/ 17 December 2010

UK ‘failed to win over estranged Muslims’

Britain made “little progress” in reaching out to Muslim communities, despite investing “considerable time and resources” after the 7/7 London bombings in 2005, American diplomats concluded in cables passed to the whistle-blowing website, WikiLeaks.

A harsh critique of the government’s efforts to engage British Muslims, outlined in a cable published as police investigate the British connections of the Stockholm suicide bomber, shows the American embassy in London concluded that both sides often appeared far apart.

“Since 7/7, HMG [Her Majesty’s government] has invested considerable time and resources in engaging the British Muslim community,” a diplomat at the American embassy in London wrote in August 2006 after the failed liquid bomb plot to blow up transatlantic airliners. “The current tensions demonstrate just how little progress has been made.”

American fears that Britain was struggling to deal with extremism, outlined a year after the 7/7 bombings, are highlighted as police continued to search a house in Luton, southern England, as part of an investigation into Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly, the dead bomber.

The Iraqi-born Swede, who set off a car bomb in the Swedish capital on December 11 before a second bomb strapped to his body killed him, was believed to live in the house while studying for a BSc in sports therapy at the University of Bedfordshire. He graduated in 2004 and lived in Luton for a decade.

Muslim leaders in Luton spoke of how Abdaly (28) stormed out of a local mosque when they confronted him over his extremist views.

Farasat Latif, the secretary of the Luton Islamic centre, said Abdaly was popular when he attended the mosque for several months in 2006-2007, though there were concerns about his violent views.

“One day during morning prayers in the month of Ramadan — there were about 100 people there — the chairman of the mosque stood up and exposed him, warning against terrorism, suicide bombings and so on,” Latif said. “He knew it was directed at him.

He stormed out of the mosque and was never seen again.”

The challenge of confronting extremists is highlighted in American embassy cables which warned of British Somalis returning to the United Kingdom after indulging in “jihadi tourism”.

In a cable on December 2 2009 a diplomat at the US embassy in Nairobi wrote: “There is believed to be a certain amount of so-called ‘jihadi tourism’ to southern Somalia by UK citizens of Somali ethnicity.

The threat from Somalia is compounded by the fact that within East Africa there is a lack of local government recognition of the ­terrorist threat.”

The cable, which reported on a meeting between American and British counterterrorism officials in Addis Ababa last October, also found:

  • Fears that the new government in Britain would take a “simplistic” approach to fighting terrorism. It said: “Many of the people who will form the new government have been outside of government policy circles for a long time, and they may have a simplistic point of view on CT [counterterrorism] issues.”
  • Concerns were raised that a “Mumbai-style attack” could be launched in Britain.
  • The “highly controversial military operations ongoing in Afghanistan” is a “massive” political issue.
  • Security for the 2012 Olympics was a big issue.

The cables
Separate cables published by WikiLeaks show that prominent British Muslims had been highly critical of initiatives introduced by the British government in response to the 7/7 bombings.

One cable reports that Sadiq Khan, who is now shadow justice secretary, criticised a programme introduced by the last government.

In the cable sent on August 14 2006, a year after Khan’s election to Parliament, the diplomat wrote: “Labour MP Sadiq Khan said the community feels ‘let down’ by HMG efforts to date, particularly the ‘Preventing Extremism Together’ task forces, which the Home Office created after the 7/7 attacks.

Very few of the 64 measures recommended by Muslim leaders on the task force have been implemented, Khan said, creating an ‘air of despondency’ and leading the community to believe that the entire exercise was just a publicity stunt.”

Khan was one of several prominent Muslims who felt so uneasy that they wrote to then-prime minister Tony Blair on August 12 2006 warning that the “debacle of Iraq” provided “ammunition to extremists” who threatened everyone, according to the cable.

The diplomat claimed that the letter, signed by Khan and his fellow Labour MP Shahid Malik, was prompted by the frustration prominent Muslims felt after the “bruising” their community had taken after 24 “UK-born” Muslims were arrested in response to a failed liquid bomb plot in 2006.

The same diplomat wrote: “The Muslim community’s reaction to the arrests of 24 of its own sons — a knee-jerk reaction blaming HMG — shows that its leaders too have far to go.

“That said, the Muslim community is not the only element in Britain blaming HMG’s foreign policy for inciting radical elements; the left in particular but even the mainstream press has expressed the belief, reportedly widespread, that home-grown terrorism is an ‘inevitable’ response to the UK’s involvement in Iraq and reluctance to call for an ‘immediate cease-fire’ in the Middle East.

“HMG’s rather heated response to the letter is undoubtedly aimed at swaying broader opinion.”

Cables published by WikiLeaks also show that the US embassy in London drew up its own programme to win over Muslims and proposed creating a “pool” of former radicals who could help counter terrorism.

Robert Tuttle, the former US ambassador to London, reported that the embassy was working with the government to carry out an academic study to understand how former radicals had turned their back on extremism. — Guardian News & Media 2010