British Stance in Iraq Tied to Airline Bomb Plot

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Many in Britain say the Blair government's support for the war in Iraq is further alienating British muslims. Evidence cited: the 2005 London subway bombings and the recently uncovered plot to bomb U.S.-bound jetliners.


So far authorities in Britain and Pakistan have arrested more than 24 suspects in the alleged plot to blow up airliners en route from Britain to the United States. All of the suspects taken into custody are Muslim, which today prompted Muslim leaders in Britain to write an open letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair. The letter calls attention to concerns that Britain's foreign policy is fueling militancy among young British Muslims.

NPR's Rob Gifford reports from London.

ROB GIFFORD reporting:

The letter focuses specifically on Britain's support for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and for Tony Blair's unwillingness to call for a halt to the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah. Muslim groups also criticize British tolerance of autocratic Arab regimes. Britain's Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett roundly rejected any claim that she said justified the kind of actions that were allegedly being planned in recent weeks. But human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar says like it or not, ignoring the issue will be dangerous for the government.

Mr. AAMER ANWAR (Human Rights Attorney): Ultimately it's the terrorist who causes terrorism, and they deserve and should get all the blame for what they do. But the reality, is the pool of people who the recruiting sergeants try and radicalize and from which they draw the potential terrorist is growing bigger by perception underground about the perceived unfairness of our country's foreign policy.

GIFFORD: But not all British Muslims agree. Writer Munira Mirza says some in the Islamic community tend to wallow in the sense of victimhood and indulge in conspiracy theories.

Ms. MUNIRA MIRZA (Writer): Now, I have a problem with the war in Iraq. I have a problem with much of British foreign policy, but I don't think of it as a war against Muslims. And there is a danger that the culture that we have right now is making young Muslims think that they are themselves the victims of this stuff. And they're not.

GIFFORD: As the debate rages within the Muslim community, more details were emerging of the suspects themselves, many of them middle class, several of them converts to Islam from the so-called stockbroker commuter belt outside London. But most were from immigrant families from Pakistan living in the East End of London.

It's the link with Pakistan that's now one of the main focuses of the investigation. Pakistani officials say they've arrested two British nationals of Pakistani origin, one of them by the name of Rashid Rauf, who they're calling an al-Qaida operative and a key person in the alleged plot to blow up U.S. airplanes.

One of those arrested in Britain is Rauf's brother. British and Pakistani intelligence services have been working very closely together, especially since it was discovered that two of the four men who killed 52 people with suicide bombs in London a year ago had visited Pakistan and contacted militant groups.

The Pakistani government is keen to show it is cooperating with Britain and the U.S. in the war on terrorism. Tariq Azim is the country's information minister.

Mr. TARIQ AZIM (Information Minister, Pakistan): We are a frontline state against terrorism.

GIFFORD: But as the Pakistan link is investigated further, British Muslims seem to be saying it's as much what happens in Lebanon and Iraq that is causing the problems.

Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.

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