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Anxious Muslims Pray in Leeds
Faithful Gather Near Alleged Site Of Bombmaking

By Tamara Jones
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 16, 2005

LEEDS, England, July 15 -- With uniformed police standing discreet guard in the hallway and news crews watching from the sidewalk, hundreds of anxious Muslims gathered to pray Friday at a mosque just steps from the alleged bomb factory of terrorists who attacked London last week.

"This is a time of pain and anguish," said Sir Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain. "The Muslim community is not responsible for the crime that has taken place," he told worshipers at the Leeds Grand Mosque, "but we must share responsibility to face this evil."

Those who committed the subway and bus bombings that claimed 54 lives and wounded hundreds of others July 7 deserve "to be punished in a similar way," Sacranie added. His visit to the mosque in this multicultural neighborhood sought to reassure Muslims and non-Muslims.

Young men in blue jeans and baseball caps alongside businessmen in suits bowed toward Mecca as the sprawling mosque filled with their murmured prayers. Two policemen observed from the hallway and lowered their heads in respect as a cassocked Anglican priest, attending in a show of solidarity, silently mouthed prayers of his own.

Dozens of worshipers lingered outside after the service, eager to talk to television reporters and explain that their faith was peaceful. Mosque leaders distributed copies of their joint public statement earlier in the week, which condemned the violence and extended "our deepest sympathies and prayers to the injured and the bereaved."

Urging "calm in the community on all sides," the statement from the Leeds Muslim Community also quoted a verse from the Koran: "Whoever kills a person unjustly it is as if they have killed the whole of humanity."

In London, imams and scholars issued a statement on the bombings late Friday, condemning the death of innocent civilians and saying that no one should consider the bombers to be martyrs.

"We are firmly of the view that these killings had absolutely no sanction in Islam, nor is there any justification whatsoever in our noble religion for such evil actions. It is our understanding that those who carried out the bombings in London should in no sense be regarded as martyrs," the statement said.

Members of the Leeds Muslim community said it was unfair to expect them to somehow recognize and ferret out violent radicals.

"I can guarantee you if you go to all the bombers, they probably had upstanding parents who had no idea what they were up to," said Rizwan Haq, 34, the manager of a small grocery store down the block from the purported bomb factory in a small apartment. "You always have extremists no matter what the color, the creed, the religions.

"You've got to understand what the extremism is about if you want to put an end to it. It's not about just rooting them out. It's about finding out why."

Shabil Hassain, 35, a systems analyst of Turkish descent, born and raised in Leeds, expressed a similar concern: "Can we stop the 'why' and therefore it's not to happen again?"

He stood outside a friend's market, catty-corner from the crime scene, where police were still operating.

"From what I understand, a 12-year-old lad can go on the Net and make one," he said, referring to finding instructions to make a bomb on the Internet. "You always have to keep an eye on the young, because they need that encouragement, that wisdom, that advice," Hassain said.

Many people speculated on why terrorism spilled into this working-class neighborhood of red-brick rowhouses and mom-and-pop stores where people of many ethnicities live along the narrow lanes and littered alleys.

One young Pakistani cabdriver said he thought the killing of a teenage bully by young Pakistanis last year created a hotbed of racial tension ripe for outsiders to recruit young terrorist foot soldiers.

Hussein, the Turkish systems analyst, said he worried about repercussions from skinheads across town.

Concerns that the local Muslim community might be targeted by vigilantes after the bombings prompted local police and the city council to post fliers in the neighborhood reassuring "all members of our community that harassment of any form will not be tolerated. We will vigorously pursue all offenders."

"I hope people stick together and it don't change," said Michael Jones, 40, a plasterer who has lived here his entire life. "People have a lot of suspicion toward the Muslims because they don't mix, and with them not mixing, people don't understand their religion, and what they don't understand, they're afraid of. It's ignorance is what it is."

Leaflets left on shopkeepers' counters Friday called on "all people of goodwill" to gather Saturday in nearby Hyde Park for a picnic and peace march.

In Voodoo Poochi's tattoo and piercing parlor at the bottom of the steep main road leading past the mosque, Zoe Wood tossed her bright green hair and said she wasn't really going to worry about it all. It didn't surprise her that no one seemed to recognize evil in their midst.

"But everyone's got their secrets, don't they?" she said.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company