LONDON (AFP) – Anger at police treatment of British Muslims is growing in east London where people plan to hold a protest this weekend, with some even urging the community to stop cooperating with the authorities.
Members of the area’s large South Asian population feel they are being unjustly targeted by the police in the fight against terrorism.
They cite a massive raid on a house in Forest Gate last Friday in which two British Muslim brothers were arrested, one of whom was shot.
Both men remain in custody but neither has been charged and investigators at the property on Lansdown Road have seemingly failed to find any evidence of a possible terrorist plot.
“People in the community are angry about the raid, they are angry about the shooting, they are angry about the lack of evidence and they are angry that the two men have been detained for so long without charge,” John Rees, national secretary of the anti-Iraq war political party Respect, told AFP.
Mohammed Abdul Kahar, 23, and 20-year-old Abul Koyair were due to learn Wednesday whether the authorities planned to press charges, ask to hold them for longer or set them free.
Angry at the situation, scores of largely Muslim locals packed a community centre near the brothers’ house on Tuesday evening to hear speeches criticising police and government tactics by Rees, Yvonne Ridley, a journalist and fellow Respect member, and Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee.
Rees drew comparisons between Friday’s operation and the bungled police shooting of an innocent Brazilian man in the aftermath of last year’s July 7 attacks on the London transport network by four British Muslim extremist suicide bombers.
“There is, at the very least, the gravest possible grounds for concern and the most pressing need for people to voice their misgivings if two innocent people are shot by the police in the same city in less than 12 months,” he told the meeting.
Hoping to rally up to 1,000 people against the latest shooting and anti-terror raid, pressure group Stop Political Terror is organising a demonstration on Sunday afternoon outside the Forest Gate police station.
“The purpose is to unite and make sure we get the message that no one should use this as an opportunity to divide our wonderful and very colourful community,” said lawyer Abdurahman Jafar, who is involved in the protest.
Ridley, a patron of Stop Political Terror, called on the Muslim community, including its leaders, to go one step further.
She told the meeting she wanted people “to boycott the police and refuse to cooperate with them in any way, shape or form”, prompting applause from the audience.
“From today until this ‘terroristisation’ of the Muslim community is stopped immediately I believe all Muslims should withdraw their support,” she said.
The campaigner added that a police boycott by British Muslims would hamper what she felt was already flawed information gathering.
Several people quizzed by AFP after the meeting pledged to shun the police and join in the protest rally.
“Action speaks louder than words. People will ignore them,” said Hanif Patel, 46, a railway engineer who moved to Britain from India 32 years ago.
His friend, Ahmed Khan, a 47-year-old delivery man originally from Pakistan, said of London’s Metropolitan Police: “I have very little faith in them.”
Despite the angry noises from the meeting hall, Abdul Karim Sheikh, a local councillor for Respect, insisted the situation was stable.
“The people are a bit worried about the safety and security but the community at large is keeping calm,” he told AFP.
Rehan Khan, a 21-year-old student who moved to Britain from Pakistan two years ago, lives on the same road as the raided house and was caught up in the action when the operation started as he left for work at about 4.00 am.
He was escorted from the area by 15 police officers, but still supports Friday’s swoop in spite of the inconvenience.
“They are just doing their work,” Khan said.