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UK Muslim group warns over strikes

LONDON, England -- The air strikes in Afghanistan will only widen the gulf between the West and the Muslim world, a leading British Muslim group has warned.

The Muslim Council of Britain -- a gathering of mainstream Muslim groups -- said it feared military action against the Taliban threatened to "spiral out of control," and called for peaceful protests against the strikes.

"British Muslims want justice to be done for the horrifying events of September 11," said the council's secretary-general Yousuf Bhailok.

"These day and night strikes -- which are already leading to innocent civilians deaths among the long-suffering Afghan population -- will not achieve this purpose.

"In Islam, all innocent human life is precious. These attacks will only lead to further polarisation in the world. This will not be a fitting memorial to those who died in the September 11 atrocities.

"We are now hearing talk of 'widening the war' to encompass other Muslim countries. We fear that these events could spiral out of control. We urge world leaders to react with reason and awareness of the long-term consequences of their actions."

His statement on Tuesday came as British Prime Minister Tony Blair left London for a three-day diplomatic tour to shore up support among Arab leaders for the anti-terrorism coalition and as American warplanes took to the skies above Afghanistan for the third night running.

Officials from the Taliban, the Islamic militia that rules Afghanistan, claimed on Tuesday that dozens of people had died in the U.S.-led raids. But four workers for a U.N.-funded mine-clearing agency, whose bodies were recovered Tuesday, were the first civilian deaths to be independently confirmed.

Bhailok asked British Muslims to voice their protest at the military strikes with peaceful demonstrations and vigils.

"It is important that we maintain good community relations in this country. We must not allow others to exploit these attacks and to disrupt and poison our relations with the wider community -- many of whom also oppose this war," he said.


• The Muslim Council of Britain

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