US concerns that the UK was struggling to cope with homegrown extremism have been revealed in a secret cable released through WikiLeaks, which said that the government made “little progress” in engaging with the UK’s Muslim community in the year after the July 7 bomb attacks in London.
The cable noted that Tony Blair’s administration invested “considerable time and resources” in a drive to isolate radicals from the mainstream Muslim community after the 2005 attacks.
But it said that tensions continued, with some British Muslims blaming the government’s foreign policy for inciting extremism, distrusting the motives behind the arrest of terror suspects and regarding official attempts at engagement as “a publicity stunt”.
The latest revelations emerged on the day that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was due to face a court in London as part of the Swedish authorities’ efforts to have him extradited for questioning over sex allegations, which he strongly denies.
The cable, leaked to the whistleblowing website and reported in The Guardian, was sent to Washington from the US Embassy in London in August 2006, shortly after the publication of a highly critical open letter about UK government policy signed by prominent Muslims including Sadiq Khan – now shadow justice secretary.
Noting the anger of many British Muslims about issues such as the arrest of suspects over the failed liquid bomb plot to blow up transatlantic airliners, and Mr Blair’s failure to call for a ceasefire in Israel’s assault on Lebanon, the cable said: “Since 7/7, HMG has invested considerable time and resources in engaging the British Muslim community.
“The current tensions demonstrate just how little progress has been made. At the same time, the Muslim community’s reaction to the arrests of 24 of its own sons – a knee-jerk reaction blaming HMG – shows that its leaders too have far to go. That said, the Muslim community is not the only element in Britain blaming HMG’s foreign policy for inciting radical elements; the left in particular but even the mainstream press has expressed the belief, reportedly widespread, that homegrown terrorism is an `inevitable’ response to the UK’s involvement in Iraq and reluctance to call for an `immediate ceasefire’ in the Middle East.”
Ministers including John Reid, Margaret Beckett and Douglas Alexander gave a “rather heated response to the letter” which was “undoubtedly aimed at swaying broader opinion”, said the cable, which also passed on media reports that Mr Blair considered cutting short his holiday in Barbados amid the row.
The US diplomat quoted Mr Khan – then a backbench Labour MP – criticising a key plank of the government’s policy of engagement with UK Muslims.
“Labour MP Sadiq Khan said the community feels ‘let down’ by HMG efforts to date, particularly the ‘Preventing Extremism Together’ task forces, which the Home Office created after the 7/7 attacks,” said the cable. “Very few of the 64 measures recommended by Muslim leaders on the task force have been implemented, Khan said, creating an ‘air of despondency’ and leading the community to believe that the entire exercise was just a publicity stunt.”