French arrest suspected radical Islamists

French authorities have detained seven suspected Islamic militants, who were allegedly training to fight in Iraq by firing weapons in the woods of eastern France. Ranging in age from early 20’s to mid-40’s, six of the men are French citizens of Bosnian origin, and the seventh is Algerian. All of the men were arrested in the towns of Besancon and Pontarlier in eastern France. French counterterrorism officials worry that such militancy could lead to terror attacks in France, even with the French opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Prosecutors are expected to file preliminary charges, accusing the men of criminal association with a terror group, carrying a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

Islamic center closes amid suspicion of smuggling people in Germany

Authorities are investigating whether an Islamic center in the southwestern city of Ulm has been attempting to smuggle people into Germany. Meanwhile, the center closed on. Ulm’s Islamic Information Center has been under observation for years, amid suspicion it has harbored and recruited Islamic militants. Stuttgart prosecutors launched a formal investigation into the organization earlier this month, under allegations it tried to illegally bring foreigners into the country.

Movement Against Racism, Anti-Semitism and for Peace, takes on Islamophobia

PARIS – MRAP, the Movement Against Racism, Anti-Semitism and for Peace, takes on Islamophobia. Its leaders regard Islamophobia as a violation of fundamental principles, including human and civic rights and liberties, on which modern, tolerant and free democracies are constructed. M. Aounit, president of MRAP, raised controversy with his primarily cultural (as opposed to religious) defence of immigrants’ Islamic heritage. He also hopes to mobilise French Muslim voters against current policies of uniformisation and assimilation. {(continued below in French)} Issu d’un r_seau cr?_ en 1941 pour sauver des enfants juifs de la d_portation, le Mouvement contre le racisme, l’antis_mitisme et pour la paix (MRAP) a subi une premi_re transformation, en 1977, en devenant le Mouvement contre le racisme et pour l’amiti_ entre les peuples. Autre innovation, en 1989 : le mouvement porte _ sa t_te un “beur” de Seine-Saint-Denis, premier dirigeant _ ne pas _tre membre du PCF. Dix-huit ans plus tard, Mouloud Aounit est accus_ de faire le lit du communautarisme religieux. L’ “islamophobie” ? “C’est un clivage tr_s important “, souligne Emmanuelle Le Chevallier. Pour l’ancienne pr_sidente de la f_d_ration de Paris, “ce concept va _ l’encontre du principe d’universalit_ et confond d_fense de l’homme et d_fense d’une religion” . “Les la_ques sont trait_s de “la_cards”, ou d'”int_gristes la_cs””, regrette Nadia Kurys, membre de la direction nationale du MRAP. Pr_sident de la f_d_ration des Landes, G_rard Kerforn voit dans cette notion d’ “islamophobie” la marque d’ “un tiers-mondisme primaire, qui conduit _ tol_rer dans les religions dites “des pauvres” ce que l’on n’aurait pas tol_r_ pour d’autres religions”. Pr_sidente du comit_ MRAP de Marseille, Horiya Mekrelouf est d’autant plus bless_e par ce concept que les militants de sa f_d_ration “ont re_u des victimes de l’int_grisme pendant les dix ans de guerre civile en Alg_rie” . “D_sormais, d_plore-t-elle, on ne peut plus d_noncer le caract_re r_actionnaire de l’UOIF (l’Union des organisations islamiques de France).” Dans un contexte – pour partie import_ du conflit au Proche-Orient – de tensions interreligieuses croissantes, le combat contre l’ “islamophobie” a relanc_ les soup_ons d’antis_mitisme qui _taient d_j_ port_s _ l’encontre de ce mouvement et de son pr_sident. Tous les faits et gestes de Mouloud Aounit – comme ses deux apparitions, dans des colloques, au c_t_ de Tariq Ramadan – sont observ_s _ la loupe, le moindre d_rapage _tant imm_diatement diffus_ et comment_ (tr_s) librement sur Internet. L’int_ress_ se dit victime de ces “radicalit_s” qui surgissent “de partout” dans la soci_t_ fran_aise. “Ce n’est pas moi qui ai chang_. C’est l’environnement qui s’est modifi_” , assure-t-il. L’Islam ? “J’ai vu ma m_re plusieurs fois faire la pri_re, mon p_re occasionnellement le ramadan. Mais on ne m’a jamais interdit de manger du cochon” , raconte Mouloud Aounit, qui se d_finit lui-m_me comme un fervent “la_que” , par ailleurs “amateur de bon bordeaux”. Cet autoportrait dessine une premi_re r_ponse _ ses d_tracteurs, qu’il accuse implicitement d’avoir d_form_ ses positions en s’appuyant sur ses origines. Des responsables et militants du MRAP ne l’entendent pas de cette oreille, _num_rant les _tapes d’une “d_rive” qu’ils d_noncent avec vigueur : la demande de lib_ration de Maurice Papon, le soutien aux _l_ves voil_es, et le d_p_t de plainte contre France-Soir – en raison de la publication des caricatures de Mahomet – ont _t_ les _pisodes les plus spectaculaires de cette crise ininterrompue, provoquant des r_actions virulentes et des d_parts en cascade. Certains s’inqui_tent d’une propension du pr_sident du MRAP _ relativiser l’antis_mitisme lorsqu’il est le fait de populations d’origine arabo-musulmane. “Au pr_texte de ne pas les stigmatiser, on ne peut plus parler du racisme antis_mite en banlieues” , d_plore Maya Vigier, membre du conseil d’administration du MRAP et d’un comit_ parisien. Mouloud Aounit s’insurge contre ces accusations, assure qu’il fait l’objet d’une “campagne calomnieuse” . Mais il ne r_cuse pas la n_cessit_, _ ses yeux, d’un r?_quilibrage. Pour traduire cette id_e, selon laquelle un crime commis contre une personne d’origine maghr_bine ne suscite pas la m_me _motion que si la victime est juive, il p_se ses mots : “La R_publique n’est pas _quitable par rapport aux victimes du racisme (…) Je regarde des deux c_t_s, y compris celui o_ les autres ne regardent pas (…). Je n’ai pas choisi une communaut_. Mais j’ai choisi, dans un contexte particulier, de d_fendre des gens qui ne sont pas d_fendus.” Si ce d_bat complexe et sensible traverse d’autres associations antiracistes et mouvements politiques, le MRAP y a plong_ sans bou_e de sauvetage. “Ce mouvement, qui _tait tr_s li_ au Parti communiste, n’a pas de tradition de d_bat intellectuel” , souligne le sociologue Vincent Geisser . “Le MRAP est la caisse de r_sonance de la soci_t_. Or nous manquons d’_lites qui pourraient nous amener _ rendre compr_hensibles des probl_matiques nouvelles, auxquelles nous n’_tions pas pr_par_s” , convient Mouloud Aounit. Elu conseiller r_gional d’Ile-de-France, en 2004, sur la liste conduite par la secr_taire nationale du PCF, Marie-George Buffet, M. Aounit lorgne, dit-on, sur une possible investiture aux _lections l_gislatives en Seine-Saint-Denis. Ses d_tracteurs ont fait le lien entre ses prises de position et la pr_paration de cette _ventuelle candidature dans le “9-3”. “Le concept d’islamophobie lui permet de s’identifier _ la communaut_ musulmane. Il veut se recycler, et pratique du marketing politique” , estime un ancien dirigeant du MRAP, Alain Calles. Mouloud Aounit indique qu’il “sera pr_sent, d’une fa_on ou d’une autre”, lors des prochaines _ch_ances _lectorales. Les Fran_ais musulmans ? “Cette population qui, hier, ne votait pas, peut d_sormais faire et d_faire des d_put_s et des maires” , dit-il. Tout en affirmant que l’enjeu de son combat a une autre envergure : “Je suis le dernier rempart avant les int_gristes.”

FBI Bid To Win Over American Muslims

The FBI will hold its first nationally televised “town hall meeting” for Muslims and Arab-Americans on Thursday in an effort to improve relations and enlist their help in fighting terrorism, an FBI official said. Paul Moskal, chief division counsel for the FBI in Buffalo, New York, who will lead the meeting and field questions, said the agency and the Arab and Muslim American communities needed to overcome misconceptions about each other and foster closer cooperation. “What we want to do is let the public know that the FBI has changed its mission after September 11, that our number one priority is the detection and prevention of another terrorist act. If someone in the public can help us accomplish that, that’s our purpose,” Moskal told Reuters on Wednesday. The meeting will be broadcast on Bridges TV, an independent, commercial US television network broadcasting lifestyle and culture programmes around the clock for a primarily Muslim American audience. FBI says its priority is to detect and prevent another terror attack The televised meeting is also part of efforts to encourage Muslim and Arab Americans to report instances of post-September 11 backlash, intimidation, racism or harassment so the agency can enforce their civil rights, Moskal said. A third reason for the town hall meeting was that “we need more Arab Americans, we need more Muslim Americans as FBI agents and as FBI employees. So we use it to recruit as well,” he said. Muslim American groups have long accused the Bush administration of neglect in the fight against terrorism, which they say undermines a potentially priceless resource that could be used to root out militants at home. Muslim groups say the government must visibly engage their community to undermine militants’ charges that Muslims are left out of American society, and to ensure that Muslims do not feel alienated and become targets for radical recruiters. Estimates of the number of Muslim Americans vary between three million and seven million. “It’s important to keep the lines of communication open, for the FBI to understand the Muslim community better and for American Muslims to better understand law enforcement agencies” Moskal said the FBI had been conducting local town hall meetings, at which agents would make contact with citizens and answer questions about their work, in a broad range of ethnic, religious and other communities throughout the United States. But he said Thursday’s session was the first nationally televised event targeting Muslim and Arab Americans. Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations which is moderating the television programme, said, “It’s important to keep the lines of communication open, for the FBI to understand the Muslim community better and for American Muslims to better understand law enforcement agencies.” US officials acknowledge that they must do more to involve Muslim Americans in counter-terrorism efforts. But they say the administration is already actively cooperating with Muslim groups and say they enjoy greater access to the government than ever before.

Experts Say Indigenous Terror Threat Real

By Jeremiah Marquez LOS ANGELES — An alleged plot targeting military facilities, synagogues and other Los Angeles-area sites has highlighted what experts say is a novel terrorist threat: homegrown American militants operating with little or no help from Islamic extremists abroad. Four suspects were charged last week with conspiring to wage war against the U.S. government through terrorism. Named in the federal indictment were Levar Haley Washington, 25; Gregory Vernon Patterson, 21; Hammad Riaz Samana, 21; and Kevin James, 29. All but Samana, a Pakistani national, are American-born and Muslim converts. Counterterrorism officials have found no evidence directly connecting the group–described as the cell of a California prison gang of radical Muslims–to Al Qaeda or other foreign terrorist networks. Law-enforcement officials and terrorism experts said it could represent one of the first Islamic terrorism cases involving U.S. natives without those connections. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strikes, an international dragnet has broken up training camps, disrupted finances and sent terrorist leaders underground, making it all the more difficult for Al Qaeda to mount attacks. Yet despite tougher border control, a radical ideology shared by the terrorist network continues to seep into the United States through propaganda distributed via the Internet, books, pamphlets, DVDs and the media–a “passive recruiting strategy,” according to terrorism experts. That has helped transform Al Qaeda into a movement with disciples acting without funding, expertise or guidance from foreign handlers. “Al Qaeda can’t get their militants to the places they want to hit, so they rely on an ideology to gain converts who do it for them,” said professor Brian Levin, a terrorism researcher at California State University, San Bernardino. In the Southern California case, prosecutors say cell members largely supported themselves. Washington, Patterson and Samana allegedly robbed gas stations to finance their plans to target military sites, synagogues, the Israeli Consulate and the El Al airport counter in the Los Angeles area. Patterson purchased a .223-caliber rifle. Samana underwent “firearms training and physical training” at a local park, according to the indictment. They even conducted Internet research on potential targets and Jewish holidays–dates for which they allegedly planned the assaults to “maximize the number of casualties,” prosecutors said. Samana’s lawyer, Timothy Lannen, described his client in a statement as a “peace-loving, law-abiding member of our community” and said “he did not intend at any time to commit violence against anyone.” An attorney in Washington’s state robbery case had not reviewed the federal indictment and had no immediate comment. Patterson’s lawyer has said his client asked him not to comment. The plot’s suspected mastermind was James, a California State Prison, Sacramento, inmate who founded the radical group Jamiyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh, authorities said. Washington converted to Islam while imprisoned there for a previous robbery conviction. Self-made groups in the United States can be more difficult to root out because they’re smaller and have fewer financial resources to track, experts said. “They’re adopting the Al Qaeda agenda and philosophy and carrying out their own jihad,” said Oliver “Buck” Revell, a former FBI associate deputy director and counterterrorism chief. “Unfortunately, they may be successful because they’re extremely hard to detect.”

U.S. Muslims Feel Sidelined In Terrorism Fight

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Bush administration is neglecting American Muslims in the fight against terrorism, undermining a potentially priceless resource that could be used to root out militants at home, major Muslim groups say. Community leaders such as Salam al-Marayati, who heads the Muslim Public Affairs Council advocacy group, say that to isolate terrorists political leaders from President George W. Bush on down must embrace the U.S. Muslim mainstream, rather than exclude them from serious debates on security. “For some reason, it’s very difficult to get the high-level officials to come down to the community at this point. I think a decision has to be made: are we going to be partners or are we going to be suspects?” Marayati said. Muslim American groups say that only by visibly engaging the community can officials undermine militants’ charges that Muslims are left out of American society, and ensure Muslims do not feel alienated and become targets for recruiters. Concern about increased suspicions and alienation of the Muslim American community has grown since the July 7 attacks by home-grown Muslim militants in London in which suicide bombers killed 52 people on underground trains and buses. “It’s the position of just about every Muslim leader in the United States that the way you isolate extremists is to engage the mainstream. Unfortunately we haven’t seen much of that occurring in this administration,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations. Community leaders and some experts say the country’s estimated 3 million to 7 million Muslims are best placed to fight domestic extremists because only insiders can hope to challenge their radical ideologies or spot budding militants. “The jihadist threat in this country will come from within, not from outside,” said veteran terrorism expert Dennis Pluchinsky, who retired from the State Department this year and now works for security information firm TranSecur. The Muslim community is “the front line for detection,” he said. Outreach Underway Muslim groups would like to play a greater role in policy discussions for the war on terrorism declared by Bush, have more visible government endorsement of the community’s anti-terrorism efforts and see more senior officials attending Muslim American events, conferences and community meetings. The Islamic Society of North America has called on Bush to attend its Sept. 2-6 convention — the largest annual gathering of Muslim Americans. The administration’s public diplomacy chief, Karen Hughes, is attending the opening session instead. U.S. officials agree they must do more to involve Muslim Americans in the fight against terrorism. But they say the administration is already actively cooperating with Muslim groups and say they enjoy greater access to the government than ever before. This year alone, Muslim community leaders have met with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI chief Robert Mueller, said Dan Sutherland, who heads the Department of Homeland Security’s civil rights and civil liberties office. “The momentum will accelerate. I think that over the upcoming year, or two or five, you will see the connections between the Arab American and Muslim American communities and the government really deepen,” he said. “We are at the beginning stages. We’re like in the third inning of the (nine-inning) game, but we’re in the game.” Many community leaders praised Bush’s initial outreach to America’s Muslims after Sept. 11, 2001, but said such high-profile efforts had waned in the years since the Islamic militant attacks. They say cooperation is good with local law enforcement and other community groups, but say visible engagement from top-level leaders is needed to counter the terrorist threat. Sayyid Muhammad Syeed, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America, said Muslim Americans had a unique infrastructure in place through their mosques, community programs and conferences to counter that threat. Within the community, “people who may have doubts, who may have some kind of tendencies towards extremism, get diluted, and they are confronted with the right arguments and teachings,” he said.

Britain Sets Ground Rules For Banning Foreign Extremists

By Alan Cowell LONDON Charles Clarke, the British home secretary, published a catalogue of terrorism-related offenses on Wednesday, setting the ground rules for Britain to ban or deport foreigners accused of fomenting hatred, violence and extremism. The list is directed primarily at firebrand Muslim clerics and scholars suspected by the government of inspiring violence among British Muslims, like those who carried out the London bombings in July. The announcement by Clarke, Britain’s most senior law enforcement official, followed a promise from the British prime minister, Tony Blair, earlier this month to take action, including closing mosques and barring clerics, to forestall future terrorist attacks. The measures announced Wednesday seemed slightly less sweeping than first promised by Blair. A Home Office statement said Clarke had decided not to include a catchall definition of unacceptable behavior as being “the expression of views that the government considers to be extreme and that conflict with the U.K.’s culture of tolerance.” In a statement, Clarke said the new regulations covered the expression of views which “foment, justify or glorify terrorist violence in furtherance of particular beliefs” or which “seek to provoke others to terrorist acts.” The list also banned actions to “foment other serious criminal activity or seek to provoke others to serious criminal acts” or to “foster hatred which might lead to inter-community violence” in Britain. The new regulations cover several means of expression “including writing, producing, publishing or distributing material; public speaking including preaching; running a Web site; or using a position of responsibility such as teacher, community or youth leader,” the statement said. It was not immediately known who was most likely to be affected by the measures. Clarke said a “database of individuals around the world who have demonstrated these unacceptable behaviors will be developed.” Since Blair threatened to expel foreign-born militants earlier this month, the government has rounded up 10 men it plans to deport, including Abu Qatada, a Jordanian citizen of Palestinian descent accused by European investigators of being a spiritual guide to Al Qaeda. Britain also barred Omar Bakri Mohammed, born in Syria, from returning to Britain from a visit to Lebanon. The government said it was negotiating with various nations, including Jordan, for guarantees that militants sent back to their own countries would not be tortured or abused. “Individuals who seek to create fear, distrust and division in order to stir up terrorist activity will not be tolerated by the government or by our communities,” Clarke said. By publishing the list, “I make it absolutely clear that these are unacceptable behaviors, and will be the grounds for deporting and excluding such individuals” from Britain. Some civil rights groups challenged the measures. The “announcement fails to answer the fundamental question; will the government’s deportation plans result in suspects being sent to countries with a known record of torture?,” said James Welch, the legal director of a civil rights group called Liberty. “What has always separated us from the terrorists is that we do not torture people or send them to be tortured – that is the standard we need to maintain.” But the regulations drew a broad welcome from the opposition Liberal Democrats because it included provisions for appeal. “It is good that the home secretary has seen sense on the deportation rules,” said Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on home affairs. “We broadly welcome the use of powers to deport people, as long as the individuals involved have a right to appeal and the case for deportation is reasonable.” Clarke said the measures would not limit free speech. “These powers are not intended to stifle free speech or legitimate debate about religions or other issues,” he said. “Britain is rightly proud of its openness and diversity and we must not allow those driven by extremism of any sort to destroy that tradition.”

Blair, Muslims Draw Up Plan To Tackle Extremists

By Gideon Long LONDON (Reuters) – British Muslim leaders and Prime Minister Tony Blair discussed ways to tackle radical Islamists on Tuesday in the wake of the London bombings, but face a tough task to win round disaffected young Muslims. Senior imams, Muslim politicians and representatives of the Muslim Council of Britain went to Downing Street where they had an hour-long discussion with Blair. “There was a strong desire from everybody there to make sure we establish the right mechanisms for people to be able to go into the community and confront this … evil ideology, take it on and defeat it,” Blair told a news conference afterwards. Muslim member of parliament Shahid Malik said there was “a massive appetite” among Britain’s 1.6 million Muslims to weed out radicals. “We recognize we’ve got to work better at confronting those evil voices — as minute as they are — inside our communities,” he said. But radical Muslims dismissed the meeting as a sham and even some moderates said they were suspicious of Blair’s agenda. “The whole focus has been on trying to put the blame on Islam and the Muslim leadership,” said Ahmed Versi, editor of the Muslim News, Britain’s biggest selling Muslim newspaper. He said there was “deep concern” in the Muslim community “about how far Blair may try and impose some kind of secular interpretation of Islam in his declared aim of helping Muslims to find a ‘moderate and true voice’.” SHOCK WAVES The attacks of July 7, and the revelation that the bombers were British Muslims and not foreign militants, has sent shock waves through the country’s Islamic community. While condemning the bombings, Muslim leaders have had to accept there are radicals in their midst who advocate violence and preach hatred of the West. Some Muslims have called for reform in Britain’s mosques, which they say are out of touch with young Muslims. Others have urged police to clamp down on radical Islamist groups who regularly canvas outside mosques and on university campuses. One such group, Al Muhajiroun, disbanded last year but its former members are still active. Its former leader in Britain, Anjem Choudary, said Tuesday’s meeting at Downing Street was an irrelevance. “The type of so-called Muslims at this meeting are those who toe the government line,” he said. “They are the lackeys of the British government. They’re the ones who have been appointed by Tony Blair to be the official voice of the Muslims.” He said Britain would inevitably be attacked again by Islamist militants if it refused to change its foreign policy in Iraq, the Middle East and Kashmir. “For us, the main objectives are to work to implement the sharia wherever we are and obviously to support the jihad wherever it is taking place,” he added. Faced with such militancy, the Muslim Council of Britain faces an uphill struggle. While it is an influential umbrella group which brings together some 400 British Muslim organizations, it has come under fire from some young Muslims who say it is out of touch with their feelings.

Militants ‘Planning Brussels Bomb’

BRUSSELS – A group of alleged Islamic fundamentalist militants arrested in Belgium and Italy earlier this week may have been plotting to blow up Nato headquarters or the European Parliament, both of which are housed in Brussels. According to the Wednesday edition of Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Italian investigators say one of the militants, Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed or ‘Mohamed the Egyptian’, may have been plotting to bomb a “symbolic target” in the Belgian capital.