Muslim leaders pledge to root out the extremists in their community

A group of 25 leaders declared their determination to confront violent and reactionary believers in their midst after a meeting yesterday with Tony Blair at Downing Street. They agreed to set up a task force that would explore the extent of disaffection among the Muslim population.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said the No 10 meeting - attended by the Conservative leader, Michael Howard, and the Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy - had been "an important listening exercise".

The Labour MP Shahid Malik, whose Dewsbury constituency was home to one of the bombers, indicated there was a desire to take on the "profound challenge" of rooting out extremism. "I think everyone here is up for the challenge," he said. "We have to work better at confronting these evil voices - minute as they are in our community."

Mr Blair said the meeting had shown there was a "very strong desire" to "confront, and deal with head on, the extremism that is based on a perversion of the true faith of Islam".

But radical Muslim clerics condemned the Government and criticised Mr Blair's foreign policy. Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed told the London Evening Standard: "The British people did not make enough effort to stop its own government committing its own atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan. They showed Tony Blair full support when they elected him Prime Minister again even after he waged the latest war against Iraq."

Anjem Choudary, UK leader of the militant Islamist group al-Muhajiroun, accused Mr Blair of having "blood on his hands" and operating an "atrocious foreign policy". In an interview on Radio 4's Today programme, he declined to condemn the 7 July bombings and warned there was a "very real possibility" of a repeat of the atrocities.

Their comments came as it emerged that Scotland Yard has tried unsuccessfully to prosecute seven extremist Islamic preachers in the past four years for praising or encouraging terrorism.

Sir Ian Blair, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said the current law meant it was extremely difficult to punish what he called "the preachers of hate".

He said his officers had tried on more than 20 occasions since 2001 to bring extremists to court, but had only succeeded once. In March 2003, Abdullah el-Faisal, a Muslim cleric who urged his followers to join a jihad or holy war and kill unbelievers, was jailed at the Old Bailey for nine years.

Sir Ian, Britain's senior police chief, gave his backing to the Home Office's proposal for a new law to make it a crime to glorify or condone terrorism. He said the current threshhold at which it was possible to prosecute someone for incitement to murder was "very high".

Instead, he said an offence of "glorifying" acts of terrorism would make it much easier to crack down on those who espoused extremist views. "What do we do about the preachers of hate?" he asked. "On 20 occasions in the last couple of years we have put different pieces of evidence to the CPS - sometimes about the same people. Only once have we been able to cross the boundary of incitement to murder. There is no criticism of the CPS - that is just the law."

He continued: "You cannot commit a criminal offence that does not exist. That is why we need a new offence - 'glorifying terrorism' would do very well."

Sir Ian also disclosed that he is to discuss with Muslim leaders the idea of setting up a special anti-terrorist telephone line for people to report suspicious activity in their area.

The Commissioner said it was vital for the Muslim community to have some means of informing the police of "sudden changes" in someone's patterns of behaviour.

Sir Ian suggested another idea would be to set up a national Muslim security organisation.

Police chiefs are to meet a group of senior Muslim leaders at Scotland Yard on Monday to discuss how to strengthen the Muslim community's involvement in counter-terrorism.

The Downing Street delegation

* LORD AHMED Labour peer

* KHURSHID AHMED Commission for Racial Equality

* YOUSEF AL-KHOEI Charitable foundation

* AZHAR ALI Labour National Policy Forum

* ZAKI BADAWI Muslim College

* ABDUL BARI Muslim Council of Britain

* LORD BHATIA Crossbench peer

* KISHWER FALKNER Liberal Democrat peer

* FARZANA HAKIM Commission for Racial Equality

* DILWAR HUSSAIN Research Fellow at the Islamic Foundation

* SARAH JOSEPH Editor of Emel magazine

* SADIQ KHAN Labour MP for Tooting

* SABIRA LAKHA Federation of Shia Muslims

* KHALID MAHMOOD Labour MP

* SHAHID MALIK Labour MP for Dewsbury

* SHAZIA MALIK No details available

* IBRAHIM MOGRA Muslim Council of Britain

* GUL MUHAMMAD British Muslim Foundation

* BUSHRA NASIR Head teacher of London school

* SIR GULAM NOON Millionaire and Labour donor

* LORD PATEL obstetrician and crossbench peer

* GHULAM RABBANI Senior cleric

* SIR IQBAL SACRANIE Muslim Council of Britain

* MOHAMMED SARWAR Labour MP

* BARONESS UDDIN Labour peer