British Jews fearful of young Muslim militants

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The Independent Online

The poster left no room for ambiguity. "The last hour will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and the Muslims kill the Jews."

The poster left no room for ambiguity. "The last hour will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and the Muslims kill the Jews."

The message, which appeared on university and college campuses throughout Britain last week, is the work of al-Muhajiroun, a British-based group of Islamic fundamentalists that has singularly failed to distance itself from acts of violence against the Jewish community. As fast as the authorities take the posters down, so they reappear.

A pattern is emerging that has left Britain's Jewish communities fearful. In the past few days there have been at least 12 attacks on synagogues around the country, most of them unpublicised by the Jewish authorities for fear of inflaming further violence.

Babar Mirza, a 21-year-old member of the group, confirmed that al-Muhajiroun - which has condemned the stabbing of a Jewish student on a bus - sympathises with more militant colleagues in spirit, if not in deed. "We don't believe in fighting in this country, but to support the Jihad verbally and financially."

And Mr Mirza is not remotely troubled by the accusation being levelled against his movement. "You find that we are top of the list when it comes to any violence associated with Islam. We think that's the way it should be because it enables us to get our viewpoint across. The bad publicity is to be expected really. If we were seen as a nice organisation and given good publicity we would be very worried about that. I am really happy about what the Muslims in Palestine are doing."

Yesterday, at 50 places around Britain, young men and women from Al-Muhajiroun accosted passers-by with similar messages cautioning British Jews to distance themselves from Israel.

"The conflict is with the Israelis who are oppressing and massacring my Muslim brothers and sisters," said Shamsul Islam, an Al-Muhajiroun supporter handing out leaflets in Southall, west London.

Anti-Semitic literature, rallies of Islamic students chanting "death to the Zionists" and the widespread burning of the Israeli flag have shaken British Jews.

Jewish leaders, including the Chief Rabbi, have joined with many in the Islamic world to accuse Al-Muhajiroun of manipulating the violence in the Middle East in an attempt to present it as a Jewish-Muslim conflict that should be reproduced in Britain.

In the past two weeks there have been a dozen large rallies of Islamic militants across the country. In London on Friday, more than 200 gathered before the Central Mosque in Regent's Park to call for the destruction of Israel. Amid banners that read: "Kill the Jewish occupiers in Israel" and chants of "Israel you will pay with your blood", members of Al-Muhajiroun led a slow march through central London to the Egyptian embassy, where they burned an Israeli flag and prayed.

Leaders of Al-Muhajiroun insist the demonstrations and leaflets are merely a warning to Jews not to support Israel. If they were to do so, the group argues, they risked becoming "part of the conflict".

The events of recent weeks suggest this is happening anyway. Meir David Myers, a Jewish student, was stabbed on a bus in Stamford Hill, north London, home to one of Britain's largest Jewish communities. Identifiably Jewish students have complained of intimidation at universities throughout Britain, and many have stayed away from lectures for fear of attack.

The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) has set up an emergency hotline. "This is an incitement to violence and hatred the like of which we have not seen for many years," said Marissa Sakol, campaigns director of the UJS. "This is anti-Semitism in its purest and most violent form."

Mainstream Muslims have also condemned the attacks and some mosques have sent letters of sympathy to neighbouring synagogues. When met in person, the rhetoric of Al-Muhajiroun is that of limited tolerance. "We did condemn it [the stabbing], though I may understand the psyche of the person who committed it," said Omar Bakri Mohammed, leader of Al-Muhajiroun.

"People in the British community should not be worried, because they are not part of the conflict. We are not at war with the Jewish nation. We are against the occupiers."

He added, however, that any support for Israel - "verbal, physical or financial" - would be interpreted by Muslims as an act of provocation.

Al-Muhajiroun has found fertile territory among younger Muslims. Its membership has grown significantly. Nearly 70 per cent of members are between 18 and 28.

Jewish communities have tightened security. "We've been on a raised state of alert within the Jewish community around the country for the past three weeks," said Mike Whine, of the 2,000-strong Community Security Trust, a volunteer force providing protection for Jewish shops and synagogues. "In some quarters, panic is not too strong a word. Our message is to carry on as normal, but be vigilant."