Police accused of 'Islamophobic' stop and search tactics

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The Independent Online

Ministers were warned last night that a generation of young Muslims was being alienated by "Islamophobic" policing after the Home Office revealed the number of Asians stopped and searched under anti-terrorism laws had quadrupled in a year.

Ministers were warned last night that a generation of young Muslims was being alienated by "Islamophobic" policing after the Home Office revealed the number of Asians stopped and searched under anti-terrorism laws had quadrupled in a year.

Reflecting fears of an al-Qa'ida attack in Britain, stop and searches under terrorism legislation leapt from 8,550 in 2001-02 to 21,577 in 2002-03.

Asians experienced the biggest increase, from 744 to 2,989, a rise of 302 per cent, while stop and searches under the Terrorism Act of white people rose by 118 per cent, from 6,629 to 14,429, and by 230 per cent, from 529 to 1,745, for black people.

The trend dismayed the Government, which immediately announced an inquiry into the use by police of their stop-and-search powers.

However, both the police and the Home Office believe the increased number of Asians questioned is inevitable, given that much of the current terrorist threat centres on the Middle East and North Africa.

But it provoked fury among Muslim leaders who warned of a backlash among communities that already felt marginalised following the 11 September attacks nearly three years ago.

Massoud Shadjareh, spokes-man for the Islamic Human Rights Commission, said: "This proves that there is a lot of Islamophobia and Islam profiling when dealing with terrorism."

Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Great Britain, said that young Muslim men were turning away from helping the police because they felt victimised.

"We are urging Muslims to combat the terrorist threat common to all, but this makes it more difficult. The co-operation we seek from the community has been affected because these very same people have been stopped and search."

Abdal Ullah, a Metropolitan police authority member, said: "The Muslim community has become a scapegoat ... What this is doing is alienating the Muslim youth."

Glen Smyth, the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, argued that the number of searches carried out on Asians was still low. "The increase has gone up from two per day to eight per day, so in terms of the people as a whole it is a small number, bearing in mind the circumstances in which we are operating," he said.

Overall, a total of 869,164 stop and searches for all types of crimes were recorded in 2002-03 in England and Wales, a rise of 22 per cent on the year before and the highest level since 1998-1999. Blacks were six times more likely to be searched, an increase on the previous year, while there were twice as many searches of Asian people as whites.

Hazel Blears, a Home Office minister, said: "I am concerned about the undermining of confidence in the criminal justice system by stop and search, and that is why I am saying that we need a change in the way that we deal with these issues."

Ministers are establishing an "action team" to review the use of stop and search. It is also setting up a "community panel" designed to build confidence in the policy among groups perceived to be unfairly treated by it.

The Home Office also revealed yesterday that all ethnic minority groups continued to be under-represented in the police service.

LABOUR PEER PICKED OUT FROM AIRPORT QUEUE

Nazir Ahmed, a Muslim businessman from South Yorkshire, has been a Labour peer for six years. But that did not exempt him from being singled out by customs officers and plain-clothes police as he queued recently for a flight from Heathrow airport to Saudi Arabia.

"They explained that they were looking for money that could have been used for terrorist activity," he said.

He and a colleague were also picked out from 65 passengers for checks before a flight to Boston.

Lord Ahmed said: "We were the only Asian-looking men with beards in the queue. They took me into a separate area and went through my luggage item by item. It was embarrassing.

"When I questioned why I was being checked, the first reaction was: 'Don't you use the race card with me.' "

Lord Ahmed also recalled that a Muslim man coming to visit him in April was stopped and searched a few hundred yards from the House of Lords.

He said that communities were being alienated because "people are being stopped because of the way they look".