BIRMINGHAM, England—In the largely Asian Muslim neighborhoods of England's second biggest city, nearly every young man knows a suspected terrorist.
That's because they're being been treated like one with increasing frequency, they say, since Scotland Yard began arresting people who look like them on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activities.
"A lot of Muslims do feel Muslims are being hard done by," said Ali Raz, a 25-year-old British Pakistani Muslim from Bordsley Green, a working-class area of terraced houses east of the city center. Since 9-11, he said, he's "seen changes in people's attitudes generally toward Asians—a heightened suspicion."
On three occasions he's been the target of racial insults, Raz said, including once being called "bomb-belt boy" by a group of white men with shaved heads.
"Muslims who give back a lot to the community," said Raz, "still could be painted with the same brush," as Islamic extremists accused of plotting to blow up flights between Great Britain and the United States. "We're caught in the middle."
Before last week's arrests of 24 British Muslims in and around London and Birmingham in connection with those plots, "we used to talk about the weather, normal things," a cafe worker named Saj, 26, said over tea at the Sheesha cafe in the largely Muslim Birmingham neighborhood known as Bordsley Green. "Now, this is on everyone's lips. We've been set up to take the after-affects. We take the fall."
She declined to give her last name.
Several young men said the slurs intensified after the 2005 London tube and bus bombings in which four suicide bombers killed 52 people. Dozens of arrests, mainly of British Muslims, followed, but to date no convictions.
Moheen Batchar, 25, a teacher from Nottingham's Bordsley Green section, compared the situation of Asian Muslims in Britain to the hostilities faced by U.S. blacks before the civil rights movement.
"A lot of people do feel resentment over the way our community has been treated by the government," he said.
In the heightened tensions that followed the 2005 bombings, Metropolitan Police officers shot and killed an innocent Brazilian, Jean Charles de Menezes, on the erroneous suspicion—seemingly confirmed by his dark complexion—that he was a suicide bomber. And earlier this summer police shot and injured a Muslim man in a terror raid that turned out to be based on a faulty tip.
These cases deepened the chasm between white and Asian Muslim Britons, said Raz and others.
"To start with, they could apologize to the Muslim community as a whole for the shambolic way they've conducted themselves," Saj said.
Asked about Muslim allegations of police heavy-handedness, Julie Prinsep, Metropolitan Police spokeswoman, replied: "I can't comment on any of that. We're not discussing any aspects of the investigation."
The lack of convictions in prior cases left Raz unconvinced that Thursday's arrests will amount to anything and worried about the possible consequences.
"Muslims have already lost faith in the authorities. If they can't prove these really are so-called terrorists, the Muslim community will just drift further away," he said.
Some non-Muslim neighbors around the Ward End house raided Thursday also wondered whether British police are on the right track.
One woman said the suspect and his family—his parents, sister, and two brothers—were well-liked and that no one on the street had "ever had any problems with them."
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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