LE BOURGET, France, April 11 (AFP) – Twenty-two thousand people attended the annual rally of the Union of French Islamic Organisations (UOIF) outside Paris on Sunday, considerably higher than the attendance last year, police said. The rally was taking place in the context of the US-led occupation of Iraq and the French government’s controversial decision to ban the Islamic headscarf and other religious insignia in state schools.
BREST, France, April 9 (AFP) – France on Friday issued an expulsion order against an Algerian Muslim cleric seeking asylum in the country, accusing him of trying to convert young people to a radical form of Islam.
By Maria Jesus Prades MADRID, Spain (AP) – The suspected terrorists who died in last weekend’s suicide blast had planned another major attack in Madrid, possibly during this week’s Easter celebrations, a court official said Wednesday.
The head of an association of Moroccan migrant workers has said that Spain needs a council to oversee mosques and Muslim clerics as a solution to combat “extremists.”
Even the most religiously traditional Muslims believe they should participate in American politics, according to a newly released study of one of the largest Muslim communities in the nation. The survey of Detroit-area Muslims is the latest to show that the isolationism that once pervaded the immigrant Muslim community is dissipating. Muslims ranked protecting their civil rights as a top public policy issue, according to the study.
By Alessandra Rizzo ROME – A new book by controversial journalist Oriana Fallaci that hit bookstores here Monday accuses Europe of having sold its soul to what she describes as an Islamic invasion. Entitled “The Strength of Reason,” (“La Forza della Ragione” in Italian), the book also accuses the Roman Catholic Church of being too weak before the Muslim world.
By John Deane, Chief Political Correspondent Britain’s most high profile police officer has called for the rapid introduction of a national identity card scheme as a tool in the struggle against terrorism. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens said there was an urgent need to enhance the authorities’ ability to check identities – and ID cards should be introduced “the sooner, the better.” At his monthly press conference on Thursday, Prime Minister Tony Blair indicated that ID cards were moving up the political agenda rapidly. Mr Blair said: “I think that the whole issue of identity cards, which a few years ago were not on anyone’s agenda, are very much on the political agenda here, probably more quickly even than we anticipated.” In an interview for GMTV’s Sunday Programme, Sir John was asked whether the security of Britain’s borders is a problem. He said: “It is a problem. I think it is a recognised problem. This is why I think identification cards would be of great assistance. “Up to a year-and-a-half ago I would have been against identification cards because we had no certainty that the documentation used for identification cards could actually prove with certainty the identification of someone. “Biometrics, the use of eyes, the use of fingerprints is now a certainty in a way that never was before, so therefore identification, either whether it be on border controls or whether we have to deal with stop and search in the street, anti-terrorism kind of activity … would give a certainty we need. “And I’m very much in favour of that as is the Association of Chief Police Officers.” Reminded that last week Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt suggested that compulsory ID cards were “many, many years away”, Sir John replied: “Well, I disagree with her totally. “I think the sooner they’re brought in the better and as a professional police officer I have to tell you we need them … I’m afraid the minister is wrong. I have to say that we do need those ID cards now.” Sir John stressed that “proper border controls” were needed to help combat terrorism and crime. “We do need proper border controls, we do need proper immigration controls in this country. “The borders of this country have been porous and we can prove that with a number of cases which have had high profile recently. “I think that the drive towards ensuring that immigration, customs and the police are working together and on occasions working together with some of the excellent work done by MI5 in particular and MI6 is the way forward. “You’ve got to have some border controls which are there, which are obvious and which work.” Sir John was asked about Islamic fundamentalist preachers living in Britain who make provocative remarks about relations between the Muslim community and the rest of society. Sir John said: “We monitor what people say on a regular basis. If they in fact obviously break the law then we will do something about it there and then. “But a lot of these cases are on the very edge of the law in terms of breaking the law and in those cases we submit these comments to the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Crown Prosecution Service to see whether people have breached the law. If they have breached the law we will take action.” Asked if the police were keeping a close eye on controversial London-based Muslim cleric Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri, Sir John replied: “Very much”. Sir John was also asked about Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, leader of the London-based group Al-Muhajiroun, who this week said Muslims should not cooperate with their local authorities against other members of the faith. Sir John said: “I think any comments that talk about not assisting the police – because we’re there for the public, we’re there to ensure their safety – is not helpful.” Asked whether Sheik Omar should be deported, Sir John said: “Well again you can only deport people if they’re breached the law.” Sir John was also asked about this week’s major anti-terrorism operation in south east England. He said: “Well I can’t talk about the specific arrests because that would be totally wrong. But I think what we have to acknowledge is that we have to look at the reasons why people do want to come to this country – or are in this country – and do want to bomb people. “I think we’ve got to try and understand it more because unlike the IRA there is no kind of political head, no political people that we can negotiate with – this Al Qaida.”
A number of mosques across the UK have appealed to worshippers at Friday prayers to co-operate with the police in the fight against terrorism. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) urged imams to make the appeal but some are thought to be angry their religion has been linked with terrorism. Meanwhile, police are questioning a ninth man following anti-terror raids in the South East. Tony Blair welcomed the appeal and said new anti-terror laws could be drawn up. At Regent’s Park Mosque, the largest in the country, spokesman Abdesselam Daoud said although the MCB’s letter would not be read out in full, its sentiments and concerns would be reflected in the day’s sermon. “It’s not practical to read a letter to a large audience but the sermon will focus on concerns of brotherhood and security of the community,” he said. But as several thousand prayer-goers left the London mosque, fringe radical group Al Muhajiroun staged a protest and burning of the union flag. The overwhelming majority ignored the protest, while some of the prayer-goers shouted abuse at the radicals. Others complained that the media at the scene were hyping the situation. During his Downing Street briefing to press on Thursday, Mr Blair indicated identity cards would be brought in soon and further anti-terrorist legislation was being drawn up. The MCB drew up a letter to mosques in the wake of the Madrid bombings, although news of its unprecedented step came at the same time as the raids in the South East, which led to the seizure of half a ton of fertiliser used in bombings. Police have until Saturday to question the first eight men – thought to be Britons of Pakistani descent – arrested over an alleged bomb plot. The latest man to be arrested was a 27-year-old Briton held in Crawley, West Sussex – the fourth in the town. He was held on Thursday evening on suspicion of being concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism. A man has also been detained by police in Canada in connection with alleged terrorist offences in London, although police have not indicated whether the arrest is linked to the British raids. Mohammed Momin Khawaja is due to appear via video link before a court in Ottawa on Friday. ‘Major crisis’ The Muslim Council of Britain said there had been an “overwhelmingly positive” reaction to its calls for mosques to help in the fight against terror. And it dismissed the comments of Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, a cleric who on Thursday said the MCB was being unfair and advised Muslims not to co-operate. MCB general secretary Iqbal Sacranie said: “The message that is going out is not in any way associating mosques with terrorism.” Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, he said: “Mosques are an important institution in the country. “The imams and chairmen and secretaries are playing a very important role in society. “We are facing a major crisis in the country and world over. We have to exercise our duty, an Islamic duty, which is to convey the message to the community that they have responsibilities as well.” As well as Friday’s sermons, booklets are being printed that will remind Muslims of their obligation to help safeguard Britain’s security.
By Arthur Neslen in London A controversial letter sent out by the Muslim Council of Britain to more than 1000 mosques has split the country’s Muslim community, with some communal leaders saying it will increase Islamophobia. The letter urges congregations to report any suspicions they might have about other worshippers to the police. “Islam categorically forbids violence and killing of innocents, let alone indulging in violence which can cause death and mayhem,” it says. “We therefore urge you to observe the utmost vigilance against any mischievous or criminal elements from infiltrating the community and provoking any unlawful activity.” The MCB’s appeal to the UK’s two million Muslims will be made through imams, chairmen and secretaries of mosques. Hundreds of thousands of booklets will also be sent out. But Masoud Shadjareh, chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, told Aljazeera.net that the letter’s assumptions are false. “As Muslims, we need to challenge stereotyping and injustices, rather than becoming party to them,” he said. “I’m not questioning the MCB’s intentions but it seems that they are reacting without thinking. “I know that they have been put under a lot of pressure but this sort of action is pointless, reactionary and actually creates the very Islamophobia that we are trying to fight. I can’t put it more strongly than that.” Number of arrests Iqbal Sacranie, the director of the Muslim Council of Britain, dismissed the charge as “utterly nonsensical”. “The only response some elements have to a positive and constructive initiative is to try to undermine it,” he told Aljazeera.net. “How can this letter be Islamophobic? “It is facing the reality that there are a large number of arrests taking place in the community. Although, by the grace of God, most are released without charge, some are convicted. One Muslim conviction is one too many.” In fact there have been two Muslim convictions for terrorism offences since the September 11 attacks. But there have also been more than 500 arrests and a dramatic shift in police “stop and search” policies. Last year, police made 32,100 searches under the Terrorism Act, an increase of 30,000 on the figure for 2000. Community leaders say that the vast majority of those targeted have been young Muslims. Not unexpected For Abd al-Bari Atwan, the influential editor of the al-Quds newspaper, the MCB’s decision was not unexpected. “The Muslim community in Britain is facing a critical time because the media have launched a hate campaign against them since the Madrid bombings,” he told Aljazeera.net. “Every Muslim is now a suspect and everyone is being watched by the police and intelligence services in one way or another.” The controversy over the MCB letter closely followed the arrest of eight British Muslims on Monday, for their part in an alleged al-Qaida bomb plot. On Wednesday a judge granted police a further three days to question the men. Police said that half a ton of ammonium nitrate, a fertiliser?that can be used to make explosives, was recovered during the operation. Dr Sacranie denied that the MCB’s letter was a panic response to subsequent media headlines such as the Daily Telegraph’s “Islamic bomb attack foiled” which proved offensive to so many in the Muslim community. “This initiative is part of our long-term action plan,” he said. “We feel the pressure day in and day out to do something for the community and for the country.” “To talk about ‘Islamic terrorism’ is a contradiction in terms, as Islam is a religion of humanity that utterly and totally condemns acts of violence and terrorism. Yet we are the only community that is being linked with terrorists.” But he singled out extremist groups such as al-Muhajiroun, for targeting alienated Muslim youths. “Within our community, there are elements who try to create hatred against people of other faiths,” he said. “We are telling the youth we share their concerns about the atrocities being committed in Palestine but it is unacceptable to use violent means in the UK.” ‘No platform’ Shortly after the letter was released, the UK’s National Union of Students moved to “no platform” or ban al-Muhajiroun, the Muslim Public Affairs Committee and Hizb al-Tahrir from speaking at any campus in the country. The three groups have been associated with anti-Semitic propaganda. But Atwan said al-Muhajiroun were “a very small group and a tabloid creation,” while Usama Saeed of the Muslim Association of Britain described them as “an empty drum, they make a lot of noise, but in reality there is nothing much happening there.” Saeed told Aljazeera.net that he did not know whether the MCB letter would have a positive effect on the press hysteria. “There has to be vigilance in the community,” he said, “But we also have to have the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else.” “I have never seen any terrorists recruiting or organising in mosques. If someone told me to weed these people out, I wouldn’t know where to start. What is needed is a debate about the root cause of terrorism, which is our country’s foreign policy.” The row over the letter, he added, was being taken out of context by the press. One story the British media did not report the week before the alleged al-Qaida bomb ring was smashed, was cited by many Muslim leaders as an example of the animus they are now facing. A 17-year-old Muslim girl was kidnapped in Ilford, East London by a Christian fundamentalist who slashed a crucifix into her upper arms and side and tried to force her to recite the holy trinity. When she refused, he repeatedly told her that “Christianity is the right religion” and slashed her every time he did so. However, the tabloids did at least turn their attention to Ilford the following week. It was the home town of one of the alleged al-Qaida bombers.
One of the men suspected of organising the 11 March bomb attacks in Madrid was carrying a false Belgian passport.Citing Spanish sources close to the investigation, Belgian press agency Belga said Jamal Ahmidan, a Morrocan also also known as ‘The Chinaman’, used his fake Belgian identity document to hire a house near to Madrid where he and his accomplices made the bombs used in the fatal train attacks. The Spanish Judge in charge of the investigation, Juan Del Omo, said that Ahmidan was “directly linked to the other suspects who actually placed the bombs that destroyed the trains.” Fake or stolen Belgian passports have figured in a worrying number of terror-related incidents in recent years.The two suicide bombers who posed as TV journalists in order to kill Afghan leader Ahmad Masoud in September 2001 were both carrying Belgian passports. And several other terror suspects have also been arrested in possesion of Belgian ID.