LONDON (Reuters) - Britain has refused a visa to prominent Muslim cleric Youssef al-Qaradawi, accusing him of justifying terrorism.
The decision, announced on Thursday, prompted an angry reaction from British Muslim groups.
The Egyptian scholar, who appears on the satellite channel Al Jazeera, condemned the September 11 attacks on the United States but has openly supported Palestinian suicide bombing and attacks on coalition forces in Iraq.
He has also been banned from visiting the United States.
"The UK will not tolerate the presence of those who seek to justify acts of terrorist violence or disburse views that could foster inter-community violence," a Home Office spokeswoman said.
"We made a decision based on the impact of a visit on communities in the UK," she added.
The opposition Conservative party had called for al-Qaradawi to be banned and welcomed the move.
"The government's approach to preachers of hate has been at best timid and at worst downright useless," Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said. "Now it is time for them to take a robust approach across the board."
Britain's Muslims say they have felt increasingly pressured since the July 2005 suicide attacks on London's transport system that killed 52 people. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have further raised tensions.
The Muslim Council of Britain, the largest umbrella body with over 100 affiliated organizations, said the government had given into pro-Israeli and right-wing pressure.
"Yusuf al-Qaradawi enjoys unparalleled respect and influence throughout the Muslim world. I am afraid this decision will send the wrong message to Muslims everywhere," said the council's secretary-general, Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari.
"Britain has had a long and established tradition of free speech, debate and intellectual pursuit. These principles are worth defending, especially if we would like to see them spread throughout the world," he said.