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Indian Muslims alarmed by arrests of 2 countrymen in British plots

The often-mistrusted minority community fears more scrutiny. Some don't see any alarming radical trend.

July 05, 2007|Henry Chu | Times Staff Writer

NEW DELHI — The arrests of two Indians in connection with the Al Qaeda-style bombing plots in Glasgow, Scotland, and London have sparked surprise and consternation here in their homeland, where Islamic radicalization is of relatively small but increasing concern.

News of the arrests, splashed on front pages across the country Wednesday, raised fears among India's millions of Muslims that they could fall under greater suspicion at home and abroad. Community leaders appealed to the public not to rush to judgment concerning Mohammed Haneef, a doctor who was arrested in Australia, and Sabeel Ahmed, a trainee physician who was detained in northern England, where he reportedly had worked with Haneef.

A spokesman for the Indian government said Wednesday that it was working with Australian authorities to confirm Haneef's nationality. He was picked up by police in Brisbane as he was about to board a flight to India on a one-way ticket.

His family, in the southern Indian city of Bangalore, has told reporters that Haneef is innocent and that he was on his way back to India to visit his infant daughter.

Ahmed also is from Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka state.

"The community is a bit shocked. You don't expect young doctors to be connected with such incidents," Mohammed Belgami, a urologist who is president of the local chapter of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, a national Muslim organization, said by telephone from Bangalore.

"Secondly, I'm a doctor and I do know most students here. And from what I know, they are very upright and very morally sound doctors," Belgami said of the two young men, both in their 20s. "Nothing is proven. It's as if they're already incriminated."

Police in Britain have arrested or detained at least eight suspects in what they say were related plots to set off two car bombs in the heart of London, which were discovered Friday, and attack the airport in Glasgow a day later. Investigators are looking into potential links to Al Qaeda.

Theories about how Haneef and Ahmed may have been involved in the plots have not been detailed.

India is home to more Muslims than any other country except Indonesia and Pakistan. About 13% of Indians are Muslim, in a population of 1.1 billion. The proportion in Bangalore is higher -- about one in five, Belgami said.

President Bush and Indian leaders have noted that no Indian Muslims have been found to be affiliated with Al Qaeda, a fact they attribute to the country's pluralistic and democratic society.

"In India, no hard-core or this type of Muslim has ever come to our knowledge," said M. Khan, treasurer of the national Muslim group All India Milli Council. "This kind of organizing, how to destabilize another country's situation -- we have never come across any Indian doing anything like that."

But experts say there are some radical, though not necessarily terrorist, Muslim groups here. And they warn that the bleak social conditions faced by many Muslims, including a high unemployment rate and, at times, outright discrimination and even violent persecution by Hindu fundamentalists, are creating an environment conducive to the disaffection of young Muslims.

Late last year, a high-level government committee investigating the status of India's Muslims found that a higher proportion were poor and illiterate. Many face suspicion that they are unpatriotic, favoring archrival Pakistan over India, and are often ghettoized, the report said. Muslims also are underrepresented in the military and the civil service.

"Muslims in India have a lot of problems. They don't have jobs, a good education," said Sayeed Khan, who runs the Muslim Youth of India. "At least 43% of Muslims live in slums. They don't have basic facilities."

His organization is trying to keep young Muslims from becoming radicalized, which he acknowledges "is happening, but on a very small scale."

With the arrests of Haneef and Ahmed, Khan expressed concern that India's Muslims could face more harassment.

"This creates a stigma for all educated Indian Muslims in Britain and the States," he said.

--

henry.chu@latimes.com

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