Young Muslim Rage Takes Root in Britain

By Kevin Sullivan and Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, August 13, 2006

LONDON, Aug. 12 -- Naweed Hussain sat in his little real estate office Friday, trying to focus on spreadsheets instead of the angry clatter outside.

Furious young Muslim men crowded around the local mosque on his street, surrounded by television cameras. They complained that their friends, other young Muslim men from Walthamstow, in East London, had been unfairly accused of plotting to blow up airliners. Police guarded the home of one suspect in what authorities call a plot to kill people on an "unimaginable" scale, allegedly planned right here in Hussain's working-class neighborhood.

"Why is it not happening in some other country?" wondered Hussain, 53, a soft-spoken man in a tie and black-rimmed glasses who has lived here since he migrated from Pakistan 40 years ago. "Why is it happening here?"

The answer is that Britain has become an incubator for violent Islamic extremism, fueled by disenchantment at home and growing rage about events abroad, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Four bombers killed themselves and 52 others in attacks on the London public transit system on July 7, 2005 , followed by an almost identical but failed attack two weeks later. Last month Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ian Blair said that at least three "serious conspiracies" had been disrupted in the previous 12 months. Then this week, police said they thwarted a plot to blow up as many as 10 airliners flying from Britain to the United States that could have killed thousands.

In one of Europe's largest Muslim communities, young men face a lack of jobs, poor educational achievement and discrimination in a highly class-oriented culture. Prime Minister Tony Blair is the most outspoken ally of President Bush, and their policies in Iraq and Afghanistan are seen by many Muslims as aimed at Islam.

Britain's long tradition of tolerance has made it an oasis for immigrants and political outcasts from around the world, with its large influx of Pakistanis and other Muslims leading to the nickname Londonistan. Especially during the 1980s and 1990s, Britain became the refuge of choice for scores of Islamic radicals who had been expelled or exiled from their home countries for their inflammatory sermons and speeches.

More than any other country in Europe, Britain is struggling to cope with a surge in recruits and supporters of radical Islamic networks, according to interviews with British Muslims, and European and British counterterrorism officials and analysts. Officials said the threat is growing much faster than British authorities had expected or planned for.

"The U.K. is at the forefront of the wrath of extremists," said Magnus Ranstorp, terrorism researcher for the Swedish National Defense College in Stockholm.

The British security service, known as MI5, disclosed last month that it had about 1,200 Islamic militants under surveillance who were considered capable of carrying out violent attacks. Peter Clarke, the head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorism branch, said police were engaged in 70 separate terrorism investigations, the most ever. "This is unprecedented and the flow of new cases shows no sign of abating," Clarke said. "If anything, it is accelerating."

Since the July attacks, Blair's government has toughened anti-terrorism laws, making it a crime to "glorify" terrorism and easing procedures for deporting clerics and others who advocate violence. The government has increased the number of Muslim police officers on the beat and conducted extensive outreach in Britain's Muslim community, which officially numbers 1.6 million people but is widely believed to be 2 million or more.

The attacks last summer, and this week's disclosure of a plot to bomb jumbo jets from the sky, have created a sense of unease not often seen in a nation that stoically endured some of World War II's worst bombings and a 30-year campaign of violence by the Irish Republican Army. Being a target of a new kind of terror -- one without specific demands, that seems to many here to be motivated by vengeance and hate -- has created a new uncertainty.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company