Muslim policeman excused from duty at Israeli embassy

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Scotland Yard has defended a decision to excuse a Muslim police officer from guarding the Israeli embassy arguing that it was about "safety and risk", not "political correctness".

Reports that Pc Alexander Omar Basha had been told not to work outside the embassy in central London caused a furore yesterday and led to an internal review by the Metropolitan police.

The decision not to place Pc Basha outside the embassy is understood to be largely because his managers were worried that if the officer became involved in a shooting incident or violent confrontation, his motives could be challenged.

Deputy Commissioner Paul Stephenson strongly denied reports that the constable had been moved from the two-hour guard duty for political reasons or because he asked for permission not to work at the embassy because he objected to the bombing of Lebanon.

Mr Stephenson said: "This is not about political correctness. I want to make it clear that this decision was taken on the basis of risk and safety." He added: "At the height of the Israeli/Lebanon conflict in August this year, the officer made his managers aware of his personal concerns, which included that he had Lebanese family members.

"While the Israeli Embassy is not his normal posting, in view of the possibility that he could be deployed there, a risk assessment was undertaken, which is normal practice. It was as a result of this assessment - and not because of the officer's personal views whatever they might have been - that the decision was taken."

Commissioner Sir Ian Blair had earlier announced an "urgent review" of the decision.Lord Janner, the former president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, added: "In my view, as a police officer your job and your moral obligations are to do your duty and to protect people. I think it is a grave error to allow a policeman to move off his duty in that way."

Dr Muhammad Abdul-Bari, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, agreed that anyone who joined the police had a responsibility to discharge their duties without discrimination.