Muslim leaders on alert for terrorist 'handlers'

By Nigel Morris and Ben Russell
Published: 15 July 2005

Stressing that their faith has no link to the extreme ideology of the bombers, leaders of Britain's Islamic community are to issue a statement that suicide attacks are unacceptable in Islam.

They will also intensify their efforts today to root out shadowy figures who may be intent on turning disaffected young Muslims into potential killers.

The problem, both for community leaders and police trying to break up "sleeper cells" of bombers, is that they do not conform to a simple stereotype. Detectives fear several dozen could already be "embedded" in conventional society, waiting to be activated by "handlers" loosely affiliated to al-Qa'ida.

Some will be middle-class graduates, who became radicalised at college, while others will be unemployed and come from deprived communities. They are all male, young and with a burning sense of injustice, fuelled by television coverage of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine, over the plight of Muslims worldwide. Others are heavily influenced by radical clerics.

The handlers know how to exploit the anger and personal turmoil that characterises potential recruits. Their first step might be to show would-be suicide bombers video or internet footage of atrocities suffered by Muslims. That could be followed with promises of eternal life, the highest place in jannah (paradise) and limitless sex with virgins.

Some susceptible young men will be recruited through mosques, including so-called secret mosques in homes, while others will be signed up on university campuses.

Extreme Islamist organisations also continue to recruit on the streets. Al-Muhajiroun, which condones suicide attacks, was supposed to have stopped operating in Britain, but is known still to be active in several British cities. Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in several countries including Germany, condemns violence, but some members are believed to graduate to fanatical groups. It has at least 2,000 members in the UK, mainly drawn from second and third generation Muslims.

A joint Home Office-Foreign Office report to Downing Street last year concluded: "Intelligence indicates that the number of British Muslims actively engaged in terrorist activity, whether at home or abroad or supporting such activity, is extremely small and estimated at less than 1 per cent." It said: "They range from foreign nationals now naturalised and resident in the UK, arriving mainly from north Africa and the Middle East, to second and third generation British citizens whose forebears mainly originate from Pakistan or Kashmir.

"A significant number come from liberal, non-religious Muslim backgrounds or [are] only converted to Islam in adulthood. These converts include white British nationals and those of West Indian extraction."

Sir Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain will meet senior Muslims in West Yorkshire today. Islamic scholars will also gather at the Central London Mosque to produce an unambiguous statement condemning suicide bombings. On Tuesday Muslim leaders will meet Tony Blair to discuss the community's response to the bombings.

Sir Iqbal insisted yesterday that the community must "take a closer look at the involvement of nefarious elements who may be operating in our community in order to help root them out".

One senior figure in the Muslim Council said: "The Muslim community have to be on the lookout for anyone who may be trying to encourage impressionable young people in a fanatical way."


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