Libya’s highest spiritual leader banned from UK over support of Islamists

Libya’s highest spiritual leader, the grand mufti Sheikh Sadik Al-Ghariani, has been banned from entering the UK after it emerged he had been helping direct the Islamist-led takeover of Tripoli from England.

Ghariani fled the UK in August after the Guardian revealed that he was broadcasting to militants in Libya using an internet television station owned by a relative in Devon.

The radical cleric used the website Tanasuh to celebrate the violent capture of Tripoli by Islamist militia force Libya Dawn, and to order a widening of the rebellion.

Home Office officials examined his broadcasts and issued a Risk and Liaison Overseas Network (Ralon) order excluding him from entering the UK.

A Home Office spokesman said: “We do not routinely comment on individual cases. But we are clear that those who seek to foster hatred or promote terrorism are not welcome in the United Kingdom. We will take action against those who represent a threat to our society or seek to subvert our shared values.”

It is not known where in the UK Ghariani was living for several months earlier this year, but his internet television station is registered to a close relative at a whitewashed terraced house near Exeter city centre.

Using the Arabic-language website, which is viewed thousands of times a day in Libya, the influential cleric broadcast directly to jihadi militants battling government forces in Tripoli. “I congratulate the revolutionaries in their victory, I give blessing to the martyrs,” he told his followers the day after Tripoli fell to Libya Dawn.

Libya has endured its worst violence since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, after Libya Dawn, an alliance of Islamist and Misrata forces, swept into the capital, set fire to buildings and arrested opponents, as the government fled to eastern parts of the country.

Whitehall sources confirmed in August that Ghariani was in the UK on a private visit. He is thought to have been in the UK for some months where he may have undergone private medical treatment. Reports in Libya suggest the grand mufti has recently been treated for cataracts.

International envoys regard Ghariani as an influential voice in Islamist circles, and earlier this week he met in Tripoli with UN Libya envoy Bernadino Leon to discuss peace proposals. War continues to rage south of the capital and in the eastern city of Benghazi, where air strikes on Thursday pounded Islamist militia positions.

Peace talks are stalled over the refusal of Libya Dawn to recognise the parliament, elected in June.

Earlier this month, Libya’s government called on the parliament, which has fled to the eastern town of Tobruk, to fire Ghariani from his position, angry about a recent statement in which he accused the authorities of seeking support abroad for foreign military intervention.

Ghariani has won both support and criticism in Libya for his calls for male and female students to be separated at universities, and for bans on Libyan women marrying foreigners and the import of lingerie.