British Muslim Leaders Concerned about Mosque Attacks

There have been at least four attacks on Mosques in Britain, following Thursday's wave of bombings in London. Police said the attacks were minor and caused little damage, but Muslim leaders say their community feels vulnerable to a backlash despite their condemnation of the London bombings.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Within hours of last week's terrorist attacks in London, British Muslim leaders began publishing condemnations of the bombings. Investigators had quickly concluded that the attacks were al-Qaeda inspired. British government officials made a point of calling for unity in an obvious effort to avoid casting blame on Britain's 1.6 million Muslims. Still, Muslim groups say they are already witnessing a backlash. NPR's Ivan Watson reports from London.

IVAN WATSON reporting:

Late at night less than 48 hours after the London bombings, somebody shattered more than a dozen windows at the Mazahi Rul Alu mosque(ph) which stands on a busy street in East London.

(Soundbite of traffic)

WATSON: Today, many of the windows of this two-story brick building are boarded up. Still, men wearing the long beards of devout Muslims and dressed in traditional South Asian shalwar kameez robes continue to walk in and out of the mosque. One of them, a shopkeeper from Bangladesh named Abdul Shaheed(ph), says the mosque was vandalized for obvious reasons.

Mr. ABDUL SHAHEED (Shopkeeper): The bomb blast, because of that--this thing happened, because people are mostly angered at the Muslim, you know? They thought Muslim done it. I don't think Muslim could done such a thing, you know? I'm totally against all this terrorism.

WATSON: Nearby, several graduate students from Pakistan said since Thursday's attacks, they felt the atmosphere had suddenly grown more hostile and they said it was time to go home.

Unidentified Man: I want to go home. I don't want to be over here. You know, things are not going right.

WATSON: Less than two hours after last week's bombs exploded, spokesmen for the Muslim Council of Britain say their Web server collapsed after they were bombarded with thousands of spam e-mails calling for war against the Muslims of Britain. Azad Ali is the chairman of another volunteer group called the Muslim Safety Forum which has closely worked with British authorities since Muslims here were targets of hate crimes following the September 11th terror attacks. He says a new backlash against Britain's Muslim minority has already begun.

Mr. AZAD ALI (Muslim Safety Forum): We've had four arson attacks on mosques which are quite serious. One was actually a ...(unintelligible) temple. We've had criminal damages on at least four or five mosques, breaking down doors, throwing pig bits inside the mosque and things like that. There's been physical assault on people.

WATSON: British investigators and terrorism experts say Islamist extremists are the chief suspects in this attack.

Mr. MAGNUS RANSTORP (Director, Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence): There are no other terrorist group aside from Islamists that would undertake an operation of this kind.

WATSON: Magnus Ranstorp is the director of the Center for Study of Terrorism at St. Andrews University. He says there have been some cases of British Muslims, including the shoe bomber Richard Reid, who have been recruited to participate in al-Qaeda-linked operations.

Ms. RANSTORP: We have diaspora communities that come from particular conflict zones. You would certainly find thousands of individuals that may sympathize with al-Qaeda as an ideology. It does not necessarily mean that they will embrace violence and take that step, but it may provide an environment in which the more hostile elements may find willing recruits.

WATSON: Human rights activist Anan Sadeki(ph) says the London attacks show the failure of Britain's counterterrorism policy, which has involved the detention of hundreds of Muslims. He says he's now worried the whole community may pay for the actions of individuals.

Dr. ANAN SADEKI (Human Rights Activist): Even for myself when we heard the news, I just thought this could only be Muslims. So I don't think it's prejudicial to say that, but the actual thing is that based around that, how does the general public react?

WATSON: British officialdom and ordinary Londoners were quick to point out that terrorists had attacked a multi-cultural city where Muslims make up 10 percent of the population. In the immigrant neighborhoods of East London, veiled Muslim women share the sidewalks with women in miniskirts and tank tops, and five times a day, they call to prayer echoes from this East London mosque.

(Soundbite of call to prayer)

WATSON: Meanwhile, directly across the street, people drink beer at a pub called Indo.

(Soundbite of pub)

WATSON: The pub owner, Neil Retnum(ph), says relations between the communities in the area have been generally good and he does not expect that to change.

Mr. NEIL RETNUM (Pub Owner): We've got a history of bombings. The IRA bombings went on for bloody years, right? It was horrible, horrific, and I kind of missed a few of them myself. I mean, getting on the wrong train, fortunately. But the thing is, no one hated all the Irish because of it.

WATSON: Retnum says most Londoners will not blame all Muslims for what could be the act of a few extremists. Ivan Watson, NPR News, London.

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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