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 Monday, 13 January, 2003, 12:04 GMT
London's 'Little Algiers'
Policeman on guard outside Wood Green pharmacy
Police in Wood Green, a short way from "Little Algiers"

Algerians in the UK are under the spotlight after police found traces of a deadly poison last week, not far from the heart of their community in Britain.
On a grey and damp January morning, Blackstock Road doesn't look much like a haven. But that's how the area has come to be seen by many who live in this neck of north London.

Mothers wearing the Islamic headscarf, or hijab, walk their children to the local schools as a fine drizzle descends.

French troops in Algiers
Many thousands died in France's war with Algeria
Behind the misted-up windows of coffee shops dotted along this shabby Victorian parade, immigrant men start their day with a cup of strong coffee.

Such daily routines used to pass unnoticed by the wider world. But lately, this community has found itself in the glare of the media spotlight.

Last week, six men, widely reported to be Algerian, were arrested after police found traces of the deadly poison ricin in a flat up the road in Wood Green.

In the wake of the arrests, it emerged how politically radicalised Algerians had fled here in the 90s.

Influx of radicals

Many who came to these shores were Islamic fundamentalists fleeing the military government in their home country.

The 1991 general election won by an Islamist party was annulled
About 100,000 Algerians have died in current power struggle
Last week 15 were killed by suspected Islamic militants
While some arrived direct from Algeria, others found their way via France after a bombing campaign in Paris by Algerian extremists led to a crackdown by the French authorities.

Those who sought asylum in the UK were often given it on the basis they faced persecution back home.

In this corner of the capital, known as "Little Algiers", these radical Algerians could fade into the crowd of their fellow countrymen and women and a wider community of immigrants, long-time residents and young professionals.

Here, life was much easier even than France, where Algerians frequently complain of police harassment.

Seen as criminals

"The French have never got over losing Algeria. They saw it as their breadbasket; their jewel in the crown," says Salah, a 33-year-old Algerian man who has lived in London since the late 1980s.

Algerian praying
Islamists were pitched against the military after 1991
Mohammed, a car sprayer who came here six years ago after living in France for two months, puts it more bluntly: "The French don't like us and we don't like them."

Wolfing down a croissant in the kitchen of an Algerian cafe where his friend Buj attends a vat of Moroccan tomato and vermicelli soup, he says that just by walking down the street in Paris "the police look at you like you're a killer or a criminal.

"You get stopped sometimes two, three, four times a day. It makes it very difficult to settle. Here, it's lovely."

"Lovely jubley," echoes Buj, as if to emphasise his credentials as an adopted Briton - he moved here 10 years ago.

Sympathy in UK

But it's not all laughs. Scratch the surface of the community and there are some sinister characters and disturbing episodes.

Sheikh Abu Hamza
Radical cleric Abu Hamza preaches in nearby Finsbury Park
The extremists who arrived here in the 90s hide a dark past back home, says Salah, referring to members of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA).

"Some of them have killed 10, 20, 50 people perhaps. They are still actively collecting money for the cause back in Algeria. I've seen them outside the mosque saying 'Help your Mujahideen brothers back home in Algeria'.

"There's a lot of sleeping helpers - sympathisers, who will offer food, clothing, support for the extremists."

And those who wish to "disappear" from the authorities can easily pick up false identity papers and passports in the area, says Salah.

Belatedly, the British security forces have woken up to the threat of Algerian radicals. The majority of those picked up under the 2001 Anti-terrorism Act are Algerians and many of the key anti-terror arrests in the UK have been of Algerians.

Salah has started to see a difference, and he approves.

"These people are dirt. They are murderers and don't deserve to be here. They are blackening the name of us who just want to work hard for our families."

See also:

05 Oct 02 | Country profiles
09 Jan 03 | Africa
23 Jan 02 | UK
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