A senior Tory has broken ranks with his party by saying that the London suicide attacks were "totally explicable" because of the deep anger felt by many British Muslims over Iraq.
The Tory leadership distanced itself from Dominic Grieve, the shadow Attorney General, after he said the link between the Iraq war and the terror campaign could not be ignored.
The Government found itself under pressure over the connection yesterday as Muslim leaders told Hazel Blears, the Home Office minister, of the anger felt in their community about British foreign policy. They also said that disproportionate targeting of Asians by police under stop-and-search powers threatened to stoke up resentment among Muslims. Interviewed on Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Grieve said: "I have to say, I find the suicide bombing totally explicable in terms of the level of anger which many members of the Muslim community seem to have about a large number of things.
"And I don't know quite how we are going to tackle that. I don't actually think that simply by going round and visiting community leaders we're going to get to some of these underlying issues." He said many Muslims he met felt angry because of the "tension between their world view and the world they live in".
Mr Grieve added: "I'm sure that something like the Iraq war contributes to it, because after all the Iraq war is about the intervention of Western countries in a state that is seen as being essentially Muslim."
A Tory spokesman said Mr Grieve was expressing a "personal view", adding: "It's not necessarily shared by other members of the Shadow Cabinet."
Asked if she agreed with Mr Grieve, Ms Blears said: "No, I don't. I think people can fundamentally disagree with policy issues, with foreign policy ... but I don't see any justification for people blowing themselves up and murdering hundreds of other people."
Ms Blears met Muslims from Oldham and Rochdale yesterday in the first of a series of meetings around the country to examine ways of improving community relations and tackling extremism. She acknowledged that the impact of the Iraq war on British Muslim opinion was repeatedly stressed, but she argued that anger over the invasion had to be channelled through the democratic process. Ms Blears also sought to assuage anger over comments by Ian Johnston, chief constable of British Transport police, that Asian men would be singled out for stop-and-searches and that police will not "waste time searching old, white ladies".
Three days ago Ms Blears backed the chief constable, but appeared yesterday to change her position. She said: "I don't think we should be ruling out anybody in terms of how you exercise stop-and-search powers. You could equally have white people who could be the subject of intelligence you get. Just picking up people on the basis that they are Muslims is never going to get the results you want."
Riaz Ahmed, a councillor who was Mayor of Oldham during the 2001 race riots, said that it had been a "very positive meeting".
But Zahid Maqbool, editor of The Revival, a magazine for Asian youths published in Oldham, said: "The concerns we have with regards to such policies as stop-and-search, the non-acknowledgment of international foreign policy and the new labelling of Muslims as extreme, she didn't really answer those questions in what I consider to be an appropriate fashion. She skipped over things at best."
He complained that Ms Blears did not explain what she meant by her insistence that stop-and-searches should be "intelligence-led". He added: "It was almost as though she was pushed for time, she was then on to the next group - it was like finish with one, on to the next."
But Ms Blears rejected the criticism: "We did have quite a good discussion, certainly around stop-and-search and making sure powers are used properly, that they are intelligence led, that they are not targeted at any particular part of the community."
Meanwhile, Tony Blair was reported to have telephoned the President of Brazil last night to express his regret for the killingof a Brazilian man mistaken for a terrorist. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's office said Mr Blair had given an assurance that there would be an investigation into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes on 22 July. And yesterday, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, acknowledged that the presence of British troops in Iraq was helping to fuel the insurgency in the country. He disclosed that the Government was seeking to cut British troop numbers in Iraq "because - unlike in Afghanistan - although we are part of the security solution there, we are also part of the problem".
His remarks reflect a shift in the Government's approach since the London bombings to recognise that some extremists are using the Iraq war as an excuse for terrorism.
Interviewed in the Financial Times, Mr Straw said that the Government believed the Iraqis would meet the deadline next month for a new constitution, leading to elections in December.