Backlash over Muslims' letter to Blair

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Muslim leaders will today face Government demands to take tougher steps to root our extremists in their midst. The demand follows a furious reaction by ministers to an open letter signed by Muslim organisations and politicians protesting that Tony Blair's stance on Iraq and the Middle East provided "ammunition" to terrorists.

Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State for Communities, will today hold talks with prominent Muslims. The talks have been hastily arranged since the alleged transatlantic bomb plot was exposed. A spokesman said she would "call for greater action to tackle terrorism". She also wanted to "hear what more the Government should do to support them".

Ms Kelly will stress that communities of all ethnic backgrounds and faiths were potential victims and that terrorists could only be defeated by national unity.

Relations between Ministers and Muslim leaders have soured after their open letter called for a shift in foreign policy "to show the world we value the lives of civilians wherever they live and whatever their religion". John Reid, Home Secretary, retorted that foreign policy could never be dictated by terrorists.

"I'm not going to question the motives of anyone who has signed this letter," he told BBC News 24. "But I think it is a dreadful misjudgement if we believe the foreign policy of this country should be shaped in part, or in whole, under the threat of terrorist activity if we do not have a foreign policy with which the terrorists happen to agree."

Other ministers have called the letter "facile", "dangerous" and "foolish" and Downing Street said Mr Blair "stands ready" to confront his critics when he returns from summer holiday and defend his record over the Middle East.

The letter was signed by 38 groups, including the Muslim Council of Britain, and three of the four Muslim MPs.

Lord Stevens, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, created controversy yesterday when he called for "passenger profiling" on flights. Writing in the News of the World, he said airport chaos could be cut by more rigorous checks for "young Muslim men". He said that similar procedures had made Israeli airports the "safest in the world".

Muhammad Abdul Bari, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: "This is an extreme form of stereotyping."

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