Muslim Council checks for extremists

The Muslim Council of Britain has set up an investigation into mosques, women's organisations and Islamic youth centres across the country to root out extremism.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the council, told The Independent that the council, which has more than 400 affiliates and is the most powerful Muslim body in the country, had set up the focus groups to locate and combat the terrorist threat. Its early findings will be revealed in a national conference in September, he said.

The move comes amid allegations that the council is failing mainstream Muslims and has its roots in extremist politics. Sir Iqbal dismissed the reports of alleged extremist links as "absolute nonsense".

Sir Iqbal, who was knighted this year and is regarded by the government as the voice of moderate Islam, said the efforts to discredit the organisation were born from an "Islamophobic agenda". A report in The Observer claimed yesterday that Sir Iqbal and the council's spokesman, Inayat Bunglawala, had expressed admiration for the late Maulana Maududi, the founder of the Jamaat-i-Islami party, which is an elected religious party in Pakistan.

Sir Iqbal defended Mawdudi, saying he had a huge following among the Muslim intelligentsia. "We agree with many of his views and disagree with some. The Jamaat-i-Islami party happens to be a perfectly legitimate and democratic party, which through an alliance with other parties, is in power in the North-west Frontier province of Pakistan," he said.

He added The Observer had provided no evidence for the claim that the Jamiat-ahl-I-Hadith, a council affiliate based in Birmingham was "separatist".

Sir Iqbal said: "The Jamiat-ahl-I-Hadith are respected among British Muslims for their educational and outreach programmes. It is absolute nonsense to describe them as separatist. They are not an extremist sect but a national body."

The dispute comes in the wake of a warning by American intelligence sources that al-Qa'ida could be plotting another terrorist attack around the fourth anniversary of the 11 September attacks onWashington DC and New York. The warning that terrorists were planning to hijack fuel tankers and blow them up inside petrol stations for maximum casualties was contained in a bulletin issued by the Department for Homeland Security.

Britain's level of security had already been heightened after the July 7 bombings in London and the Department for Transport has issued guidelines ordering that security around the fleet of UK road tankers be tightened.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Council of Britain said it stood by its claim, contained in a letter to the BBC's director general, Mark Thompson, that a Panorama documentary about British Muslim organisations had a "pro-Israeli agenda".

The letter stated: "The BBC should not allow itself to be used by the highly placed supporters of Israel in the British media to make political capital out of the July 7 atrocities in London."

Mr Bunglawala said he thought that the maker of the documentary, John Ware, had "an axe to grind" in the wake of the London bombings.

The organisation has also sent a letter to the Home Office minister, Hazel Blears, that calls an independent judicial inquiry into the events of July 7.

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