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Attention upsets UK town's Muslims

The Muslim community of Luton, England, drew media attention following reports that two of its members died in Afghanistan  

By CNN's Jim Boulden

LUTON, England (CNN) -- Britain's vast Muslim communities have been split ever since the attacks in America on September 11 and the subsequent bombing of Afghanistan.

A tiny minority has called for a jihad, or holy war, against the United States and its allies, and there has been endless speculation in the press about young British Muslims going to fight for the Taliban.

Then recently, reports hit the small English town of Luton, north of London, that at least two young men from its community died in a U.S. bombing raid.

Some members of Luton's Central Mosque -- the region's largest -- say the reports are true, while others doubt it.

Either way, many in Luton are upset at the unwanted media spotlight that's hit the Muslim community and exposed the rift among its members.

"I think a lot of what we hear is just talk. And some young people, they are more aggressive," said one Luton shopkeeper from Bangladesh.

Head to head: Muslims debate joining Taliban 

The television cameras descended upon Luton when a radical Islamic group known as al-Muhajiroun claimed that at least three British Muslims, including two from Luton, were killed in Afghanistan by U.S. bombs.

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To the horror of many local Muslims, al-Muhajiroun brought its brand of Islam to Luton's streets.

"Those people who believe they want to do jihad physically, by all means they can go out to Afghanistan and do jihad physically. Obviously if they do jihad physically and they die, they become martyr, they become 'shaeed', they earn paradise themselves," said Shahid of al-Muhajiroun.

Muslim community leaders were quick to dismiss these views.

"They are at the fringes," said Imam Masood Hazarvi. "They are youngsters and part of the young generation, and sometimes they are carried away with their emotions and sentiments."

Ibral Hussain, 27, says he knew one of the Luton men reported to have died, but that few others in the community will go to Afghanistan.

"I wouldn't say a lot of them would go. There might be one or two. But I wouldn't say a lot," he said.

The British government has a warning for any young British-born Muslims who may end up fighting British troops.

"Anyone who is contemplating going to Afghanistan does need to think very carefully about the consequences, both to them and their families in terms of the grief they may suffer, as well as contemplate the legal action that might follow on their return, if they were to return," said British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon.

Members of al-Muhajiroun brought their radical brand of Islam to Luton's streets  

The Pakistani-born imam of Luton's Central Mosque says no one here is going to fight in Afghanistan. But like many Muslims around the world, he says he cannot support parts of the war on terror.

"The criminals who did this in America, they should be caught, they should be punished. But by the name of them, don't kill the people in Afghanistan," said Imam Masoud Ahbed.

In one of Luton's smaller mosques, there are words of caution -- and hope -- from an English convert to Islam.

"Part of the problem we have is that a lot of people are caught between two cultures," says Adam Armstrong of the Call to Islam Centre.

"So, they are neither Muslim nor British. They are caught between the two cultures, and that's a problem for a lot of people. ... But as with the Gulf War, I think things will quiet down and people will get back to their normal life, once things have settled down."


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