Asian families consider quitting Britain over terror raids by police

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Asian families are considering leaving Britain for fear of being targeted and scapegoated followingthe anti-terror raid in east London on Friday, it was claimed yesterday.

Leading figures criticised the police action and many spoke of the growing anxiety among Muslim families in Forest Gate, east London, who fear being labelled extremists by the police or the local communities. Several others warned that "heavy-handed" police action was breeding hatred in some sectors.

Tensions were heightened by the confusing circumstances surrounding the raid by about 200 police. Mohammed Abdul Kahar, 23, who was shot in the shoulder, and his brother, Abul Koyair, 20, have been arrested on suspicion of being involved in a terrorist chemical plot. Specialist officers continue to search the house.

Last night, senior Scotland Yard officers stressed again that fears of a terror attack meant they had no other option but to raid the house.

Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman, head of Specialist Operations at Scotland Yard, said police had been given "specific intelligence" about the address, although he declined to discuss the origins of the information or any details of what it contained.

Solicitors say both men deny involvement in any terrorist plot.

But the scale of the police operation has led some to question their safety and fear that Muslims are increasingly becoming scapegoats in the domestic war on terror.

Saeed Butt, 49, who moved back to Pakistan with his children after the July bombings last year, said he was relieved he was no longer living in east London. His return to the Forest Gate area on holiday coincided with the police raid.

"I came to this country four decades ago but left last year with my children who were born here because I felt, more and more, like we were being picked on. I didn't want my children brought up feeling unsafe. Now I feel that anyone can wake up in the night and have their house raided. The intelligence needs to be 100 per cent if they are going to do what they did on Friday," he said.

Mohammed Azhar, a Kashmiri Briton who owns a furniture shop metres from the police cordon on Lansdown Road, said people were now "terrified" of being mistaken for extremists.

"People feel unsafe and are thinking 'we should go', and these are people who have given a lot to this country. They have worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

"We are angry and we are scared. It's a case of shooting first and asking questions later. It's day four and where's the evidence? They can say anyone is a terrorist," he said.

Many spoke of their fear of damaged community relations after the raid, and said inter-community relations and their relationship with the police had been badly affected.

Faruk Khan, 32, who owns an Islamic gift shop near by, warned the raid could have the opposite of the desired effect in the fight against radicalism. "The [police] are making hatred grow. In trying to solve the problem, the police and government are creating more of it," he said.

Sharaf Mahmood, 23, a Labour councillor in the borough of Newham, reassured the community, but he criticised the lack of police transparency after the raid and said anxiety and fear would grow for as long as vital questions went unanswered.

"I'm most concerned about community safety and community awareness. Information needs to be given to the community. I'm feeling quite annoyed that there's been no communication to make them feel comfortable and safe.

"People's anger and frustration will bubble up to the surface and this should not be allowed to happen. The Forest Gate community is very mixed and full of very nice people. The longer these questions will go unanswered, the longer these feelings will rise in the area," he said. But Muhammad Abdul Bari, the new secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, who last night visited the people of Forest Gate in a show of solidarity, said the community must "remain strong" until there was greater clarity. "We have been in talks with senior police officers and the Police Complaints Commission and while there is the potential in the community for anger, it must not be misdirected," he said.

'I am called 'Paki' and feel unsafe because of the colour of my skin'

Muhammed Ahmed, vice chair at Forest Gate Mosque, of Bangladeshi origin:

"The public does not feel safe. It feels terrorised and [some] are thinking of going home, even if they were born here. Unless [the police] improve their attitude towards Muslims, they will not improve their relationship with the community. Action like this creates hatred for police."

Muhammed Abdullah, 50, of Somali origin, who fled violence in his home country:

"I am scared for my children. I am scared for my people. I came here to escape violence and persecution and guns, but it is here on my door. It's unfair. I came here to be safe but no one is safe here now. Everyone is at risk."

Jaffer Khan, a military officer who emigrated from Afghanistan:

"The way the police conducted this raid is nonsense. They should have done their job properly. The police should now provide some evidence to suggest these men did something wrong to prove they are not racist."

Amina Begum, 16, a London-born GCSE student of Bangladeshi origin:

"I'm sure [the police] had a reason for raiding the house but it's the fact that they have not found anything. It has made people scared because they think their house may be next. Some boys at school are really angry."

Aysha Qureshi, 27, a receptionist of Pakistani origin:

"I think they are just picking on anyone randomly. They haven't produced evidence to suggest otherwise. I have felt more and more insecure about going out by myself as an Asian recently. I am called 'Paki' and I feel unsafe because of the colour of my skin."

Soham Singh, a businessman who emigrated from India:

"I am not sure why this man's house was raided and if he and his brother are terrorists, would they really have kept their chemicals in their family homes?"