LONDON - A day after the detention of eight Muslims by police, leaders of the country's 2 million Muslims issued a letter yesterday calling on believers in Britain to shun extremism and political violence.
The statement, signed by the secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, was sent to imams, scholars and all other leaders of mosques, Islamic organizations and institutions throughout Britain. It was to be read out at the country's 1,000 mosques tomorrow.
The council said the letter was in the works even before Tuesday's arrests and seizure of a half-ton of potentially explosive ammonium nitrate in the largest counter-terrorist raid in Britain since the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
In the letter, the council instructed Muslim leaders to "provide the correct Islamic guidance ... especially to our youth, as to our obligation to maintain the peace and security of our country." They also were asked to "observe the utmost vigilance against any mischievous or criminal elements from infiltrating the community."
"We will not tolerate terrorism," said Secretary-General Iqbal Sacranie. But the council also criticized some news reports relating to the arrests, particularly headlines about an "Islamic Bomb Plot."
"This kind of sensationalized reporting has done immense damage to British Muslims as well as to community relations," the council said. It urged that British Muslims not "be daunted or intimidated by an Islamophobic propaganda."
Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking in Parliament, said the board's letter was "particularly welcome" at this time.
"The U.K. and its interests abroad remain a terrorist target," he said. "The threat affects every family in this country, Muslim and non-Muslim alike."
Tuesday's arrests, like previous detentions of Britons accused of cooperating in militant activity, caused a certain measure of soul-searching in the Muslim community. There have been calls by mainstream Muslims for curbs on radical groups that they say are tarnishing the image of Islam in Britain.
The radicals - often from abroad - are alleged to recruit and proselytize among young Muslims, especially those who are unemployed or disillusioned about their prospects.
Yassin Rehman, the head of the Council of Mosques in Luton, a suburb north of London with a large population of Pakistani origin, decried groups such as the London School of Sharia, which he said is actively seeking converts to extremism.
"Islam does not allow extremism or radicalism in any form," Rehman said Tuesday on BBC. "This country has given us freedom and we should never abuse those freedoms."
Anjem Chadoury, a spokesman for Al Muhajiroun, a Sunni Muslim organization whose Web site calls for the worldwide domination of Islam as an ideology, denied in the same BBC broadcast that his group is involved in violent activity.
Meanwhile, police said only that the eight people taken into custody were being questioned at a high-security police station in London. The youngest is 17. Police released no more information about the alleged plot.
Ansar Khan, the father of one of the eight, Ahmed Khan, 18, and uncle to two others, Omar Khyam, 22, and Shujah Khyam, 17, confirmed to BBC that they were arrested in the town of Crawley, south of London.
Ansar Khan said the three were innocent. Khan described his son as quiet and a good Muslim; he said he had warned him against being overly influenced by the local mosque.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.