This piece of news has dominated much of last week's news headlines
Anti-terror sweep snares 8 men, bomb ingredients
London police seize half-ton of material
By Jill Lawless
March 31, 2004
LONDON – Police arrested eight men and seized a half-ton of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer compound used in the Oklahoma City bombing, in raids by hundreds of officers – one of the biggest anti-terrorism operations in Britain since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Home Secretary David Blunkett, who has warned for months that London is a prime terrorist target, said the arrests yesterday were a “timely reminder” of the threat from al-Qaeda. But a Muslim leader warned that the headline-grabbing dawn raids risked demonizing the community.
Press Association, the British news agency, said the eight men were of Pakistani descent. Police would not comment.
In a sweep involving 700 officers in London and towns to the south and west, the men were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the “commission, preparation or instigation” of acts of terrorism, London’s Metropolitan Police said.
Authorities recovered the ammonium nitrate, often used in terrorist bombings, from a storage facility in west London, police said. It was the largest seizure of potential bomb-making material in England since the Irish Republican Army suspended its campaign of violence in 1997.
“Part of the investigation will focus on the purchase, storage and intended use of that material,” said Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of the anti-terrorist branch of the Metropolitan Police.
Clarke said the suspects were British, aged 17 to 32. He said the operation, which involved five police forces, was not connected to the Madrid train bombings this month or to Irish terrorism.
Three of the arrests were in Uxbridge and Slough, near Heathrow Airport west of London, and four in Crawley and Horley, near Gatwick Airport to the south. Police refused to say whether there was any significance to the proximity to the airports. The eighth arrest was in Ilford, east London.
Massoud Shadjareh, chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, said such high-profile police operations fostered an impression that many Muslims supported terrorism.
“These raids are usually given a lot of importance when they are taking place but when people are released without charge it is not news,” he said.
“Our community, the Muslim community, is being demonized through these events,” he added.
Clarke, the police official, gave no details of the suspects’ backgrounds or religious affiliations, but he said that “we in the police service know that the overwhelming majority of the Muslim community are law-abiding and completely reject all forms of violence.”
Of more than 500 people arrested under the Terrorism Act since Sept. 11, 2001, about 400 have been released without charge.
Police and government officials have been warning for months that terrorists will attempt a major attack on London. Britain’s strong support for the war in Iraq makes it a prime target, and there were fresh calls for vigilance after the Madrid train bombings March 11.
Imagine a young man who, during his holidays, decides to go and spend a week with his aunt. So he does and has a lovely and relaxing time there. When he comes back, however, everything has changed. Why? Because he is brown-skinned. Because he looks different. Because he is carrying a big bag in his hand as he steps from the train and walks through the station. He who went away blithely, without any care, now comes back and finds himself scrutinised, observed, examined from near and from afar. He has immediately become Other, not only to the people around him, but also to himself; made aware that he is different, that he is not one of us but one of them. I came out of the railway station overwhelmed by a sense of disgust. I still wonder what stopped them from searching my bag. Some looked like they were really itching to do just that.
Shall I stick a placard on my forehead to tell people that –
[No, I’m not a would-be terrorist; No, being brown-skinned does not make me a Muslim. Even if I were, that doesn’t mean anything because most Muslim people I know are pacific. Religion should not become a criterion for discrimination and abuse. No, I am not so different from you – being different is no crime. I am human, after all. Yes, I can be sad and afraid too.] ?
Will that make things any better? Should I even be justifying myself? We live in uncertain, paranoid times. Who is now the enemy, and who is the victim? All things become relative – at least, according to those who choose to take sides. There has been talk (and indeed media discussion) around rising Islamophobia in the UK in the recent days. I see that problem too, but I’m not naive enough to think that only Muslims will be targeted. Religion is not inscribed onto one’s face.
Just a small anecdote: I came back on Monday. On Sunday afternoon, I was on my customary walking spree not far from my aunt’s place. Suddenly, one of the cars that was rushing past on the main road slowed down a bit; one of the windows was quickly lowered and a female voice full of hate shouted “F…ing Paki!” at me, after which the car sped away.
Hate me = Hate you; I’m tired of this.