The government, expanding its response to Islamic extremism, on Friday banned the return to Britain of a radical cleric whose strident statements provoked public outrage following train and bus bombings last month in London.
Home Secretary Charles Clarke announced that Omar Bakri Mohammed, who has lived in the country for 20 years, is not welcome "on the grounds that his presence is not conducive to the public good."
The decision came a day after officials detained 10 foreign nationals with plans to deport them for being a "threat to national security."
Bakri, who was born in Syria, traveled last week to Lebanon, where he was detained by authorities Thursday without explanation. In Beirut, the National News Agency said Friday that a judge ordered his release because he was not wanted on any charges, the Associated Press reported.
Bakri has been the subject of angry commentary in Britain. News media quoted him as saying he would not inform police if he knew of plans for another terror attack on the United Kingdom.
An associate of Bakri, Anjem Choudary, characterized the government decision as "completely outrageous."
"This is completely predictable; it's just the final manifestation of their war on Muslims," Choudary said in an interview. "Where are all the values they say they stand for: freedom of speech, freedom of expression, the right of innocence until proven guilty?"
A Muslim group expressed satisfaction at the banning of Bakri, whose organization was singled out by Prime Minister Tony Blair late last week in a speech outlining new measures to punish those who promote or incite terrorism.
"Most Muslims are happy he's gone," said Asghar Bukhari of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, a London-based group that advocates Muslim involvement in the democratic process rather than the use of violence. "I don't think Muslims ever bought that he was a threat to national security, but he was such a vocal pain in the backside that he increased racial tensions in the country."
Blair's proposals have ignited a debate in Britain over how to balance civil liberties and national security. Human rights activists and opposition politicians say Blair's government is going too far in response to last month's bombings, which killed 56 people, including the four presumed bombers, and injured 700 others. Police said the attacks were carried out by young Muslim men largely from the country's Pakistani and East African communities.
Although Britain has long prided itself on tolerating free speech and accepting immigrants considered undesirable by other countries, Blair said the "mood" was changing in favor of cracking down on religious leaders and others who promote or "glorify" acts of violence.
Those rounded up Thursday reportedly included Abu Qatada, a radical cleric who investigators said is closely tied to the al Qaeda terror network. Clarke said Thursday that a new agreement with Jordan, Qatada's home country, provided assurances that deportees would not be tortured or mistreated, allowing British officials to deport him there without violating British human rights laws.
Lord Falconer, Britain's highest-ranking judicial official, said Friday that the government was considering legislation that would require government officials and the courts to weigh both human rights and national security concerns in deportation cases.
"We've got to get the right balance," Falconer told the "Today" program on BBC Radio 4. "Nobody suggests for one moment that that would remove from the judges any degree of discretion in determining individual cases."