In London's Muslim Community

Suspects Recalled as 'Just Normal Guys'

A man and his children head home after Friday prayers at the Darul Uloom Qadria Jilania mosque in the Walthamstow neighborhood of northeast London.
A man and his children head home after Friday prayers at the Darul Uloom Qadria Jilania mosque in the Walthamstow neighborhood of northeast London. (By Chris Jackson -- Getty Images)
By Joshua Partlow and John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, August 12, 2006

LONDON, Aug. 11 -- They were lunchtime companions, worshipers kneeling on the same mosque floor, friends praying to the same God. One was the medical student cramming for exams at the next table. Another was the sprinting player jostling for the ball down the soccer field.

And so to some friends and acquaintances -- those who gathered outside the mosques of northeast London and in the quiet suburbs to the west of the city -- the possibility that the young British Muslims also might be involved in an audacious plot to explode airplanes over the Atlantic Ocean was almost impossible to reconcile or believe.

"They're just normal guys, they're probably being painted as hateful monsters, but they were just normal guys," Louis Melvin, 26, said Friday as he stood near the Masjid-E-Umer mosque in the Walthamstow neighborhood of London with other young men who said they were friends with some of the suspects. "If they were plotting this for the last year, they wouldn't have been able to spend all that time talking to me about trivial things like soccer," Melvin said.

Although the identities of all the accused have yet to be disclosed, the Bank of England on Friday froze the assets of 19 of the 24 suspects arrested the day before, in the process releasing their names and ages to the public. All 19 had Muslim names, most were in their twenties -- they ranged in age from 17 to 35 -- and 13 of them lived in London, according to the list.

The bank's actions came at the order of British Chancellor Gordon Brown, citing concern over financing terrorists. But Muslim leaders in Britain condemned the release of the names, saying that it was unusual for suspects to be identified before they were formally charged and that it could impede a fair trial.

"There is a perception that this is a trial by media," said Jahangir Mohammed, director of the Center for Muslim Affairs, an independent research organization based in Manchester. "The general feeling is that people believe this has been concocted and it is very timely" as a diversion from the war between Israel and the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon.

Several Muslims said they condemned any terrorist plot but were skeptical about the police investigation and evidence that tied so many seemingly normal, middle-class Muslims to the alleged plot.

Police "need to be careful" about linking terrorism to the Muslim community "as a whole" and "demonizing the community," Khalid Sofi, a senior member of the Muslim Council of Britain, told the BBC. He said that British police made sweeping arrests of Muslims based on ethnic and religious profiling and used unwarranted stop-and-search procedures, and that most of the Muslims were released without being charged.

British Home Secretary John Reid said that it was a "normal procedure" to release the names of those whose bank accounts were frozen and that knowing their identities is "part of the obligation of ensuring that people cannot deal with such individuals in the transfer of assets."

British police on Friday released one of the suspects, who was not identified, without charging him.

"Of those we have arrested, some will be released without charge -- that is the nature of an investigation. Some will interpret that as meaning the evidence is not there, but there is a good reason for us to have acted as we have," said Rob Beckley, a senior police officer who heads community and counterterrorism programs for the Association of Chief Police Officers.

He said he had heard the suggestion among some Muslims that this was a "smoke screen" to knock the war in the Middle East off front pages. "Frankly, any idea that this was manipulated is nonsense," he said.

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