For Britain's Muslims, a Fear Realized

Two women lay flowers in memory of the London bombing victims near the scene of the attack on the double-decker bus at Tavistock Square.
Two women lay flowers in memory of the London bombing victims near the scene of the attack on the double-decker bus at Tavistock Square. (By Stephen Hird -- Reuters)

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By Glenn Frankel and Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, July 14, 2005

LONDON, July 13 -- Britain's security services, politicians and Muslim community leaders responded with anger and dismay Wednesday to what some Muslims called their worst nightmare: the disclosure that the four suspected killers in the London transit explosions were homegrown Islamic suicide bombers.

Newspapers published copies of the birth certificate of one of the men, Shehzad Tanweer, 22, emphasizing that he and his alleged co-conspirators were British born and raised. Security analysts said the fact that the men apparently had no criminal records and appeared in no intelligence file would make it harder to track down their network before it struck again.

Leaders of the country's 1.6 million-member Muslim community engaged in some public soul-searching over how it was that young men of relatively well-off backgrounds became so alienated from society and so fanatical that they allegedly carried out bombings that killed at least 52 people and injured 700. They noted that more than 100 incidents of threats and attacks, including the killing of one Muslim, have been reported since the bombings.

"People in the community are agonizing and asking, 'What could we have done to prevent this?' " said Azzam Tamimi, a leader of the Muslim Association of Britain, who called the prospect of British suicide bombers a nightmare scenario. "We've been working very hard over the past four to five years liaising with the authorities . . . with various agencies organizing and supervising youth activities. And still this has happened."

The suspects carried such identification as credit cards and driver's licenses to the scene of the attacks. Investigators believe they wanted to be identified as the bombers and were determined to die, even though they had sophisticated timing devices and could have set off the explosives without being present.

"It was almost gratuitous suicide, and in many ways that's the worst aspect of this whole thing," said Michael Clarke, director of the International Policy Institute at King's College London. "Most of the effort in terrorism goes toward planning an escape afterward, and suicide bombers don't have to do that."

Clarke and other analysts said the bombers must have had outside support in planning the attack, obtaining the high explosives used, organizing the logistics and maintaining strong ideological commitment.

"It's clear they had a big support network and one that has managed to function without creating any chatter that the security services picked up," Clarke said. "And almost certainly, this is only the tip of the iceberg. They can strike again."

Prime Minister Tony Blair met with Muslim members of Parliament in the morning and then announced to the House of Commons that his government would propose legislation in coming months aimed at criminalizing the incitement of hatred and terrorism. Blair said he also wanted to strengthen the government's powers to bar alleged inciters from entering Britain and to deport noncitizens engaged in such activities.

But Blair added: "I think we all know that security measures alone are not going to deal with this. This is not an isolated criminal act -- it is an extreme and evil ideology whose roots lie in a perverted and poisonous misinterpretation of the religion of Islam."

Shahid Malik, a member of Parliament from Dewsbury, a suburb south of Leeds where one of the suspected bombers lived, told the House of Commons that the disclosure of their identities posed "the most profound challenge yet faced by the British Muslim community."

"This is a defining moment for this country," he added. "Condemnation is not enough, and British Muslims must, and I believe are prepared to, confront the voices of evil head on."

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