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Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Britain Islamist hotbed we should worry about: critics



William Maclean, Reuters · Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2010, from Canada's National Post

Forget Yemen or Somalia. It is Britain and its ignominious record of violent Islamism that should be the focus of security concerns, say critics of Britain's counter-terrorism policies.

The arrests Monday of 12 men said to be planning a Christmas terrorist outrage along with a recent suicide attack in Sweden by a man apparently radicalized in Britain show the real threat facing the country from long-standing official indulgence of anti-Western Islamist thinking among British Muslims, critics claim.

"The Stockholm bomber is but the latest export from Londonistan -- and unless the government gets up off its knees and changes its disastrous strategy, I very much fear he will not be the last," wrote commentator Melanie Phillips, a trenchant critic of government policy.

Critics voiced similar unease after a botched attack on a Detroit-bound airliner by a London-educated Nigerian on Dec. 25, 2009, an event that stirred fears the British capital was resuming its 1990s role as Europe's Islamist hub.

Nigerians were outraged when their country was put on a list of states required to toughen screening of air travellers.

Why was Nigeria's former colonial ruler exempted, the Nigerian Nobel literature laureate Wole Soyinka asked, calling England a "cesspit" of Muslim fundamentalism.

"If Nigeria qualifies for a place on the U.S. list of terrorist countries then, admit it, Britain is overqualified," he wrote in Britain's Sunday Times newspaper.

The Sweden bombing was the latest in a string of attacks dating back to the 1990s by young British-educated Islamist terrorists, many of whom have ancestral links to formerly British-ruled South Asia, in particular Pakistan.

Perceived U.K. failings in tackling terrorists are not new -- Britain was criticized by some European and Arab allies when it became a hub of Islamist activity in the 1990s thanks to a tradition of granting asylum to Middle East dissidents.

After 9/11 it cracked down on what many believed had become a dangerously radical militant scene. But international confidence in Britain's grasp of the problem has frayed after subsequent plots, including the 2005 London bombings that killed 52 people.

A 2006 U.S. embassy cable disclosed by WikiLeaks reported "little progress has been made" by the state in engaging its Muslim minority of up to two million despite investing considerable time and resources.

The Sweden attack has given new urgency to the issue, and Prime Minister David Cameron has admitted his government was not doing enough to tackle the threat.

The Swedish bomber, Taymour Abdulwahab, is believed to have become radicalized in Luton, a town suffering unemployment and social division that analysts say has helped spawn extremist groups including white supremacists and Islamist radicals.

Recruitment of Britons by terrorist groups overseas accelerated after Britain participated in the Iraq invasion of 2003, an event that triggered strong opposition from Britain's Muslims as well as from other segments of the population.

At the heart of Britain's counter-terrorism policy is a belief that while rounding up networks of attackers is urgent and important, the threat of attack will not diminish until young men can be dissuaded from joining terrorist groups.

That long-term task appears to be proving as complex for Mr. Cameron as it was for the previous government his coalition replaced in elections in May.

To date a counter-radicalization effort called Prevent begun by the previous government has met with suspicion from Muslim communities, who have equated it with spying and of anti-Muslim stigmatization, analysts say.

Critics say it failed by mixing the work of building bridges of tolerance between communities with intelligence-gathering. Mr. Cameron's security team has said it will make the distinction much clearer in a revamped Prevent.

Counter-terrorism analysts say some of the work of counselling alienated youths predisposed to al-Qaeda-aligned groups has lost momentum in the absence of the new policy.

"They've got to move quickly," said Jahan Mahmood, a community historian in Birmingham. "Seven months on, they need to have something in place. There are vulnerable youths out there."

Budgets are not the only complication. Another is that the premise of a British Muslim community is flawed, experts say. British Muslims are highly diverse. Moreover, radicalization is not always a pressing problem -- other ills include crime.

Among the thorniest of the issues is who speaks for Muslim Britons. Officials have found the best organized and motivated groups -- often Islamists of a non-violent bent who denounce al-Qaeda -- are not necessarily the most representative.

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THE ARRESTS

The men arrested on Monday in Britain are said to be associated with the banned group al-Muhajiroun.

- Al-Muhajiroun was founded in London in February 1996. It wants Britain to become an Islamic state, supports sharia law, and refuses to condemn terrorist attacks.

- It became a banned organization in Britain this year for having links to terrorism.

- One of its leaders, Omar Bakri Muhammad, was arrested after a gun battle with Lebanese soldiers in November and is now in jail.

- Another leader, Anjem Choudary, caused outrage when he planned to hold a protest this year in the town of Wootton Bassett, the scene of tributes to fallen British soldiers. The protest was eventually called off.

- Mr. Choudary, who has described the 9/11 bombers as "magnificent martyrs", continues to preach in Britain.

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