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Blair under fire as Muslims split on "martyr" bombers

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, July 4 (Reuters) Prime Minister Tony Blair said today he was trying to engage with Britain's Muslim community but Islamic extremism could not be defeated by government alone.

Blair came under fire for failing to improve relations as a poll showed 13 per cent of Britain's 1.6 million Muslims think the four Islamic suicide bombers who killed 52 people in London last year should be regarded as ''martyrs''.

The prime minister said moderate Muslim leaders had to do more to change attitudes.

''Government itself cannot go and root out the extremism in these communities,'' he told a parliamentary committee. ''I am not the person to go into the Muslim community and explain to them that this extreme view is not the true face of Islam.'' Blair said the threat of further attacks on Britain was ''clear and active'', and he wanted ''our police and our security services focused on dealing with that threat''.

Blair was also criticised by one of his own Labour lawmakers, who said members of a Muslim task force set up after the bomb attacks on July seven last year were frustrated and despondent at the lack of progress.

Sadiq Khan, a British-born Muslim, said Blair was behaving like the nursery rhyme character the Duke of York -- ''marching all these talented British Muslims up the hill of consultation and dialogue, only to march them down again''.

He said some Muslims - already ''some of the most disillusioned and ... disenfranchised members of our community'' - would feel yet more alienated.

A poll conducted by Populus for The Times newspaper today showed 13 per cent of Muslims said the bombers should be seen as ''martyrs'' and a further seven per cent said suicide attacks on civilians in the UK could be justified in some circumstances.

Khan described the poll's findings -- published ahead of Friday's anniversary of the attacks known to Britons as 7/7 -- as ''alarming and distressing''.

''It only takes one person to have those views [to] lead to devastation,'' he told BBC radio.

Seven working groups were set up in the wake of the July seven attacks to form a ''Preventing Extremism Together'' task force.

They reported back to the government last November with 64 recommendations, including a call for a full public inquiry.

Blair said the government had acted on many recommendations but did not agree there should be a public inquiry.

''I profoundly disagree that the problem here is that the government hasn't acted,'' he added. ''We are not having a debate of a fundamental enough nature within the community, which is where the moderate majority go and stand up against the ideas of those people, not just their methods.'' But Simon Mundy of the Centre for Defence Studies at King's College London which has compiled a study on the impact of the London bombings, said shifting responsibility to the Muslim community was not the answer.

''The government has put an awful lot of effort into the security side but it hasn't invested anything like as much energy into the cultural side,'' he said.

REUTERS SRS BD1818

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