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Last Updated: Friday, 11 August 2006, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
Terror fears in Walthamstow
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News community affairs reporter

Worshippers entering the mosque
The local mosque is keeping out the media
There's a photographic exhibition in the centre of Walthamstow town in east London called 1,000 Faces, celebrating the area's apparently happy and peacefully co-existing diversity.

That was not what the media lens came to focus upon on Friday, 11 August. Instead, the world's attention was a mile away at the other end of the town where a number of homes raided the day before by anti-terrorism police remained under guard.

And all around those homes there was an apprehensive, scared Muslim community.

For four years we've been seeing more and more innocent people being harassed and demonised
Fahad Ansari, Islamic Human Rights Commission

At the Darussalam bookshop, owner Zia Ullah said he was in complete shock at what had happened - and that he urged any young man bent on violence to come and talk to people who understand the faith.

"I just don't know who would do this kind of thing," said Mr Ullah. "I just cannot understand how anyone could think there is justification for acts against our society, against our community and against our country."

Near to the till in his packed bookshop, Mr Ullah stocks a pamphlet by an Islamic scholar which gives answers to some very pertinent questions: Is bombing and "wreaking havoc" justifiable?

Its 26 pages are dense, hard-going Islamic scripture - but the message is there; these are "shameful acts" that have no justification in Islam.

"I have stocked this book for two years and sold hundreds of copies," says Mr Ullah. "Perhaps 1,000 copies. All sorts of people buy it, young and old, men and women.

"I think the problem is that if you don't understand your faith, if you don't read it properly, you will only end up picking and choosing certain elements. And that is how these young men [involved in extremism] become misled. They need to understand the truth."

Truth and rumour

One person in Walthamstow says he knows the truth - the truth as he sees it about his friend Waheed Zaman, one of those arrested.

A friend of Waheed Zaman
If he had been radicalised, if he had got involved in some kind of extremism, he would have tried to take me with him surely?
Hanif, "best friend" of Waheed Zaman
Mr Zaman is a student at London Metropolitan University - but Hanif, 24, who was too scared to give his real name, said that he was utterly stunned at what had happened.

Hanif and Waheed grew up together in Walthamstow and attended the same schools. They played football and cricket - although cricket very badly, said Hanif. Waheed has always been a "sociable, integrated kind of guy" with friends from Asian, white and black backgrounds.

Like many local young men, Waheed attended mosque but also was involved in local Tablighi Jamaat gatherings, said his friend.

Tablighi is an influential strand of Islam in Britain that organises missionary-style work among young people. It is socially conservative and tries to steer followers away from what it largely regards as the excesses of western life: pop music, for instance, is very much frowned upon.

But according to Hanif, Waheed is anything but socially conservative - he had texted his mate the night before the arrest suggesting they go out eating the next day.

"I think they have got it wrong and Waheed has been picked up because he is involved in the student society at university," said Hanif.

"When he gets released, he is going to have a field day, an absolute field day - he's not like a lot of us - he is eloquent and intelligent and will speak out."

Why couldn't his friend be involved in a plot?

"Because if Waheed was involved I would know. Best friends tell each other things that you would never tell your mum and dad. If he had been radicalised, if he had got involved in some kind of extremism, he would have tried to take me with him surely?"

'Happy, multicultural area'

That sense of shock was shared by others in the area, including Derek Steward, a former teacher and cricket coach who lives locally and remembers Waheed as a pupil.

Derek Steward. former teacher
Derek Steward taught "able student" Waheed Zaman
"He was very good," said Mr Steward. "He was a very able student - although not so good at cricket. I'm shattered by what we have heard because he is just a very nice kid. I've taught for 48 years and he would be one I would remember as a good kid.

"This is a very multicultural area and we all get along. I've never really come across anything that I would characterise as either racist, fundamentalist or seeking to create opposing factions in the community. It's just not that kind of area."

Outside of the Masjid-e-Umer mosque in Queen's Road, the mood was far more sombre.

The mosque sits directly opposite one of the homes raided by police officers, two of whom remained on guard as local men came to pray.

Few of the men (there were no women going to pray) were prepared to speak about what had happened. The mosque's Imam Shoaib read a statement stressing that it believed the men were innocent until proven guilty.

But little else was said by the elders who looked nervous, if not angry, when approached by reporters.

Among the young men who had gathered for Friday prayers, it was a different story.

Foreign policy blamed

Many were quick to express their frustration - not just at the arrests and a sense of being targeted, but also at what they saw as to blame: foreign policy. Iraq was never far from the lips of people asked their grievances.

While the real local problems may be poverty, education or unemployment, it was Britain's perceived role in the US's Middle East policy that made people angry.

This frustration came to the surface at the last local elections when the Respect Party, founded by ex-Labour MP George Galloway, garnered 1,000 votes split between two candidates. Ask many Muslims in the area who they would vote for, if they voted, and they say Respect.

"Muslims are getting it everywhere and if you want to know why these things happen then you've got to ask yourselves questions about why Britain is fighting in Muslim lands," said one young well-mannered man.

"Nobody is speaking out about these things. Our parents are too scared to speak out - they think they'll all get arrested and thrown out the country. We're British, this is my country - it raised and fed me - so it's time we spoke out. "

Ali, another young man leaving prayers, got approving nods when he suggested things were not as they seemed.

"There are always extremists in any society - just look at the IRA," he said. "But this is different. People are getting arrested and taken away and then released because the allegations are not true.

"These are people I know - when I hear what they are supposed to have done, I don't believe it. All we're all doing is trying to deal the growing pains of life, of families, of study."




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Locals give their reaction to the arrests



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