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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 February 2007, 16:19 GMT
The fallout from Forest Gate
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News home affairs

Forest Gate demo
Demonstrators make their views clear in Forest Gate
Amid the constrained language of the report of what happened at Forest Gate on 2 June 2006, there is a very human story.

It is a story of security services looking to avert terrorist threats and a story of how two young men found themselves at the centre of allegations of making home-made chemical weapons.

Eight months on Mohammed Abdulkahar - who was shot in that raid - and his younger brother Abul Koyair say they have not recovered.

There are nightmares of the moment of confrontation with police officers on the stairs of their home.

The men are being treated for post-traumatic stress syndrome, according to some of their supporters.

"It is still, very, very raw for them," said one.

And so, in that context, the Independent Police Complaints Commission's report into the handling of the operation is key to relations between the brothers, their community, the wider Muslim communities and the police.

The IPCC's report is a detailed anatomy of a raid that went wrong. It calls for the Metropolitan Police to apologise to the two families who lived in the raided houses.

It is still, very, very raw for them
A friend of Mohammed Abdulkahar and Abul Koyair

But it is also cautious to avoid suggesting that the police had been fundamentally wrong to conduct the raid in the first place.

In fact, the investigators concluded the police had indeed been right to act when they did, based on what their intelligence was telling them.

However, despite the measured tones of the IPCC's report, the families of those involved in the incidents are hardly impressed.

Eight months too late, they say. "Unbelievable" recommendations that stop short of calling for prosecutions.

But on one thing, the IPCC report is clear. If we are going to see more such anti-terrorism operations, then the police need to "plan for the failure of intelligence".

Step change

Since the July 2005 bombings there has been a step change in the quality and level of dialogue between Muslim communities and many police forces.

The evidence of the threat, such as the grooming of young men, was plain to see in the "martyrdom video" of London bomber Mohammed Siddique Khan jabbing his finger at the camera.

But at the same time, there is a widespread fear that if more Forest Gates happen, the security services will quickly find relationships deteriorating.

It will only further reinforce a sense of grievance and alienation and a feeling that the police can and have acted with impunity
Asad Rehman, Newham Monitoring Project, on the IPCC report

Asad Rehman of the Newham Monitoring Project, an anti-racism organisation that represented the brothers, said the IPCC's report was a massive opportunity missed.

"In the current climate, in which the Muslim community is told to expect that anti-terror raids will continue, this report should have set a benchmark for investigations of this type and ensured that such mistakes would never be repeated," he said.

"It is however nothing more than a whitewash and will do nothing to help to improve police and community relations.

"It will only further reinforce a sense of grievance and alienation and a feeling that the police can and have acted with impunity."

Among the diverse Forest Gate communities, there are those who say they are still waiting for proper engagement with the police.

Seven weeks after the operation, and long after the brothers had been released, campaigners leafleted the area saying they were still waiting for police officers to speak frankly to the community about what had happened.

That call can still be heard today, even though local meetings do take place.

But without dialogue over what happened, says Asad Rehman, the tough work of building cohesive communities will be harder.

"It's like a drip-drip effect," he says. "There's one raid, and then another raid somewhere else. And in that context, the community and the police change the way they see each other."

Turning point

And so the question is whether Forest Gate will over time be a genuine turning point in the police's relationships with Muslim communities.

Councillor Abdul Shakoor is one of those who says he is working to get beyond the raids.

A local community forum with the police has been meeting monthly and he says it has had some success in reflecting the views of young men.

"It's been pretty good so far in getting people to sit down and talk. We really need more people, particularly the young, to be involved in forums like this," he said.

"You can't achieve anything if you don't sit down and talk. That's the way we move on."

The Met stresses that it "has learned a great deal from Forest Gate about community consultation and engagement".

Those lessons could be seen during January's anti-terrorism operation in Birmingham. The talk on the street was of "Forest Gate 2". But some local senior officers worked hard to keep the community in the loop.

The reassurance worked for some. The question is how many other young Muslims feel like Mohammed Abdulkahar and Abul Koyair and find it very, very difficult to trust the police at all.


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