British Muslims Shocked That Terrorists Came From Among Them

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

( - Britain's main Muslim umbrella organization has reacted with shock to the news that police believe last Thursday's terrorist bombings in London were carried out by members of the British Muslim community rather than foreigners.

Police also said at least three of the four suspects were killed in the explosions they detonated, possibly making them the first suicide bombings in Britain's history. They are believed to be Britons of Pakistani ethnic origin.

The four bombings on three subway trains and a bus killed at least 52 people and left more than 700 injured.

The latest details were revealed Tuesday, after police raided homes in Leeds, a city 275 kilometers (172 miles) north of the capital, found explosives in a car parked in Luton north of London, and arrested one man.

Three of the terrorists evidently had traveled from Leeds, joining up with a fourth at Luton, then traveling by train from there to London's King's Cross station. Closed-circuit television footage showed the four, with backpacks, at King's Cross at around 8.30 on Thursday morning.

There they apparently split and took subway trains in different directions. The subway blasts happened almost simultaneously around 8.51. A fourth explosion happened on a bus almost an hour later.

Metropolitan Police anti-terrorist branch head Peter Clarke told a press conference that personal documents belonging to three of the men were found at the scene of the bus and two of the subway explosions.

Police arrested a relative of one of the four suspects in the Leeds area who was taken to London for questioning.

Another senior officer, assistant commissioner Andy Hayman, told the briefing that the bombings were carried out by "extremists and criminals," and cautioned that "no one should smear or stigmatize any community with these acts."

'Backlash' fears

Muslim Council of Britain Secretary-General Iqbal Sacranie said the news had been received "with anguish, shock and horror."

"It appears our youth have been involved in last week's horrific bombings against innocent people."

Sacranie said his organization reiterated its commitment to help the police bring all those involved to justice.

"Nothing in Islam can ever justify the evil actions of the bombers," he said. "We are determined to work together with all concerned to prevent such an atrocity ever happening again."

The Muslim Council of Britain is an umbrella group representing some 350 organizations, bodies and institutions.

About 1.8 million people, or almost three percent of Britain's population, are Muslims.

After the terrorist attack, several Muslim leaders voiced concerns about a backlash against the community, and leaders of other faiths called for calm.

Incidents of vandalism and arson targeting Muslim facilities were reported in various parts of the country, and a Pakistani man died of injuries sustained in an altercation on a Nottingham street - although police said it would be treated as an isolated incident unless evidence emerged pointing to a link with the bombings.

Another Islamic group, the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), complained that the atmosphere was being "poisoned," saying community relations were not helped by Prime Minister Tony Blair's comments that the bombings had been carried out "in the name of Islam."

"Mr. Blair is normally so careful in his choice of words, which has left us even more disappointed by the linkage of Islam with these despicable acts," spokesman Anas Altikriti said.

Controversial visits

The MAB also took issue with reports in the Sun, a mass-readership tabloid, critical of a forthcoming visit to London by Tariq Ramadan, a controversial Muslim scholar, who is scheduled to address a conference funded in part by the Metropolitan Police.

Ramadan has been accused of supporting violence in Israel and Iraq. Last summer he was due to begin teaching at a U.S. university but the Department of Homeland Security revoked his visa, a decision the scholar attributed to "political pressure."

The Sun quoted Conservative Party foreign affairs spokesman Liam Fox as calling Ramadan's views "highly offensive," and that "many feel our system is abused by those who preach an ideology which could lead to the harming of British citizens."

But Altikriti called Ramadan "popular" and "reputable" and said by attacking him, "sections of the right-wing media" were "fail[ing] to distinguish between the actions of a mindless few and attack the vast ranks of the Muslim community."

Ramadan is not the only Muslim scholar whose visits to Britain have divided opinions.

Cybercast News Service reported last week that London Mayor Ken Livingstone last year defended and welcomed Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric who has expressed support for suicide bombings in Iraq and Israel.

On its website, the MAB has posted an article saying that "eminent scholar" al-Qaradawi had "strongly condemned the London bombings."

At a Downing Street press conference on Monday, Blair's press secretary was asked whether the government would be looking to prevent future visits by extremist Islamic leaders.

He said a lot of questions would have to be addressed, but that decisions would have to be made in the right time and spirit, to ensure whatever judgments were made were not "knee-jerk" responses but based on good analysis.

'Move beyond denunciations'

Some analysts and commentators say British Muslim groups need to go beyond condemning the terrorist attacks.

"Verbal condemnations and choreographed press releases against violent terrorist acts, as Britain's Muslim leaders produced last Thursday, are no longer sufficient," Mansoor Ijaz, a foreign policy analyst and Muslim American, wrote in an article published in the Financial Times.

"Real action is needed - and fast."

Ijaz said U.S. Muslims after 9/11 chose to play the role of aggrieved victims rather than rise to their citizenship responsibilities.

"Britain's Muslims have an opportunity to set an important example by elevating the duties of citizenship above fears of looming civil rights violations."

He suggested three steps for moderate Muslims to take - forbid the use of mosques for spreading bigotry and hatred; open Islamic charities to greater financial scrutiny to identify those funding terrorism; and form Muslim community watch groups "to reclaim Islam from the terrorists and committed to contributing useful information to the authorities."

"Obviously it would be unjust to blame the religion of Islam for terrorism," said American Enterprise Institute resident David Frum in an article published Tuesday. "But equally obviously, terrorism is a problem within Islam, and Islamic communities bear a special obligation to uproot it.

"Yet how many times have you heard an Islamic leader in a Western country urge Muslims to take action against the extremists in their midst?"

Frum said Muslim communities should isolate and exclude extremists; actively cooperate with police and security services; stop treating situations like Israel, Iraq or India as "special exemptions" where certain forms of terrorism are acceptable; and "accept Islam's status as one religion among equals."

The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs said it was time to ask Muslim spokesmen, beyond denunciations, "What are you going to do about it?"

"It is past time for 'regular' Muslims to participate in this war against terrorists and the states - and mosques and schools and newspapers and radio preachers - that harbor and support them," the Washington-based organization said.

See earlier story:
London Mayor Defended 'Theologian of Terror' (Jul. 07, 2005)

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow