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Friday, 28 December, 2001, 01:21 GMT
'No favours' for Muslim radicals
Richard Reid with FBI agent in Boston
Richard Reid (right) worshipped at Brixton Mosque
Home Secretary David Blunkett has challenged claims that government complacency has allowed radical Muslim clerics to recruit converts to Islamic extremism in Britain.

Prominent Muslims have accused the government of not doing enough to stop radical clerics from targeting impressionable young men at UK mosques.

If there is a problem we deal with it and we deal with it rigorously and fairly and openly

Home Secretary David Blunkett
This follows the arrest of a British Muslim man accused of trying to blow up a transatlantic flight to the United States.

Richard Reid, who worshipped at Brixton mosque, is due to appear in court in the US on Friday after allegedly trying to set off a bomb in his shoe on an American Airlines Paris-Miami flight.

Mr Blunkett told BBC Radio 2's Jimmy Young programme that the government would adopt a rigorous but fair approach towards radical clerics.

He was responding to claims made in The Times newspaper by Dr Zaki Badawi, principal of the Muslim College, that the Home Office should stop giving priority entry to Britain to clerics who speak no English and cannot control extremists taking over their mosques.

Rule change

Mr Blunkett said: "I have made it clear to the security services and the Metropolitan Special Branch we are not doing favours to anybody here.

David Blunkett
David Blunkett: Clerics must understand UK culture
"If there is a problem we deal with it and we deal with it rigorously and fairly and openly."

He said anti-terrorism legislation introduced earlier this month would "make a difference" to "root out those who use Britain as a base" for terror activities.

And he said he had already changed the rules with regards people applying to be clerics in the UK.

Previously, clerics had been chosen to run mosques who were invited in from outside the country while those already in the UK had to go back to their country of origin to apply.

Instead he had changed the system so that those who were already in the UK and on training courses could be appointed without returning to their country.

"Of course Imans must be experts in the Koran, must be teachers, but they must have some understanding of the culture, the world they are coming into and the impact of the teaching on the young people in their care", he said.

Long campaign

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's World at One, Muslim scholar Mr Badawi said he had been campaigning for 20 years against extremist Muslim clerics.

And he called for government help to finance the training of Muslim clerics.

Abdul Haqq Baker
Abdul Haqq Baker: Call for urgent action against extremist Muslim clerics
He welcomed the actions of Mr Blunkett as being "better late than never".

"I hope now that action will be taken," he said.

Earlier Abdul Haqq Baker, 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.

He described the local police response to the warnings as "tentative" despite promises to monitor the activities.

Peter Herbert, deputy chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority, said: "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."

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".

Former Labour minister Mark Fisher
"Mr Reid has a British passport, so he would not be covered by the Act"
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