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Blair confronts 'evil ideology'



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Acts of terror

LONDON, England (CNN) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair met Muslim leaders on Tuesday to discuss ways of tackling homegrown Islamic extremism in the wake of the July 7 terrorist attacks in London.

Blair said that those present -- clerics, lawmakers and business leaders --shared a "strong desire" to "confront this evil ideology, take it on and defeat it by the force of reason."

The meeting comes as a new poll published by the Guardian newspaper revealed that two-thirds of Britons believed the London bombings were linked to the UK's role in the war in Iraq.

Some 33 percent said Blair bore "a lot of responsibility" for the attacks which killed 56 people, including the four suspected bombers, and injured more than 700.

A further 31 percent said he bore "a little" responsibility. Three-quarters of those polled also believed further suicide attacks were likely.

Speaking after Tuesday's meeting, Blair rejected speculation that British foreign policy had influenced the London bombers.

"When people talk about the links between Iraq, Afghanistan or Palestine and what has happened, yes it is true these people will use these things as an excuse," said Blair.

"My view is that they will use whatever is going on in foreign policy to justify what they do ... or just generally the fact that Britain is an ally of America.

"It is not that their means are wrong but their ends are right. Everything about their ideology and what they stand for is wrong."

Blair's comments followed Foreign Secretary Jack Straw dismissal of a report by two leading think tanks which claimed that Britain's close alliance with the U.S. over Iraq had put the country at particular risk of terrorist attack. (Full Story)

Meanwhile wire services reported that Pakistani security forces had detained 25 people as part of an investigation into possible links between Islamic militants and the London attacks.

On Monday Pakistani intelligence and immigration officials told CNN that two of the suspected bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan, 30, and Shahzad Tanweer, 22, had traveled to Karachi in November 2004. (Full Story)

Tuesday's meeting with Muslim representatives at Downing Street was also attended by Conservative and Liberal Democrat opposition leaders Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy.

Blair, who also met Afghan president Hamid Karzai on Tuesday, described the talks as "heartening."

"The meeting revolved around a very strong desire of people from right across the Muslim community in our country to be united, not just in a condemnation of the terrible terrorist attacks here in London but also to confront and deal head-on with the extremism that is based on a perversion of the true faith of Islam," Blair told a press conference.

Lawmaker Shahid Malik, parliamentary representative for Dewsbury where one of the bomb suspects lived, said that Muslims faced a "profound challenge."

"We recognize we've got to work better at confronting those evil voices -- as minute as they are -- inside our communities," he said.

Muslim representatives have expressed shock that the four men suspected of carrying out the bombings were all born in the UK.

On Monday British imams issued a fatwa condemning violence that will be read at mosques during prayers later this week. The religious edict ruled that suicide bombings were "vehemently prohibited."

Conservative party leader Howard said the Muslim community had a responsibility "for reaching out to those who have been the targets of the merchants of evil and hatred."

CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley said the government wanted better regulations controlling the admittance of imams and holy leaders into the UK and "stricter standards applied to those who influence impressionable young people."

Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, the country's largest Islamic group, told Reuters that any initiatives should be based on a partnership between government, police and faith organizations.

"The Muslim community should not be treated as a problematic community, but treated as a community that is willing to play its role in the mainstream," said Sacranie.

But Anjem Choudary, UK leader of the militant Islamist group al-Muhajiroun, told BBC radio that Muslim leaders should not meet Blair for talks.

Choudary said that no division between moderates and extremists existed in Islam and refused to condemn the London attacks.

"I don't think one should legitimately sit down and negotiate. I think the time for talking, quite honestly, is over. Now is the time for action. You can't sit down and negotiate while you are murdering Muslims in Iraq," said Choudary.

On Monday evening British Home Secretary Charles Clarke announced plans to introduce new antiterror legislation before the end of the year that would ban militant preachers from inciting terrorism.

The measures, which include a new offence of "indirect incitement to terrorism," will be put before lawmakers in October.

The bill would forbid activities such as accessing terrorist Web sites and acquiring bomb-making materials and make it an offence to undergo terrorist training. It would also ban preachers who praise terrorist attacks.

"We believe that is the right way to go and we believe it will enable us to address the threat which we face with the unity and determination which is critical," Clarke said after talks with his Conservative and Liberal Democrat counterparts.

The British government faced fresh criticism on Tuesday over revelations that security services failed to detain one of the bombers after linking him to an alleged plot to explode a truck bomb in London.

UK newspapers reported that Mohammad Sidique Khan had visited a man allegedly involved in the plot, which led to eight arrests in March 2004. The eight suspects are due to face trial later this year.

Charles Shoebridge, a security analyst and former counterterrorism intelligence officer, told The Associated Press that if the report was true it would be "evidence of an enormous failure."

The New York Times on Monday claimed that British intelligence officials had concluded less than a month before the bombings that there was no group intent on or capable of launching an imminent attack, prompting the government to lower its formal threat assessment from "severe defined" to "substantial."

The newspaper, citing a confidential intelligence report, said the assessment was particularly surprising because it stated that terror-related activity in the UK was a direct result of the country's role in the war in Iraq. (Full Story)

"Events in Iraq are continuing to act as motivation and a focus of a range of terrorist related activity in the U.K.," the report said.

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