David Cameron was accused by ministers of "playing politics with the terrorist threat" after criticising the Government for failing to do enough to protect the public from home-grown Islamic extremists.
The Tory leader abandoned the cross-party consensus that had existed after John Reid, the Home Secretary, revealed last week the foiled terror plot to blow up transatlantic airliners. Mr Cameron, who has just returned from holiday, attacked ministers for a series of security failures and accused Mr Reid of grabbing headlines while failing to take tougher action with Muslim extremists. He insisted that the Conservatives wanted to work with ministers but said: "I do not believe the Government is doing enough to fight Islamist extremism."
He also questioned why so few "preachers of hate" had been prosecuted or expelled. Existing laws had not been used to deal with the radicalisation "that is rife within our shores," he said. And he accused the Government of funding conferences addressed by Yusuf Qaradawi, a preacher who he claimed had said: "We must plant the love of death in the Islamic nation."
He also protested that little was done to minimise the impact of imams "who come to Britain and preach, often with little knowledge or appreciation of British values".
Mr Cameron said: "A year ago, we were promised tough and concerted action to deal with the community crisis in our midst, but precious little has actually been done."
In a clear signal that he intends to target Gordon Brown, the Tory leader accused the Chancellor of sabotaging the anti-terror campaign by freezing the Home Office budget for three years.
John Prescott called Mr Cameron's remarks "almost beyond belief".
The Deputy Prime Minister said: "At a time when we should all stand united in the face of alleged terrorist threats, he seeks to undermine that unity."
A Labour Party spokes-man said: "David Cameron may be desperate to play politics with the terrorist threat, but his facts are as wrong as his judgement."
Mr Prescott hinted yesterday that some of the 22 suspects arrested last week will be released without charge, but others will face, "very serious" charges.
The Deputy Prime Minister made his comments after a private meeting in his office with the four Muslim Labour MPs and two other MPs who represent constituencies where last week's arrests were made.
The Tory leader also called for telephone tapping evidence against terror suspects to be made admissible in courts. And he made clear that the Tories would not drop their opposition to the extension of detention of suspected terrorists from 28 days to 90 days.
The strength of Mr Cameron's attack may be linked to criticism by grassroots Tory supporters that he was "too nice" to the Government. Responding to a Tory document, called Built to Last, one party member said: "Opportunity after opportunity has been there for attack on the policies of this dreadful Government but Cameron is silent. We are being too silent, too nice to those in power and seemingly afraid to show our arm."
Tories also complained about the failure to offer explicit tax cuts.Reuse content