Indian Muslims perturbed over British terror links

By M.R. Narayan Swamy, IANS

New Delhi : Muslims in India reacted Thursday with dismay, anger and disbelief over the arrest of three Indian doctors in the car bomb attack in Britain that has for the first time linked the community in this country to Al Qaeda.

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Many of the young and the old in the country's largest minority said it was difficult for them to even accept that Indian Muslims could anyway be linked to any international terror plot.

"Indian doctors plotting mass murder? I find that extremely difficult to comprehend," Kashmiri businessman Tamiiz Ahmad Dar told IANS, echoing a widely held view in the community that has until now scrupulously kept away from Al Qaeda and its terror network.

With over 140 million, India is home to the world's second largest Muslim population after Indonesia. Unlike other huge or predominantly Muslim societies, Indian Muslims have remained far away from Al Qaeda – a point that was noted globally.

The arrests of eight doctors – seven in Britain and one in Australia and including Indians – came quickly after a burning jeep loaded with gas cylinders into the doors of Glasgow airport June 30.

Dar added: "Right now, the Indians have just been detained by the authorities. But to taint them as terror suspects and say that they were part of a diabolical plot to blow up London or Scotland is something I refuse to believe."

Seven of the arrested in Britain are doctors or medical students, two Indians included. An eighth person, also a doctor and Indian, has been held in Brisbane. Another Indian was released after questioning in Australia.

Sabeed Ahmed and Mohammed Haneef have been arrested in Britain and Australia respectively. Both are from Bangalore. The man who drove the jeep and is badly burned has also been identified as an Indian doctor. The families of Ahmed and Haneef insist that the two are innocent.

Haris Beeran, 30 and a lawyer with the Supreme Court here, said that if the Indians were guilty, "it is most unfortunate thing to happen. I cannot accept it or justify it.

"I can still excuse a Pakistani or an Afghani indulging in radicalism because they are not getting any chance to mix with others or to imbibe good things from other religions of culture," Beeran told IANS.

"I think when Indians go abroad, they get mixed up with radical groups. They go to mosques or clerics who fill them with fundamental ideas. Naturally, they tend to get a different mindset."

Qasim Rasool Ilyas, convenor of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, admitted that it was the first time Indians were coming under suspicion. But he argued it would be wrong to tar the entire Indian Muslim community.

Politician and former diplomat Syed Shabuddin was blunt.

"Of the 150 million Indian Muslims, if you find one or two odd ones, what is the big deal?" he asked with indignation. "And even these need to be tried and found guilty of actually committing the crime."

Shahid Siddiqui, an MP from the Samajwadi Party, voiced concern over the involvement of Indians in the terror plot.

"In the past too some people were detained on the basis of mere suspicion and let off for want of concrete evidence. But if actually some Indian Muslims are found to be involved, this is a serious cause of concern both for the Muslims and the nation as well because so far India has had a very good record."

Nureen Alvi, a 23-year-old in New Delhi, is worried that the arrests – along with the violence involving the Lal Masjid in Islamabad – would lead to more bad times for the Muslim community.

"Previously only Muslims from the Middle East were being called terrorist but incidents like this might end up stereotyping the entire community as terrorists or militants," she said. "But all Muslim are not terrorists."

Some Muslim leaders insisted that the arrests in Britain and Australia were a conspiracy against Islam.

Masum Muradabadi, editor of Khabardar Jadeed, an Urdu weekly from New Delhi, claimed there was an international campaign to paint "anyone wearing a skullcap and sporting a beard as a terrorist.

"At every international airport a Muslim is looked with suspicion and apprehension. This has become a big source of harassment of Muslims. This in turn creates resentment among good sections of Muslims. Muslims really don't know what to do… No human rights group is coming to help the Muslims."

Moulvi Mohammed Mouzzam Ahmed, the Naib Imam of Old Delhi's 16th century Fatehpuri mosque, was evasive about the Indian Muslim involvement, blaming it on all on the US and Jews.

"There is conspiracy to defame the Indian Muslim," he said. "It is only Islam that speaks against oppression. Not terrorism."

(With inputs from Liz Mathew, Murali Krishnan, Faraz Ahmed and Prithwish Ganguly.)