British Muslims are urged to rise up

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The Independent Online

Taleban supporters in Blackburn are being urged to engage in a "campaign of disobedience" throughout Britain, prompting fears that the continued Allied attacks on Afghanistan will precipitate a winter of civil unrest in northern England's Muslim heartlands.

West Yorkshire Police in Bradford, Halifax and Leeds have come under attack in incidents that had echoes of the summer's rioting.

And evidence has emerged in the past week that some third-generation Muslims, already nursing a sense of social and economic exclusion, are prepared to use the war as an excuse for criminal activity.

In Blackburn, a crowd of more than 200 Taliban supporters that gathered to hear oratory from proponents of the militant al-Muhajiroun was considerably larger than the usual Saturday assembly. This is a meeting place that has often seen Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary and constituency MP, stand on a bench to conduct his own constituency "Speaker's Corner" sessions.

After police ordered the crowd, which included young children, to take down banners that showed the face of Osama bin Laden and offensive references to Tony Blair and President George Bush, chants of "Jack Straw – stop the war," and "Jack Straw must go" started.

In Mr Straw's absence, Tassadiq Rehman, a 29-year Open University law undergraduate, had a clear run. He said: "We are in a war situation. We are just not going to get into the trap of planting bombs – we don't want to kill people. But civil disobedience is a legitimate strategy."

To the despair of community leaders, many young Muslims appear to have started work already, with ad hoc violence breaking out, almost identical to this summer's.

An attack on a church and vicar near the location of July's Manningham riots took place in Bradford seven days ago; a car passenger was taken to hospital with serious injuries after a brick was hurled through the window and a disabled motorist's screen was smashed with an axe by Asian youths on Harehills in Leeds.

But the most disturbing lawlessness was on November 3 in Halifax – including the destruction of the town's feted Actors Workshop theatre school

Police started preparing three weeks ago for violence around Bonfire night in the St John's Wood district of Halifax, which is 40 per cent Muslim. But the delicate problem of Muslim youths sporting provocative T-shirts depicting the World Trade Centre towers was probably not one they had expected.

Officers also fielded a call reporting a car alight in Vickerman Street, an oppressive, half-empty Victorian terrace in St John's. They attended and walked into an ambush. A small pile of rubbish was ablaze, not a car, and officers were pelted with fireworks, stones and petrol bombs from a group of up to 30 masked, hooded Kashmiri youths, aged 13 to 20, hiding behind a van. It was an identical tactic to that employed by youths on the Harehills Road in June.

According to a local councillor, Mohammed Saghir, who went in to clear the crowd with two henchmen and a truncheon borrowed from police, the bombings were "an excuse for the violence. For some, there was a genuine sense of helplessness about their brothers' plight."

He said they told him: "Our Muslim brothers are dying in Afghanistan – they are killing them – and we are doing nothing about it."

Detectives are yet to establish who had, within minutes of Mr Saghir clearing the crowd, set fire to the theatre – a mill converted at a cost of £50,000 since 1994.

"They got disappointed," Mr Saghir said. "First they had no bonfires, then they had no confrontation with police as they had hoped."

The atmosphere is proving difficult to control, with West Yorkshire officers resigned to the heavy symbolism of the arm and thigh guards, protective shields, ballistic and stab-proof vests and clothing, which they wore last week.

Superintendent Ian Levitt is infuriated by the "provocative" definition of the protective equipment as "riot gear" though his position is not helped by Mr Saghir's assertion that the youths were only "teasing" officers, not being "intentionally aggressive" – and that such heavy-duty equipment should be dispensed with.

A four-page report on the violence has been submitted, on request, to David Blunkett, the Home Secretary.

Mr Rehman – the founder of the Global Truth group, a loose alliance of activists expounding the al-Muhajiroun message – said he was prepared to "use the energies of these young Muslims in other ways". He said: "We must defend ourselves in Britain by whatever means – strikes, the young refusing to attend school and college ... whatever."