Muslims were targeted after 11 September
British Muslims could be targeted by extremists if there is war with Iraq or a terror attack in the UK, the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority has warned.
Toby Harris called on officers to work closely with Muslim communities and take swift action "against any extremists who use the war on terrorism as an excuse to attack or intimidate".
Fears that military action could lead to a surge in the number of race crimes follow a spate of anti-Islamic attacks after 11 September, including vandalism at mosques and violent assaults.
Mr Harris told BBC News Online: "There's a real risk, given the way in which some of the newspapers have made an equation between terrorists, asylum seekers and Muslims."
He added: "If there's war with Iraq, or if there's a terrorist outrage, there could be attacks on Muslims or mosques."
Earlier on Monday religious leaders said they would unite to prevent extremists turning London into a "battleground" should Saddam Hussein's regime be targeted.
Mr Harris told a policing conference: "We must ensure that the rule of law in London is maintained during any operation against international terrorism."
Attacks on Muslims in UK
Windows smashed at Glasgow's central mosque
10 pigs' heads left outside an Essex mosque
Afghan taxi driver paralysed in an attack during which his attackers referred to 11 September
Woman and children chased into own home by men who called them terrorists
Asian woman attacked with a hammer on a train by a man who shouted: "You want killing for what you did in America"
He said that could involve discouraging "retaliation or recrimination aimed at people because of their religion or ethnic origins".
Mr Harris had asked Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, to reassure ethnic minorities that police will take swift action against anyone threatening them.
"In particular, I have asked him to work closely with the Muslim community to allay fears of any possible backlash in the context of a war with Iraq," Mr Harris said.
Mr Harris made his comments after a meeting of religious leaders, organised by the Commission for Racial Equality.
Those present said they were determined that military action in Iraq should not lead to violence by extremists in London.
"It is vital that we don't lose our sense of community spirit and tolerance of each other," Mr Harris said.
"In fact, it is our great diversity that enriches our city and keeps our streets free of extremist bigotry."
He stressed the importance of community based policing to fight increased fear of hate crimes, which could follow the onset of war.
Mr Harris added: "The possibility of a terrorist attack in the capital, although real, must not stop police from carrying out their primary role of detecting and deterring crime and keeping London's streets safe."
After 11 September some Muslims suffered racist graffiti, threatening letters and answerphone messages.
The attacks were mainly blamed on far-right racists keen to apportion blame for the terrorist atrocity to further their own aims.
A report by the EU race watchdog published last May said that anti-Islamic feeling had "detonated" in the UK since 11 September.
Muslim leaders said the main problem appeared to be bullying and harassment - particularly in the workplace and in schools - but that physical attacks had also taken place.