Terror threat from ‘very many’ Muslim men, says Met chief
By John Steele, Home Affairs Correspondent
Daily Telegraph, 4 March 2005
Britain faces a potential terrorist threat from “very many” Muslim men who returned to Britain after spending time in training camps in Afghanistan, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police said yesterday.
Sir Ian Blair, whose force, with MI5, leads anti-terrorism work in Britain, was asked if he supported the assertion of the Prime Minister earlier this week that there were “several hundred people in the UK plotting terror attacks”.
The commissioner told LBC radio in London: “Yes, I am aware of the fact that there are very many people who came back from the camps in Afghanistan and who are therefore potentially a threat to the United Kingdom.
“And I agree with the Prime Minister’s assessment, on that basis, that there are hundreds of people who came back from the camps and are now in the United Kingdom, and that is a very dangerous issue for us all.”
Scotland Yard sources made clear Sir Ian was referring to training camps run by al-Qa’eda and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which were destroyed in the military campaign by American and British forces after the attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001.
Security chiefs have said privately for some time that the radicalising influence of the “jihadists” who attended the camps and went to Muslim-related conflicts in Bosnia, Chechnya and Kashmir is at the heart of the threat to Britain.
Saajit Badat, from Gloucester, who admitted plotting to blow up an airliner with a shoe bomb, spent time in the camps.
In the radio interview, Sir Ian also supported the comments made earlier this week by Hazel Blears, Home Office minister, that Muslims would be disproportionately affected by anti-terrorist stops and searches by police.
“I think that Hazel is right to say it and I have said something similar in the past,” Sir Ian said. “The fact is the terrorism regulations around stop and search do not require individual suspicion, they’re much more akin to searches around an airport.
“In this case, while I am very concerned about the Muslim community’s sense of belonging, we do have to accept that the events around the Gloucester shoe bomber do show us that there are people within that community who misguidedly, and entirely in conflict with the values of Islam, are prepared to use violence against the United Kingdom.
“Therefore we have to do something with this and I think there would be a much greater outcry if we did absolutely nothing and part of London disappeared in smoke.”
At the home affairs select committee on Tuesday, Miss Blears told MPs: “The threat is most likely to come from those people associated with an extreme form of Islam, or who are falsely hiding behind Islam. It means that some of our counter-terrorism powers will be disproportionately experienced by the Muslim community. I think that is the reality and I think we should recognise that.”
The “disproportionality” argument on anti-terrorism stops and searches, which do not require police suspicion and are aimed in part at disruption, is based on calculations that Asians are stopped in higher numbers than their proportion of the population would merit.
However, Met figures show that the proportion of London stops involving Asian people fell between 2002/3 and 2003/4.