LOS ANGELES – The FBI has launched an inquiry into the activities of a grocery store owner who is allegedly the U.S. leader of a radical Islamic group banned in parts of Europe and the Middle East, authorities said.
Iyad Hilal (search), an Islamic author and philosopher who owns an Orange County (search) market, hasn't drawn much attention to his writings or his role in the group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, which means Party of Liberation (search).
But since the July 7 bombings in London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair (search) has suggested banning the group there.
Hilal is apparently not suspected of any terrorist acts, but FBI terrorism investigators want to know more about his and the group's activities.
FBI spokeswoman Cathy Viray declined to call it an investigation but confirmed that "we're looking into the matter." She declined to comment further.
Hilal, 56, has lived in the United States for about 20 years and is an Islamic scholar whose writings argue that the religion is not compatible with democracy.
Georgetown University professor John Esposito, author of "Unholy War on Terror in the Name of Islam," said the group saw most Muslim countries as not following Islamic law.
"Theirs is a rigorous, hard-line view of the kind of government they want to see implemented in Muslim countries," he said. "To them democracy is a good thing for the West, but Islam doesn't need it."
The group advocates a return to the days when all Muslims were governed by a religious leader known as the caliph.
In a 1992 essay, Hilal wrote that Western countries contradicted the teachings of Islam.
Salam Al-Marayati, spokesman for the Muslim Public Affairs Council (search) in Los Angeles, said he did not believe Hizb ut-Tahrir advocated terrorism in the United States, but said he was not surprised the FBI was looking into the group.
"People in Washington think that those who want an Islamic state are terrorists. That's not always the case," Marayati said.
Radical cleric Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed (search), former head of Hizb ut-Tahrir in England, identified Hilal as leader of the U.S. branch in a 2004 interview with the Terrorism Monitor, published by the Jamestown Foundation in Washington.