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Britain: Government May Rule Deportation Of Muslim Militants Linked To Terror Groups

  • Ben Partridge

London, 26 August 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The British Government is under growing pressure to expel militant Muslim activists who allegedly use London as a base to support terrorist movements in their homelands, and also to criticize western interests.

The pressure has intensified since the leader of one London-based militant organization voiced support in a radio interview for the terrorist bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Sheik Omar Bakri Mohamed, leader of the London-based al-Muhajiroun (the Emigrants), an organization dedicated to establishing a world Islamic state, said that while he regretted the civilian casualties, the bombings were justified. He said -- to use his words -- that "United States forces are legitimate targets."

His remarks have prompted calls on Home Secretary (interior minister) Jack Straw to tighten legislation against those who speak out in support of acts of terrorism both in Britain and abroad.

Donald Anderson, chairman of the House of Commons' Foreign Affairs Committee, and a prominent member of the ruling Labor Party, said he supported demands for the deportation of what he called "fanatics, people who are inciting terrorism."

He was supported by James Clappison, opposition Conservative spokesman on domestic affairs, who has written to Straw urging him to make sure that Britain is not being used as a "haven" for the supporters of international terrorism.

In recent years Britain has become the home to many militant fundamentalist groups who -- according to media reports -- use London as a base to support terrorist movements in their homelands, either through political campaigning or raising funds.

According to David Pallister of the London Guardian "every faction and feud in the Middle East, from Algeria to Afghanistan, is represented somewhere among the hundreds of Muslim groups that have proliferated in Britain in the past few years."

These groups are said to range from moderates who seek peaceful but radical change in the Arab world to extremists united by a hatred of established regimes, particularly Algeria and Egypt.

Journalist Ben Fenton says Britain is an unwitting host to members of Egyptian terror organizations such as Islamic Jihad and al-Gamaa al-Islaamiya, and the Algerian Groupe Islamique Armee, or the Palestinian terror groups, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizbollah.

In recent years, Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have all protested that Britain's asylum laws provide a safe haven for individuals or apologists linked to terrorist groups.

Still, some experts say it would be difficult to find any hard evidence of terrorist activity among the London-based militants. One expert (quoted by the Guardian) said: "Some of these so-called groups are simply one guy and a fax machine."

Why have Islamic activists chosen London as a base? One reason is that Britain has a long tradition of tolerance towards dissidents from abroad, while its courts refuse to allow foreign nationals to be extradited without an exhaustive legal process.

Many Muslim dissidents have deserted Paris -- their long-time refuge -- because the nationalist and racist policies of Jean Le Pen make tolerant Britain a more attractive option.

In addition, its colonial past has given Britain a large Muslim community to whom the dissidents can aim their message. Britain also has a big presence of overseas students, and a long tradition of links with the Middle East. Today, London is a key publishing center for literature expressing all manner of Islamic thought, much of it given out on Fridays at the 100 or more mosques in the city.

Will Britain act to curb the militant fundamentalists? Most experts predict: Yes. The Blair government is now expected to introduce a consultation paper in the autumn on a comprehensive anti-terrorism law likely to outlaw conspiracy to commit violence abroad, as well as fund-raising for terrorist groups. Moderate Muslim leaders are likely to object that the proposed curbs are unreasonable and unfair, but the government is in a mood to act.