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Thursday, 27 December, 2001, 09:47 GMT
Muslims warn of radical cleric 'threat'
Richard Reid with FBI agent in Boston
Richard Reid (right) worshipped at Brixton Mosque
Prominent British Muslims are calling for urgent action to prevent UK mosques being targeted by radical clerics looking to recruit impressionable young men.

The appeal to the government follows revelations that the man accused of trying to blow up a transatlantic flight to the United States was a British Muslim.

The police and other authorities have sometimes not known enough about who to listen to

Peter Herbert
deputy chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority
The terror suspect, Richard Reid, 28, is in custody in the US after allegedly trying to set off a bomb in his shoe on an American Airlines Paris-Miami flight. He is due to appear in court on Friday.

The chairman of the Brixton mosque, in south London, where Mr Reid worshipped, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that local police had been warned years ago that extremists were recruiting in the area but little was done.

A Metropolitan Police Authority representative accepted the criticism that the warnings from within the Islamic community had not been listened to enough but said attitudes would have changed since 11 September.

'Insufficient response'

Brixton mosque chairman Abdul Haqq Baker said: "When we were saying about the extremists and the teachings we felt that they [the police] weren't very pro-active in reacting in the early days".

He said they had warned about extremists setting up in the area four or five years ago.

But he described the local police response as "tentative" despite promises to monitor the activities.

Peter Herbert, deputy chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority, accepted the police had not always known enough about what was going on in an organisation.

"There has been a knee jerk reaction to Islam generally and Islamophobia is well known for several years.

Abdul Haqq Baker
Abdul Haqq Baker: Extremists preyed on "impressionable youths"
"That has been a problem.

"The police and other authorities have sometimes not known enough about who to listen to.

"Certainly there have been many moderate voices within the Islamic community that have been identifying causes of concern for a good number of years both in the US and here," he said.

Earlier Mr Baker told the BBC there were perhaps as many as 1,000 extremist Muslims in the UK, of whom at least 100 were ready to become suicide bombers.

He said Mr Reid had fallen in with "more extreme elements".

He said he started wearing military gear and talking about fighting a jihad or holy war.

Recruits ready

Muslim leaders say Mr Reid is one of many young men who have been tempted towards extremism by special recruitment agents who, they say, prey on UK mosques.

Dr Zaki Badawi, the principal of the Muslim College, said he believed the Home Office should stop giving priority entry to Britain to clerics who speak no English and cannot control extremists taking over their mosques.

Dr Badawi told The Times newspaper militant groups were running after-school classes to teach younger children a radical brand of Islam.

He said the Taleban-style indoctrination, unchecked by mosques, was creating extremists and should be closed down.

Dr Badawi said the Home Office and Muslim communities were reluctant to take action against the hardliners.

Zacarias Moussaoui - the only person so far charged in connection with the 11 September attacks had also attended the Brixton Mosque.

Home Office officials have denied giving clerics priority entry to the UK.

Simon Hughes, home affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, told the Today programme he would expect the authorities to work with faith communities in tracking down those who have committed, incited or planned terrorist activities.

"If there are activities that clearly go beyond freedom of speech and interpretation of Islam or a holy script then it is perfectly proper for the police to make inquiries and give warnings," he said.

David Blunkett, UK Home Secretary
"Some are fanatics, most are not. We need to get the right ones"
Dr Zaki Baddawi, leading Islamic scholar
"I don't think treating the symptom without the disease would be effective"
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