Policing strategy aims to ‘prevent animosity’




By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent

Financial Times, 20 January 2005

The emergence of a radical minority within the Muslim community has led to a policing strategy that combines surveillance to prevent terrorist attacks and co-operation between law enforcement agencies and Muslim groups to prevent animosity and help intelligence gathering.

“There’s quite a lot of debate about what aim we can have,” said a senior counter-terrorism official. “The choice of mission: it’s about managing down the risk, not about eliminating it. Reducing risk means prevention and pursuit. Part of the prevention is to stop the next generation being radicalised. But we realised the current generation are beyond redemption, so they have to be pursued.”

Counter-terrorism strategists say there is no single profile for the people who are likely to follow what one senior official calls the “radicalisation escalator”. Even more complex is the task of identifying people who may turn radical views into violent action.

Since the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks, police have arrested more than 600 people in Britain under terrorism legislation. Many have been released, while others have been charged. The arrests have aroused resentment.

“The anti-terror legislation has caused a lot of problems. No Muslims are happy with it,” said Sheikh Ibrahim Moqra, imam of the Masjid Umar mosque in Leicester, who has criticised both Muslim radicalism and government policy. “By and large things were reasonably good before September 11 2001. Now Muslims are being treated as if they are a fifth column.”

Others see the treatment of Muslims as a test of the commitment to legal means to combat terrorism, as well as a sign of how integrated Muslims are.

“The greatest threat is when the values of the society are being eroded,” said Mohammad Naseem, chairman of the council of Birmingham Central Mosque. “I don’t think the Muslim community can be isolated as one section of the British nation. What is happening is going to affect everybody.”

But for radicals, tough policing has also become a potent means of mobilising opinion. “If the police come to my house, I am going to kill them,” said Abu Ezzidin, a speaker at a recent Muslim conference in London.

Counter-terrorism officials see the prevention of attacks and the use of robust means to make it known to radicals they are being watched as more important than the preservation of harmonious relations with the Muslim community. A senior security official said: “We have to factor in what the community impact is going to be when we plan operations and we are highly conscious that one could be exacerbating the problem we are trying to resolve. But it hasn’t stopped us doing the things we feel we need to do.”



© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.