French officials accuse Blair of hypocrisy over militants

War on Terrorism: Europe
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Britain was accused of hypocrisy by the French press yesterday for presenting itself as an implacable warrior against terrorism while London is a hotbed of extremist Islamic activity.

The fact that 11 of the 19 suicide hijackers may have spent time in Britain is no coincidence, according to French officials. They say that London has become a breeding ground for extremist attacks on Western and moderate Arab targets, partly because of the laxity of successive British governments, and partly because of British traditions of freedom of speech and the UK's strong links with the Islamic world.

No less than nine countries are embroiled in proceedings to try to extradite suspected terrorists from Britain, according to French officials. France itself has spent five years ­ without success ­ trying to repatriate Rachid Ramda, in Brixton prison, who is accused of masterminding Algerian terror attacks on the Paris metro in 1995.

When the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, visited Cairo last week, similar complaints were made by Egyptian officials and the Egyptian press about Egyptian extremists operating in London.

The trail of those involved in the New York and Washington atrocities has also been picked up in several other European countries, including Germany, Belgium and France itself. But the extreme irritation of French officials and the French press has been generated by the contrast between the British Government's self-appointed status as number one ally in America's "war against terrorism" and what is seen as previous British laxity and complacency.

The French newspaper, Le Journal du Dimanche, said yesterday: "Tony Blair, who is openly calling for a war-like response, is finding himself increasingly accused [by his allies] of hypocrisy.

The newspaper contrasted the previous hesitancy of British political, police and judicial authorities with the instant expulsion to France last week of a French-Algerian, Kamel Daoudi, 27, suspected of involvement in a separate terrorist plot to attack American targets in France. It also emerged last week that a French-Algerian suspect in the US attacks ­ Zacarias Moussaoui, who was arrested in Boston on a French tip-off before the New York and Washington atrocities ­ had also spent several years in London.

British officials say that action is always taken against alleged terrorists if a clear complaint is made by a foreign government. But the suspects cannot be denied their right to appeal against extradition through the British courts.