Forest Gate: 'Of course I'm angry and of course I'll be at the protest'

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The Independent Online

Sikander Khalid was running to get to work in yesterday morning's rush hour when he found himself surrounded by policemen.

Pakistani-born Mr Khalid, 28, who was stopped and searched under the Terrorism Act, may have shrugged the incident off any other week.

But as a member of the increasingly frustrated Muslim community in Forest Gate, east London, which has had to live under a heavy police presence for nearly a week since a 200-strong police raid on a property on Lansdown Road, the incident only served to inflame his anger.

Mr Khalid's sentiments chime with a growing sense of outrage among the Muslims of Forest Gate, which the Metropolitan Police has recently attempted to contain with messages to "stay calm". For Mr Khalid, these were hollow words, delivered by a police force in which he, and others around him, had already lost faith. Many were determined to show their anger at a protest rally, organised by a coalition of Muslim groups due to take place on Sunday at New Scotland Yard.

He said: "Maybe it was my stubble, or maybe it was my rucksack. I threw my bag down in front of them because that is all I could do to show my anger. I was going to my work at French Connection. Is this what they mean by being calm? Of course I'm angry and of course I'm going to be at the protest that's going on to tell the world that we are human, and we shouldn't be punished for being Muslim. What they did last Friday has made me mad and I hope people fight back."

While Scotland Yard apologised for the inconvenience caused by the raid, many in the community felt the damage had already been done and that seeds of discontent had been sown in what had only recently been a well-integrated peaceful community.

A 34-year-old businessman said: "I think people will retaliate. I know I will. Every action has a reaction and we can't forget what's taken place in the past few days. Two streets are being held hostage and we still don't know what it's been for."

Muhammad Nadeem, 38, a construction businessman, felt sure the police action had done more harm than good.

"The whole of the United Kingdom now thinks that Muslims are terrorists, but where is the evidence in this case? The way they are doing it, they are driving people to extremism. Extremists were never born in Forest Gate, but they are being born by what we've seen happen," he said.

Many balked at Tony Blair's support of the raid, and felt there were parallels to be drawn with the Government's justification to go to war with Iraq.

One resident said: "They told us there were WMDs in Iraq which could be mobilised in 45 minutes. Years later, they can find nothing. Same with this raid. They use 200 police officers to raid a family at four o'clock in the morning and say there's chemicals in there. Six days later, what have they found? They are giving the world the messages that al-Qaida is living in Forest Gate."

The Newham Monitoring Project said residents had reported high levels of anxiety, while councillor Shakar Mahmood said a letter of information from the Metropolitan Police would be sent imminently to residents around the Lansdown area to address some unanswered questions.

"They are planning to send the letter out and it does deal with a lot of questions of why they carried out the raid on Friday, and why they didn't evacuate residents, but one question that is very hard [to answer] is the shooting of one man," Mr Mahmood said. He added that there were angry messages being delivered to the Muslim community but said these were mostly coming from outside the local community.

"There is a slight dent in community relations but many of the people speaking in anger are using this situation for their own gain and don't even live in the area," he said.