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U.K.: Britain Mulls New Measures In War On Terror

A Muslim girl holds a poster showing one of the London bombings British Prime Minister Tony Blair is meeting representatives of the Muslim community in Britain today and the leaders of the opposition parties to discuss the details of proposed new antiterrorism legislation. The government plans to hold a series of consultative meetings this week on a bill that will make it illegal to prepare, train, and incite acts of terror. The move comes against a background of the continuing investigation into the London bombings on 7 July.

London, 18 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Questions and concerns are being raised about the government's plans for new antiterrorism legislation. Opposition parties in Britain say they support the government's proposals in principle but have concerns about some of the details. How sweeping, for instance, will the government's definition of "incitement to terrorism" be?

The Muslim community fears the new legislation could lead to an indiscriminate crackdown on mosques -- something British Home Secretary Charles Clarke is at pains to deny. He said the government has no plans for controls on mosques.

Finally, a new report that says British involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had a part to play in the London bombings. Chatham House, an independent British think tank, stated in its report that there could be "no doubt" that the invasion of Iraq had "given a boost to the Al-Qaeda network" in "propaganda, recruitment, and fund raising" while providing in Iraq an ideal targeting and training area for terrorists.

This line of reasoning finds little sympathy with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

"The time for excuses for terrorism are over. The terrorists have struck across the world, in countries allied with the United States, backing the war in Iraq and in countries which had nothing whatever to do with the war in Iraq," Straw said. "They struck in Kenya, in Tanzania, in Indonesia, in Yemen. They struck this weekend in Turkey which was not supporting our action in Iraq."

But many disagree with the assessment of the British government.
The Muslim community fears the new legislation could lead to an indiscriminate crackdown on mosques.

"I think it would be quite naive to believe the war in Iraq and Afghanistan has not had a great effect on Islamic extremist thought," said Christina Corbett, an intelligence analyst at Janusian Risk Management in London. "Al-Qaeda has certainly harnessed the war in Iraq with alarming efficiency. But equally, it would also be naive to think that had these wars not been fought the whole problem would have gone away. While I do believe certainly that the war in Iraq has had an impact, I cannot think that we can say that without the war in Iraq we wouldn't necessarily be here today."

The government has to contend not only with internal critics, but also with one of its main intelligence allies as well. Straw angered Pakistan last week when he expressed concern at the activities of some madrasahs, or religious training colleges, in Pakistan. Pakistan has now hit back. Munir Akram, its ambassador to the United Nations, told the BBC that Britain should not seek to project onto other countries the causes for the presence of home-grown suicide bombers in England.

But Corbett thinks that Pakistan also has a case to answer.

"Pakistan's problem comes a lot from its madrasahs, its extremist madrasahs, which it hasn't attempted to silence perhaps as effectively as it could do," Corbett said. "It is also thought to be harboring Al-Qaeda personnel of high rank in its borderlands."

Even if Pakistan were not blameless, Britain can ill afford to alienate such a key player in its efforts to curb Islamic extremism in Britain. Three of the four men suspected of carrying out the London bombings were of Pakistani origin.

Related stories:

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British Muslims Condemn London Terrorist Attacks But Fear Intimidation

Blair Seeks Alliance With Muslims Against Extremism