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Blair, Muslim Leaders Meet to Discuss Extremism

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

Britain's prime minister, Tony Blair, met with Muslim leaders today as his Cabinet considers new legislation for combating terror. The meeting comes after police investigators announced that the four chief suspects in this month's bombing of the London transport system were all British Muslims. NPR's Ivan Watson reports from London.

IVAN WATSON reporting:

Blair is looking for new ways to protect young British Muslims from what he calls the evil ideology of Islamist extremism. This comes after revelations that three of the four chief suspects had traveled to Pakistan within the last 12 months, where at least two of them are believed to have attended a madrassa or religious school. At a press conference today, Blair said he would work with Pakistan to stop the teaching of extremism at madrassas.

(Soundbite of press conference)

Prime Minister TONY BLAIR (Great Britain): If they come over and go to some of these schools, these madrassas, and they get extreme teaching taught at them, they end up in a situation where they actually believe that they're committing the will of God by killing innocent people.

WATSON: British newspapers have also reported that intelligence services failed to keep an eye on the oldest of the suspects, 30-year-old Mohammed Sidique Khan, even though he was reported to have been linked to a previously foiled bomb plot. British officials have not responded to these claims. Although the details of the investigation continue to dominate headlines here, many Londoners seem to be more focused on getting through their daily grind.

(Soundbite of bike shop activity)

WATSON: The repair room of the Bike Fix bike shop is busier than usual. The repairmen here say after the July 7th attacks, they've seen an increase in the number of Londoners pulling out old bikes. People like 30-year-old Alanna Potts(ph) say they need a new way to get into work, since the London subway is still partially closed.

Ms. ALANNA POTTS (Londoner): Yeah. I decided to dust down my bicycle and get it fixed with a new saddle and some new tires, so I could speed my way into work rather than fight the commuters on the mainline train that I now have to get because the Tube line's down.

(Soundbite of traffic)

WATSON: In the busy streets of this capital, there is little indication that Britain recently experienced the worst attack on its territory since World War II. Dr. Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert from St. Andrew's University, says that's because after 9/11 the British government carefully prepared its people for the possibility of a terrorist attack.

Dr. MAGNUS RANSTORP (Terrorism Expert): Particularly in London, the whole counterterrorism strategy, including the sort of public response, has been built around resilience, in making society, in making infrastructure resilient to absorb an attack and then to quickly get on its feet.

WATSON: Ranstorp says authorities were able to minimize hysteria and ensure an undisturbed investigation by quickly closing off the bomb sites, which still remain shut to the public and to the media. This strategy has been made easier because three of the four bombs exploded underground. Meanwhile, Chris Brewin, a psychologist who recently wrote a book on post-traumatic stress disorder, says the British people have collectively avoided large displays of grief or fear after the attacks.

Dr. CHRIS BREWIN (Psychologist): They don't want to do anything which might encourage a repetition of it and there's perhaps some uncertainty about if people see that they've brought about this massive response, will that actually, in some way, encourage similar atrocities in the future?

WATSON: Many British also point out that they have already endured hundreds of acts of terrorism over the past four decades during the conflict with the IRA. Alanna Potts, the woman who plans to commute on a bicycle for the first time this week, says her mother is far more concerned that she wear a helmet.

Ms. POTTS: She's more scared about the London traffic than she is about me being blown up on a bomb on the Tube.

WATSON: Ivan Watson, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ivan Watson
Ivan Watson is currently based in Istanbul, Turkey. Following the 9-11 terrorist attacks, he has served as one of NPR's foreign "firemen," shuttling to and from hotspots around the Middle East and Central Asia.