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Underwear bomber's London mosque under pressure

Members of the East London Mosque say they feel increased scrutiny since Nigerian "underwear bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up an airplane. 

By Staff writer / February 19, 2010

The East London Mosque on the city’s Whitechapel Road emptied after prayers in October.

Mary Knox Merrill/STAFF



It's Friday evening at the East London Mosque, off Whitechapel Road. London's terror threat level is "severe." Tony Blair is defending the Iraq invasion. As one Pakistani adherent in the mosque says quietly, "it is not an easy time to be a Muslim in London."

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Yet doors open, shoes slip off, men say "salaam" with conscious courtesy. Solemnity mixes with an easy camaraderie. This mosque, dating to 1910, is a center of the community. Apartment listings flutter off a wall near a book table. One display certificate shows more than $20,000 collected for Haitian earthquake victims. Another shows the take from the Friday prayer: some $8,000.

The scene evokes a Dec. 17 comment by Prince Charles at a black tie gala London dinner for the Islamic Relief fund, many of whose officials pray here: "We hear rather too much misleading information about a small minority of your community and not nearly enough about the vastly more numerous acts of compassion.…"

Yet only days later, that minority came front and center – in the failed Christmas bombing of an airliner by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian who reportedly prayed at this mosque while a university student in London.

At the height of the Iraq war, among stalls lining Whitechapel Road, young Muslims handed out leaflets about jihad study groups. Much of this culture has been curbed or gone underground. With police closely watching more radical groups at nearby Finsbury Park, some migrate here, not wanting trouble.

Still, London's significant Muslim community – a "silent majority," as Khizar Humayun Ansari of Royal Holloway, University of London, calls it – feels again under a cloud.

In interviews that often start with suspicion, it is clear that Muslims here love Britain and, as in any large family or church, they feel saddened by the student who attempted to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight. How often Mr. Abdulmutallab prayed at East London is unknown.