Islamic exiles 'flocking to safe haven in London'

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The Independent Online
In the past year anti-terrorist officers and MI5 have warned of a likely increase in activities by Algerian terrorists in Britain.

Yesterday that fear was highlighted by reports that an Algerian Muslim extremist living in London had helped to organise the current bombing campaign in France. The man, named under his pseudonym of Abou Fares, is reported to be behind an extremist Islamic fundamentalist publication called Al Ansar, published in London and distributed at mosques on Fridays throughout the capital. The magazine has called for the shooting of Westerners in Algeria, kidnapping and murder of government officials and the hijacking of aircraft. Fund-raising operations have been established in London since the early Eighties.

The police and MI5 have stepped up surveillance of Islamic radicals after strong protests from France and Algeria that London has become a haven for exiles plotting the assassination of intellectuals, politicians and journalists in Algeria. Al Ansar ("The Partisan") calls for a holy war, and is thought to have links with Algeria's Armed Islamic Group (GIA). Jean-Francois Deniau, a former head of the French parliament's foreign affairs committee, said yesterday that London played a key role in financing Muslim groups. "Financially it is always the centre. In the Muslim world, the countries with the cash are the anglophone ones," he said.

On Tuesday, Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, denied that London had become a haven for Islamic fundamentalist guerrillas.

Since the early Eighties Muslim groups from Afghanistan have had contacts and fund-raisers among the Muslim community in Britain. There is also evidence to suggest money from this country has been channelled to Islamic fundamentalist groups operating in Egypt.

The Algerian government claims that because Britain's asylum laws do not proscribe political activity as long as it does not break British law, dissident exiles are flocking to London to take advantage of the good communications and large number of Arab newspapers published here. A network offers accommodation, money and legal advice.

The GIA wants France, the former colonial power, to end its support for Algeria's military-backed authorities, who cancelled a 1992 election which Muslim fundamentalists were poised to win. About 50,000 people have subsequently died in the fighting. The GIA has demanded that France end economic aid, estimated at 5bn francs (pounds 640m) a year.

In a television interview last week, President Jacques Chirac for the first time linked French economic aid to Algeria to progress made towards democracy. The French government has repeatedly stated its neutrality in Algeria's presidential election late this month, but has banned all demonstrations linked to the election, and has restricted on security grounds the number of days on which Algerians living in France can cast their votes.