Forest Gate raid: another disaster

It now appears that the raid on a house in Forest Gate, east London, last Friday resulted in nothing suspicious being found and was based on false intelligence, as today’s papers are reporting. To quote from this morning’s Guardian:

One official, with knowledge why police acted and what had been found from days of searching, said the intelligence had been acted on correctly, but added last night: “There is no viable device at that house. There is no device being constructed, or chemicals. There does not appear to be anything there or anywhere else.” As lawyers for the two arrested men continued to protest their innocence, it emerged that the man who had passed the specific information that led to the raid in which a man was shot last Friday was a police informant who had been providing intelligence about the activities of alleged Islamist militants for several weeks.

It seems that the BBC had to get a quote from Muhammad Abdul-Bari, the recently-elected head of the Muslim Council of Britain, and this is what they came up with:

Dr Bari, who was recently elected as head of the MCB, visited Forest Gate to listen to the “evident concerns” of Muslims in the area. He said this was a “crucial time” for the Muslim community. “The danger is the trust between the community and the police may be broken. The community feels very vulnerable.” He said the police needed to speed up their search because “three or four days’ frustration, confusion and anger in the community is not good”.

He was also quoted on the BBC London radio station today as saying that angry people can do such things as taking the law into their own hands. Someone called Arif who rang the Vanessa Feltz show said that he was in the wrong position, and that in his home country (Bangladesh) he had been involved in politics and his group were known for doing just that. Dr Abdul-Bari was then interviewed, and said he had never been in politics, only the Bangladeshi Air Force, and had come to the UK in the 1970s. (More: Harry’s Place.)

For my part I don’t believe that there will be any riots as a result of this. There have been race riots in the past, mostly arising out of continual police harrassment of young men in the street, and of rumours of attacks on areas where Muslims live. If there are repeated incidents of people (particularly women) being mistreated during such raids, violence may become a distinct possibility. If the point is made effectively enough that the police acted honestly on the basis of intelligence, I think most Muslim youths are not so stupid that they don’t realise that this sort of thing has to be done. They would have done this if they had received intelligence about such materials whatever the ethnic or religious background of the house’s residents. And let’s face it, anyone can be the victim of police incompetence - think of JC de Menezes and Harry Stanley - or cowardice (like the woman who was left to bleed to death because the police entertained a suspicion that her pleading on the phone that her husband was dead and she was bleeding was a ruse by the husband to ambush and kill policemen).

I think most Muslims will realise that the fault lies here with whoever passed on the intelligence: it may well have been someone with a malicious motive, or as Kashif pointed out, someone paid by the intelligence services or police who found no material and wanted to “earn” his salary by fingering someone who looked a bit dodgy, or even someone with a grudge against the police who were annoyed by the way he, or one of his friends, were treated who wanted to rub their noses in the dirt. The upshot will be that Muslims will get more suspicious about police and other informers in their midst; as UZ blogged last week, the Muslim community in the USA have seen a number of incidents in which police agents have entrapped Muslims into agreeing with them to commit acts of terrorism; this article at shows the sort of things the FBI will present as terrorism. We have so far seen nothing of the sort here. We have also not seen any of the stitch-ups which followed Irish terrorist bombings in the 1970s.

Much as the police are expected to reconsider their tactics after yet another very public disaster, I wonder if sections of the press will be doing the same? Over the weekend massive amounts of material about the two brothers’ past and private lives was exposed, notably the fact that following 9/11 the two men abandoned their “gangsta” lifestyles and became devout Muslims and started wearing Islamic dress - as if this was in itself something for anyone to be afraid of. I have heard it remarked that, given the amount of publicity surrounding the raid, the chances of them receiving a fair trial if they were ever charged were slim (although in the past this has not stopped people from actually being tried, notably Barry “Bulsara” George who was convicted of killing the TV presenter Jill Dando).

The press have for years spun lines about “jihad training camps”, none of which have ever been found in this country, and suburban bomb factories, so it’s not surprising that when police report that they had “specific intelligence” about where one such factory was located, that they should eagerly latch onto the story. The Times on Saturday noted that the “new generation of terrorists” were more discreet, preferring to “set up their own youth clubs, using back rooms in their parents’ houses to devise their schemes”, rather than congregating with known militants at well-known extremist-run mosques. “Youth clubs” in their parents’ back rooms? How small can a club be that people can plot a terrorist act and not be overheard, or joined in, by the people on the Playstation? And the most suspicious bit of all:

Today’s terrorists are suburban men who neighbours invariably describe as “hard-working, respectable and British to the core”.

Of course. Nothing more scary than the idea of a terrorist who is the last person you’d think would be one, is there? But will they eat humble pie when it becomes known that the brothers who will no doubt be released without charge in the next few days were totally innocent, and that he was known as a perfectly respectable member of the community because that is exactly what he is? (More: Lenin, Opinionated Voice.)

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