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UK approach to militant Islamists holds lessons for US

The UK says the US could learn from its counter-terrorism strategies to handle militant Islamists, which include increased cooperation between intelligence agencies and reaching out to Britain's 2.5 million Muslims.

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A nudge rather than a push

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It is, says the Home Office, a nudge rather than a push in the right direction.

But Glees says the fundamental hostility of some Muslims isn’t being addressed. “I’ve spoken to moderate clerics here who believe that the political system we have should be run by imams articulating religious law – the sharia,” he says.

British Muslims, meanwhile, are tired of being viewed through the prism of terror. There is widespread suspicion of the creep of the government into mosques and once-trusted community organizations.

“Prevent” is divisive, says Salim Mulla, chair of the Lancashire Council of Mosques, which represents nearly 70 mosques. “It is a total waste of time and money,” he says. “The overwhelming majority of mosques will not apply for funding, because its terms attribute terror to Muslims.... If the Home Office wants to help, it should have consulted the individuals and institutions that have fought extremism for years before it settled on this strategy.”

The progressive elements in Muslim communities also fear being stigmatized, argues Arun Kundnani, author of a study on Prevent titled “Spooked – how not to prevent violent extremism.”

“Every community group receiving government cash is being seen as an agent of the state. That means people who want to engage in democratic expressions of their values and beliefs, perhaps in relation to British foreign policy, may end up without a space to air their views for fear of being offered up as potential terrorists,” he says. “That boosts ... those who say that British democracy is pointless.”

There are further fears that schools, local authorities, and volunteer groups are poking around for signs of nonexistent extremism.

A suspicious Muslim community could be a boon to extremists who, armed with the Internet, have proved adept at inspiring and training people to carry out attacks. Many foiled plots were hatched beyond the influence of mosques or intelligence services.

But Prevent has had success.

Suicide arrest

In July, Muslim convert Andrew Ibrahim was sentenced to a minimum of 10 years in jail for possession of a homemade suicide vest after a tip-off from sources at a Bristol mosque.

There has not been a successful attack on British soil since 2005. There is also anecdotal evidence that extremist groups and radical clerics are losing their touch.

In 2005, well before the London bombings, moderate Muslims seized control of Finsbury Park Mosque in North London, made notorious by firebrand cleric Abu Hamza. Al Qaeda operatives who had visited the mosque included Zacarias Moussaoui, charged in the United States in connection with 9/11, and Richard Reid, a British citizen serving a life sentence in the US for trying to detonate a bomb on an American flight.

Lord West, the counterterrorism minister, last month said there are 2,000 people under surveillance as a “security threat” to the country.

Ghaffar Hussain of the Quilliam Foundation, the United Kingdom’s first counterextremism think tank, says terrorists are bonded by an ideology that flourishes in Web chat rooms. “All it takes is a big issue such as Iraq to act as a recruiting sergeant,” he says. “But I don’t think those messages are coming from mosques or anyone attached to them anymore.”

Mr. Malla says: “No matter how much we speak out against terror, we are always under pressure. There are always a few rotten apples but our whole community is held responsible for them.”