Page last updated at 13:35 GMT, Tuesday, 8 September 2009 14:35 UK

Muslims welcome jet plot verdicts

By Stephen Robb
BBC News

(L to R) Tanvir Hussain, Abdulla Ahmed Ali and Assad Sarwar
(L to R) Tanvir Hussain, Abdulla Ahmed Ali and Assad Sarwar were found guilty

Prominent UK Muslims have welcomed the conviction of three men for plotting to blow up planes flying to north America - but have warned that government anti-terrorist powers should be used wisely.

The Muslim Council of Britain's Inayat Bunglawala said it showed the terror threat to the UK was "very real".

"No sensible person can now doubt that there is a real problem out there that needs to be tackled," he said.

But the UK's role in military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq had helped radicalise the plotters, he added.

Charity worker Hanif Qadir called it a "good day for counter-terrorism", but warned of some Muslim scepticism that a retrial was needed to get the convictions the authorities sought.

Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 28, Tanvir Hussain, 28, and Assad Sarwar, 29, were found guilty of planning to kill thousands of passengers by detonating bombs disguised as soft drinks on board seven planes while in the air bound for the US and Canada.

Mr Bunglawala said that, four or five years ago, there had been some scepticism among Muslims at government claims about the extent of the terrorist threat from within their communities.

British Muslims are just as horrified and appalled by stories like this as ordinary Britons
Inayat Bunglawala
Muslim Council of Britain

But he added: "We need to ensure that whatever the outcome of these trials, people do not associate ordinary Muslims with the actions of what is clearly a very tiny minority out there.

"British Muslims are just as horrified and appalled by stories like this as ordinary Britons - perhaps more so because it reflects unfairly on themselves and their faith."

This view was backed up by a couple speaking to BBC Asian Network on the streets of Walthamstow, north-east London, where plot leader Ahmed Ali had lived.

"I think the word 'Muslim' shouldn't be attached to such an activity," said the woman. "I think the word 'Muslim', 'mosque' and the religion he belongs to shouldn't be attached to this activity."

Her husband said: "There are one billion Muslims in the world, so everybody's reputation is damaged saying a Muslim has done this."

Radicalisation

The trial heard that Ahmed Ali had been motivated to seek a change in Western foreign policy after witnessing people dying in Pakistani camps for refugees of the fighting in Afghanistan.

Sarwar met Ahmed Ali while working at such a camp, while a fourth man convicted of conspiracy to murder - Umar Islam - also worked on refugee relief around the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Abdulla Ahmed Ali
Two of the plotters filmed suicide videos

"From these trials we have learned what is a key part of the radicalisation process, namely a perception that the UK is involved in killing Muslim civilians overseas," said Mr Bunglawala.

He disputed Prime Minister Gordon Brown's assertion, in defence of the government's strategy on Afghanistan, that "a safer Britain requires a safer Afghanistan".

Mr Bunglawala said: "How would the British presence in Afghanistan have prevented this plot?

"If anything, it generates added motive to the people behind this plot."

He added that the convictions showed that the UK "rule of law works".

Other measures resorted to by the government in recent years - such as control orders monitoring uncharged terrorism suspects - could leave Muslims feeling persecuted and hostile towards Britain, he stressed.

The faith in the police is not really there no more when it comes to terrorism
Walthamstow Muslim youth

"We should not be taking people's liberty away if the evidence is not there to justify it," he said.

"Police, given sufficient resources, have been shown to be able to deal with the terror threat.

"It makes no sense to engage in actions that will anger many in the Muslim community here."

'Conspiracy theory'

Mr Qadir helped found the Active Change Foundation charity, in Leyton, east London, which works to tackle Muslims' recruitment into extremism - and he knows two of the convicted men.

There would be a "conspiracy theory" over the convictions among some young Muslims, he warned.

"It's a good day for counter-terrorism, it's a good day... for the police and the military, but it's a sad day for the Muslim community," he said.

"Locally I know the concerns and the language that the young people are going to be speaking is - it took two trials.

Violence is against our faith and it's against our community and we've got to come together to defeat it
Mohammed Shafiq
Ramadhan Foundation

"Why did we have to have a retrial? Because they didn't get the result that they wanted the first time, so they got it at the second time, so the guys didn't stand a chance."

Ahmed Ali, Hussain and Sarwar were found guilty at an earlier trial of conspiracy to murder, but the jury could not reach a verdict over the planes plot allegations.

A Muslim youth, speaking to BBC Asian Network in Walthamstow, said he was "very sceptical that first time round, there was no verdicts on these people, and the second time round they are going for these convictions".

He added: "Walthamstow, being a Pakistani Muslim community, the faith in the police is not really there no more when it comes to terrorism."

There had been many cases of people being released without charge following arrests in anti-terror raids, said Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation youth organisation.

But this trial "reiterates the point which I've been making over the past few years that the threat from terrorism is real", and must be combated by the Muslim community, he stressed.

"There are people within our community who try to use our faith to make political points and to use violence and that's against our faith and it's against our community and we've got to come together to defeat it," Mr Shafiq said.



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