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UK Muslims urged to fight terror

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British police arrest 8 in anti-terror raid
Great Britain
Acts of terror
Madrid (Spain)

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Muslim leaders in Britain are urging their followers to combat terrorism as police continue to question eight men arrested in a major anti-terror sweep.

The appeal for vigilance was sent to more than 1,000 mosques on Wednesday, the day after the arrests and seizure of half a ton of explosive material.

The eight British nationals -- all Muslims of Pakistani origin, according to media reports -- were held on suspicion of "being concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism," police said.

The men, aged between 17 and 32, can be detained for up to 14 days without charge under Britain's updated terrorism laws.

Tuesday's dawn raids involving 700 officers in and around London represented the biggest anti-terror operation since the September 11 2001 attacks on the United States.

At one warehouse in west London, they seized half a ton of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, the same explosive ingredient used in terror attacks in Bali, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Africa and the U.S.

Police sources told CNN the suspects were "linked to possible Islamist terror."

Peter Clarke, head of London's Metropolitan police anti-terror branch, said the arrests were unrelated to Irish republican terrorism or the Madrid train bombs that killed 190 people this month.

But Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes told reporters in Madrid that one of the suspects may have a link and police are investigating.

Meanwhile in Canada on Wednesday, police said they had arrested and charged a man with terrorism-related crimes in both Canada and Britain. (Full story)

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair on Wednesday paid tribute to "the police and security services in carrying out successfully a large scale operation yesterday resulting in arrests."

Blair also told lawmakers he welcomed the letter being sent by Britain's leading Muslim organization to mosques across the country reminding them of the common threat of terrorism.

"The threat from terrorism affects every family in this country - Muslim and non-Muslim alike - and it's right that we all work together to defeat this threat and don't allow the extremists to divide us," the prime minister said.

'Under siege'

The appeal to the two million-strong Muslim population will be made through imams, chairmen and secretaries of the mosques.

Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, told the Press Association: "There can be no doubt in the wake of the Madrid bombings that Britain is viewed as a target by radical groups.

"We are urging vigilance and also urging Muslims if they have any suspicions or evidence of criminal activity or wrong-doing taking place then that the information should be given to the police."

The letter -- drafted before the arrests on Tuesday -- points out that according to the Koran, the murder of one individual is "tantamount to murdering entire humanity."

It says: "Islam categorically forbids violence and killing of innocents, let alone indulging in violence which can cause death and mayhem."

Ahmed Versi, editor of The Muslim News, said he supported the call from the council but he warned that Muslims felt "under siege."

He told PA: "It is important that those people who are involved in terrorism should be apprehended."

But arresting people and releasing them without charge "created a feeling in the Muslim community that they have been targeted because they are Muslims," he added.

Yasin Rehman, information officer for Council of Mosques in Luton, where a house was raided by police Tuesday, said extremist groups had been targeting young men in the town for several years.

He told PA Muslim leaders had formed the council of mosques in an attempt to counteract the extremist messages.

"I would say there are up to 30-40 people in Luton who are members of these groups," said Mr Rehman. "They used to produce leaflets. Sometimes disgusting leaflets about killing people.

"We tried to stop that, telling them that they could not use our mosques to distribute these leaflets. Their message seems to be that the West is to blame for everything.

"The majority of the people in the Muslim community don't support extremism.

"But we are concerned because they are targeting young people -- young people who come from deprived areas who often have nothing and little hope. "

Britain, closest ally of the United States in the war on terror and the war in Iraq, has long warned it could be a target for Islamic terrorists.

The fears grew this month when London's police chief Sir John Stevens said an attack on Britain was "inevitable" following Madrid.

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