UK anti-militant project stirs Muslim unease


From Reuters.

A Britishanti-radicalization campaign called Prevent is a pressing priority in the European country experts see as the most at risk from al Qaeda attack.

But to listen to its critics, the project, aimed mainly at Muslim communities, might more accurately be named Provoke.

Security officials are struggling to stem a tide of unease among Muslim communities about the program, which seeks among other things to identify people most vulnerable to recruitment by al Qaeda-aligned groups and wean them away from extremism.

"People fear Prevent. They misinterpret it. They think it's spying on us," said Owais Rajput, a researcher at Bradford University in West Yorkshire, the home area of three of the four men who killed 52 people in suicide attacks in London in 2005.

Jahan Mahmoud, a community worker and academic in the Midlands city of Birmingham, said there were large segments of the community that felt Prevent, led by the Home Office (interior ministry), was prying into their lives.

"There's no point trying something as sensitive as Prevent before you've improved community cohesion, because the trust won't be there," he said.

One counter-terrorism police officer said he was told by one Muslim family it was reluctant to work with the authorities for fear of "getting a police boot kicked through our door".

Officials are dismayed by what they see as an unnecessarily defensive response. They are trying to fine-tune the campaign to win the trust of more Muslims and get communities to share with the state their grass-roots understanding of the threats.

The stakes are high. Britain has been a target for Islamist militants since it joined Washington in invading Afghanistan and Iraq after the September 11, 2001, attacks. Many of the plots have had links to Pakistan, whose remote northwest is believed by U.S. intelligence to be a refuge for al Qaeda's leadership...

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