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Groups say British support for war in Iraq encourages extremists

LONDON—British Prime Minister Tony Blair's support for wars in Iraq and Lebanon provides "ammunition to extremists," according to an open letter published in newspapers here Saturday and signed by leaders of prominent British Islamic groups.

The letter, endorsed by three members of Parliament and three British peers, in addition to the 38 organizations, notes: "The debacle of Iraq, and now the failure to do more to secure an immediate end to the attacks on civilians in the Middle East, not only increases the risk to ordinary people in the region, it is also provides ammunition to extremists who threaten us all."

While urging Blair to " do more to fight against all those who target civilians with violence, whenever and wherever that happens," the writers contends that "current British government policy risks putting civilians at increased risk both in the UK and abroad."

Foreign Minister Kim Howells responded sharply on Saturday.

"I have no doubt that there are many issues which incite people to loathe government policies but not to strap explosives to themselves and go out and murder innocent people," Howells said. "There is no way of rationalizing that. I think it is very, very dangerous when people who call themselves community leaders make some assumption that somehow that there's a rational connection between these two things."

In other developments Saturday, Home Secretary John Reid said that while authorities believe the main suspects have all been found, they are not to a point where they "can or should stop searching. That is why the alert level remains at critical."

"All of us know that this investigation hasn't ended," he said.

Beginning to become evident is how deeply into normal British life those apprehended were.

Abdul Waheed, 20, for example, had recently converted to Islam from a Methodist upbringing, when he was Don Stewart-Whyte. His half sister Heather Stewart-Whyte is a model and former girlfriend of tennis star Yannick Noah. His parents are Tory activists.

Umar Islam, 28, was born Brian Young, also a Christian until converting three years ago, because, friends said, he was troubled by the decadence of the West. He is a postman, and married with a young son. Assan Khan, 21, is a trainee probation officer. Waheed Zaman, 23, is a biochemistry student, studying to be a doctor.

For their part, Britons seemed unfazed at finding alleged terrorists again in their midst.

Col. Christopher Langton, head of the Defense Analysis Department for the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, said they'd grown accustomed to homegrown terrorism after decades of experience with the Irish Republican Army. And just across the English Channel many other varieties of domestic terrorists have lived—and died spectacularly—in Spain, Germany and Italy.

"There is an acceptance here that we have to work through terrorism, rather than combat it," he said. "Terrorism here isn't an act of war, it's nothing more than a crime."

Sometimes the authorities win, Langton continued, but "counter-terrorism in Europe is a very old game.

"This time we've learned the security services were extremely well coordinated. But nobody thinks this is the end of the game."

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(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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