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Probe into London Attacks Divides British Muslims

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British police release video footage and the names of the four suspected suicide bombers behind London's July 7 attacks. The suspects are all British Muslims, and their alleged actions have touched off a heated debate in Britain's Muslim community between hard-line Islamists and moderates.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Last night, British police released video footage and the names of the four suspected suicide bombers behind London's July 7th terror attacks. The four men are all shown carrying large backpacks and entering a train station on their way to London on the day of the explosions. The suspects are all British Muslims, and as NPR's Ivan Watson reports from London, their alleged actions have touched off a heated debate in Britain's Muslim community.

IVAN WATSON reporting:

Scores of men sit barefoot on the carpet for Friday prayers at the Minhaj-ul-Quran Mosque in East London's Forest Gate neighborhood.

(Soundbite of prayer)

Unidentified Man: (Chanting in foreign language)

WATSON: The men are of Pakistani, Bangladeshu and African descent. Some of the worshippers are dressed in Western clothes, others in South Asian shalwar, kameez and skullcaps. And on this day, the subject of the sermon is terrorism.

Shaikh RAMADAN KADRI(ph) (British Muslim Leader): Those people, they express those views of jihad and fighting and killing. None of them have any connection with those of us ...(unintelligible) who are part of traditional Islam.

WATSON: Like so many other British Muslim leaders, Shaikh Ramadan Kadri denounced the bloody actions of the suspected suicide bombers, three second-generation British Muslims of Pakistani descent and a fourth Jamaican-born British Muslim.

Shaikh KADRI: The Muslim community must not be blamed for that. But the responsibility is on us. We know how to tackle them, those they are among us, and what is the solution--this is one thing. And number two, how to save our children and give them the values of real Islam.

WATSON: The mosque leaders were determined to show journalists that most British Muslims are peaceful moderates who would cooperate with the British authorities to isolate extremists in their community. But some in this largely immigrant neighborhood did not agree.

(Soundbite of argument)

Unidentified Man #1: Stop shouting at me.

Unidentified Man #2: ...(Unintelligible) here. Listen...

Unidentified Man #3: ...(Unintelligible).

Unidentified Man #2: This is our community.

Unidentified Man #3: This is a free society.

WATSON: On the sidewalk outside the mosque, a powerfully built young man wearing the heavy beard of a practicing Muslim railed against a European journalist, much to the consternation of the mosque's managers.

Unidentified Man #2: No, no problem, you know, but you want to do it for our democratic society. (Censored) these guys. Listen, come on. They ain't gonna do no favors for us. You know that, brother. You know better than that.

Unidentified Man #4: ...convince you otherwise.

Unidentified Man #2: What?

Unidentified Man #4: Let's sit down. Let's...

Unidentified Man #2: What? You--brother, you can't convince me. You can't convince me because I know what...

WATSON: After the angry man stormed off, a bystander named Inron Pondor(ph) explained the source of the man's frustration.

Mr. INRON PONDOR (Bystander): The guy who came at us now was a--he's a local guy. He's been in the community for a long time. What he was angry about mainly is that he was trying to say there's tens of thousands of Iraqis killed in the war that's going on from Bush and Blair, and he's trying to make a point--you know, 54 Londoners died. What about--what happened in Iraq? You know, people are still angry about that.

WATSON: As worshippers streamed out of the mosque, they were giving leaflets by two representatives of an organization called Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an international Islamist political party which calls for the peaceful overthrow of governments to establish a single Islamic state called the Caliphate. This triggered a confrontation with the more moderate leaders of the mosque's youth league.

(Soundbite of argument)

Unidentified Man #5: Brother, brother...

Unidentified Man #6: No, no, you don't tell me. No, this wasn't a debate.

Unidentified Man #5: ...let me tell you. Let me tell you, your organization...

Unidentified Man #6: This was an ...(unintelligible) outside your mosque.

Unidentified Man #5: Your organization...

Unidentified Man #6: Go inside.

Unidentified Man #5: ...comes outside many mosques and rants and raves about everything, yeah? That is an open que...

Mr. HASSAN WITCHTABI(ph) (Hizb-ut-Tahrir): That's quite inaccurate.

Unidentified Man #5: No...

WATSON: Hizb-ut-Tahrir member Hassan Witchtabi explained his party's utopian vision, which he said did not include Western democracy.

Mr. WITCHTABI: The West has its way of life. It has a political system, which is a democracy. We have our way of life, which is based upon Islamic values. We have a political system that unites us, that was part of our history for well over 1,300 years. The name of that system is the Caliphate. It brings together Muslims from Pakistan, from Sudan, from Iran, from Iraq, from Sunni and from Shia. So that is our legitimate aspiration. We should be allowed the political room to be able to exercise that.

WATSON: But Abbas Aziz, the vice president of the Minhaj-ul-Quran youth league, accused Hizb-ut-Tahrir of being a tiny fringe group that preached hatred and gave British Muslims a bad name.

Mr. ABBAS AZIZ (Vice President, Minhaj-ul-Quran Youth League): You're not giving them no solutions. And if you give people no solutions and no way to channel their anger, they--unfortunately they play into the hands of extremists and they go blowing themselves up. I think you're very dangerous because you're not giving people a solution at all.

WATSON: This sidewalk debate is likely to be repeated among many British Muslims in the coming days. Attacks carried out by a few suspects appear to have put the entire community of Britain's 1.6 million Muslims at risk of a popular backlash. And last week's bombings have forced mainstream Muslim leaders to urgently consider new ways to channel the anger of their frustrated, potentially destructive youth.

Ivan Watson, NPR News, London.

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