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+ Overview

The controversial Finsbury Park mosque, North London.

There are 1.6 million Muslims among a total of approximately 59.2 million in the United Kingdom. Nearly 60 percent of the Muslim population hold British citizenship, and many of them were born in the U.K. Muslim immigrants tend to hail from former colonial territories Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. The Muslim Council of Britain serves as the community's lobby group, and Muslims tend to be more active in politics than other minorities.

Muslims in Britain reportedly face a considerable amount of discrimination, especially in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. They have the lowest employment rate among members of all religions and tend to live in segregated communities. In the year following 9/11, the Islamic Human Rights Commission reports 344 violent incidents against Muslims, and another spike occurred after the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings. Muslims also face targeting from law enforcement; they are part of the most likely demographic to be stopped and searched, and the ratio of terror-related arrests to convictions is disproportionately high.

The government has taken a number of actions in an effort to improve the situation. The year 2003 saw the opening of a Faith Communities Unit in the Home Office, as well as the passage of Employment Equality (Religion of Belief) Regulations. The Anti-Terrorism, Crime, and Security Act of 2001 includes a clause for harsher penalties for religiously-motivated hate crimes, but it has also been blamed for unnecessarily harsh treatment of Muslims at the hands of law enforcement. The section of the law that permits indefinite detention of suspects without charge -- under which 10 Muslim men were detained -- was declared a violation of human rights and overturned in the House of Lords in December 2004. In July 2004, the government announced it would review the police practice of stop and search.

+ Major Terrorist Plots and Arrests

+ In February 2001, Abu Doha, suspected of funding the millennium plot to target the Los Angeles airport, was detained by British police at Heathrow while trying to board a plane for Saudi Arabia. He is fighting extradition to the United States.

+ In January 2003, British police conducted raids in London, Manchester and elsewhere and arrested 13 North Africans suspected of ties to Al Qaeda and Ansar al-Islam. In one of the London raids, police found a ricin-making laboratory. The British cell is suspected of ties to other ricin cells in Spain and France, as well as links to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a leader in the Iraq insurgency.

+ In November 2003, truck bombs were detonated outside of the British consulate as well as the British HSBC Bank in Istanbul. The British consul general and nine consulate staff members, as well as three bank employees and 14 others, were killed in the attacks. According to Turkish officials, a local Al Qaeda cell was believed to be behind the attacks.

+ In May 2004, Abu Hamza al-Masri, the outspoken and controversial leader of the Finsbury Park Mosque (whose attendants included shoe bomber Richard Reid and suspected 20th hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui) was arrested at the request of the U.S., which wants his extradition on allegations that he set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon and sent recruits to Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The following October, he was charged with 16 offenses in the U.K., including allegations of soliciting the murder of Jews and other non-believers in Islam, stirring up racial hatred and possessing Al Qaeda literature. Under British law, Hamza must stand trial for the British charges before he can be extradited to the U.S.

+ In August 2004, British officials arrested 12 men, including an alleged senior Al Qaeda member known as Abu Eisa al-Hindi or Abu Musa al-Hindi. He was suspected of having authored surveillance reports of five U.S. financial institutions -- the Citigroup building, the New York Stock Exchange, the Prudential building in Newark, N.J., the International Monetary Fund in Washington D.C. and the World Bank, also in Washington -- that led to a heightened security alert in the U.S. Police also suspected al-Hindi was behind a plot to attack Heathrow airport.

+ During morning rush hour on July 7, 2005, four explosions ripped through the London transport system, affecting three separate areas of the Underground and one double-decker bus. The bombings killed 56 people, including the four suspected bombers, and injured more than 700. Two weeks later on July 21, four unexploded devices were found in London; three on underground subway trains and one on a bus. The trial of the five men accused in the attempted bombings is scheduled to begin in September 2006. The London transit attacks resulted in changes in U.K. law related to the advocacy of terrorism and a general crackdown on the radical fundamentalist Islamic community.

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posted jan. 25, 2005; updated feb. 6, 2006

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