New police unit to counter terrorists outside London

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The Independent Online

Growing radicalism among Muslim youths in Britain is the greatest terrorist threat this country faces, a senior police chief has warned.

Growing radicalism among Muslim youths in Britain is the greatest terrorist threat this country faces, a senior police chief has warned.

Amid growing concerns that an attack in the UK could take place outside London, a counter-terrorist unit is being set up to cover the West Midlands, where there are large Muslim communities.

Mike Hedges, the chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers' terrorism committee and the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire, told The Independent: "The major worry is the radicalism of Muslims brought up in this country."

He said a key concern was the belief among a small number of young Muslims that the police were more interested in persecuting their faith than going after terrorists.

He also disclosed that the Home Office is providing £5m to fund a new 30-strong anti-terrorist unit to cover cities including Birmingham, Leicester, Nottingham and Derby. Extra counter-terrorist officers are also likely to be placed with police forces outside London.

But a representative of the Muslim community in Britain said yesterday that some young members were becoming alienated because of what they believed were racist stop-and- search tactics by the police.

Mr Hedges said: "I think one of the most difficult areas is that we have a significant radicalisation among members of the Muslim community.

"Many of our suspects have included members of the Muslim community. But they are arrested because they are terror suspects, not because they are Muslims. We have got to persuade people that we are going after terrorists, not particular races or religions," he said.

"We have to examine all our [police] processes and consider whether we are creating an environment that makes people feel disenfranchised. "

But he stressed that "the vast majority of our Muslim communities and minority communities fully sign up to the values of mainstream society".

Anti-terrorist police and the Security Service have been surprised to discover evidence that allegedly shows that some young British Muslims among the two million-strong community are turning to terrorism. There has also been evidence that the network of al-Qa'ida supporters stretches throughout the country. To help obtain better intelligence, to disrupt and target suspects, a counter-terrorism unit is being set up in the Midlands. The specialist squad is due to become operational by the end of the year.

The issue of the police's anti-terrorist powers was raised at the Commons Home Affairs Committee last week. It heard that huge increases in stopping and searching of Asians and black men had led to alienation among ethnic minorities. Since the introduction of the 2000 Terrorism Act, stops of Asians roseby 300 per cent between 2001-2 and 2002-3 nationwide.

The Metropolitan Police Authority warned that it was having a "huge negative impact" on community relations.

Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said yesterday: "It is fair to observe that an increasing number of Muslim youths are becoming disaffected."

He said this was partly due to police action and the belief that the Government did not take their views into account.

¿ The Government plans to extend its powers to tackle terrorists and organised crime gangs. Ken Macdonald QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, told The Times he was seeking the right to hold suspects without charge for longer and question them "under compulsion". He also wants the CPS to be allowed to grant immunity from prosecution for suspects in return for information.