militia force, Libya Dawn, and to call for a widening of the rebellion. The Arabic-language website, which is viewed thousands of times a day in Libya, is registered to a close relative at a white-washed terraced house near Exeter city centre.
“The Foreign Office confirmed on Friday that Ghariani was in Britain.They said he had come in a private capacity and was not invited by ministers or officials. The cleric is understood to have left the country of his own volition rather than being excluded by the Home Office on the grounds of national security or unacceptable behaviour, the report said.
“If he’s gone, it’s of his own free will. It’s quite possible he’s gone because of the increased interest in his activities,” said a Whitehall source. A former Libyan lawmaker said Ghariani had left the UK: “He flew to Qatar and then, it seems, immediately to Turkey. He will be comfortable in either place.”
“The Devon home linked to Ghariani’s relative, Sohayl Elgariani, is close to a laundrette, a letting agency and a pub. There was no reply at the house on Sunday.
Neighbours said there had been a stream of visitors to the house. “There are lots of comings and goings there,” said one neighbour, who asked not to be named. “I don’t get involved. I don’t like to know what is going on. I often see them bringing food in boxes. I’m not sure what to think.”
“None of the neighbours said they recognised a picture of Ghariani. The house is just a few minutes’ walk from the Giraffe restaurant in the Princesshay shopping centre, which was the scene of a failed suicide bombing in May 2008. A Muslim convert from Plymouth, Mohammed Rashid Saeed-Alim – formerly Nicky Reilly – was attempting to put together homemade bombs in the toilet when one blew up in his hands. The 22-year-old was the only person hurt and later pleaded guilty to terrorism offences.
“In Ghariani’s most recent broadcast he urged Libya Dawn, which has installed an Islamist guerrilla commander as leader, to “use a firm hand to consolidate the victory that they gained on the battlefield,” and to oppose those who are enemies of this victory”, the report said.