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Australia To Track Muslim Clerics

Islamic clerics in Australia will be required to register and adhere to a code of conduct, a council of moderate Muslims announced Tuesday, amid efforts to rein in radical preachers following the London bombings.

The Muslim Advisory Council, which comprises 14 Islamic community leaders hand-picked by Prime Minister John Howard to help authorities counter the rise of Islamic extremism, will meet next month to discuss drafting the imams' code, council member Yasser Soliman said.

"We're trying to put together some sort of guidelines about who can become a cleric," Soliman told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. "The guidelines are in response to suggestions by the community and clerics ... there are people who are appointing themselves as clerics when they're really just backyard clerics and unqualified."

Radical Muslim cleric Sheik Mohammed Omran who has preached that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is a great man who played no part in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States reacted angrily to the council's move.

"They don't have authority; they don't have the power; they don't have any license to talk about that (registering clerics)," Omran told The Australian newspaper in an interview published Tuesday.

Soliman agreed the council had no power to enforce the code of conduct or force clerics to register, but he predicted that only five or six clerics would refuse to register.

"They'll be identified as not plugging into the mainstream and not representing the community," Soliman said. "At this stage, there's a big fog about where they fit in."

Soliman said the guidelines will be helpful for clerics from overseas.

"Clerics coming from overseas especially would benefit from understanding the politics of the country, the political system, the language if they're not very fluent in English," Soliman said. "It's important that any gaps be identified. It's not something that should come across as being an insult."

Howard established the Muslim Advisory Council after the July 7 London bombings killed 52 people, highlighting the risk of homegrown terrorists in Britain.

The prime minister has criticized Australia's Islamic leaders for failing to speak out against radical preachers.

But Howard in turn has come under criticism for excluding radical Muslims from his council and for failing to acknowledge the role that Australia's involvement in the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq has in radicalizing young Muslims.

Australian authorities launched their largest ever counterterrorism crackdown on Nov. 8, arresting 18 Muslims in coordinated pre-dawn raids in Melbourne and Sydney in an operation police said headed off a catastrophic terror attack, possibly targeting a nuclear reactor in southern Sydney.

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