It's about time Britain cracked down on their terrorists. Hopefully the U.S. will follow their lead.

Blair cracks down on militants
Seeks to change deportation laws

By Kevin Cullen, Globe Staff | August 6, 2005

LONDON -- Prime Minister Tony Blair unveiled plans yesterday to make it easier to prosecute and deport those who foster terrorism, insisting that extremists and their supporters have exploited and abused Britain's tradition of tolerance.

Blair also said the government would seek the power to shut down places of worship, including mosques, that are used ''as a center for fomenting violence."

Blair announced the proposals amid a growing sense of anger among many Britons who contend that they have become the targets of extremists whose families were given sanctuary as economic migrants or asylum seekers.

''Let no one be in any doubt that the rules of the game are changing," he told reporters at his monthly Downing Street press conference, as he prepared for his summer vacation. ''The circumstances of our national security have now self-evidently changed."

Among the key items of the 12-point list of measures: enacting a law that makes it illegal to condone, justify, or glorify terrorism; broadening the grounds to strip citizenship, deport someone, or prevent them from entering the country if they are linked to a terrorist threat; and setting a maximum time limit on suspects' extradition challenges. The plan also would extend beyond 14 days the amount of time police can detain suspects before charging them, and increase the number of judges hearing terrorism cases.

Many of the measures require parliamentary approval this fall. Others, such as broadening the grounds for deportation, can be enforced immediately but probably will face court challenges.

Blair's effort to change the way the country defines and allows certain speech and activities stands to alter Britain's culture as well as its laws. The nation prides itself on tolerating radicalism and controversial speech, from Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park to the floor of the House of Commons, and where even elected politicians regularly say things that could be interpreted as condoning extremism. But Britain is also a nation that is still burying some of the 52 commuters killed by four suspected Islamic suicide bombers July 7 -- the funeral for a couple who died on a subway train was held yesterday.

As he tries to recalibrate the balance between an open society, free expression, and national security, Blair will face fierce opposition from civil libertarians and political opponents. But he was unapologetic yesterday in saying the privilege of sanctuary comes with responsibility.

''Coming to Britain is not a right," Blair said. ''And even when people have come here, staying here carries with it a duty. That duty is to share and support the values that sustain the British way of life. Those that break that duty and try to incite hatred or engage in violence against our country and its people have no place here."

Existing laws make it illegal in Britain to incite violence, but Blair said the country needs to crack down on those who support violent extremists. He said those who run extremist websites, bookshops, gathering spots, and organizations would be deported or, if they are British citizens, subject to house arrest.

Blair said two organizations whose leaders have defended attacks on civilians in Britain and in other countries -- Hizb ut Tahrir and Al Muharjiroun -- would be banned in Britain, and pledged to consult British Muslim leaders in drawing up a list of radical clerics to be thrown out of the country or barred from coming in.

He acknowledged that his previous efforts to crack down on religious and political extremism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States had been controversial, and some British antiterrorism measures -- including the unlimited detention of suspects -- had been struck down by the courts. But Blair said the mood of the country had changed since the July 7 attacks on the capital's transportation system that killed 52 commuters and the botched bombings of July 21, when four men allegedly tried to duplicate the previous attacks on three subway trains and a bus.

Civil libertarians condemned Blair's measures as grandstanding, an overreaction to appease an anxious populace. Muslim leaders said the crackdown would target moderates as often as extremists because the new measures would be subject to arbitrary interpretation of what constitutes extremism.

Political support was divided. Among the two leading opposition parties, the Conservatives welcomed Blair's plans, but the Liberal Democrats broke from what became a unified political front after the terror attacks to say Blair was going too far.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, Britain's largest civil liberties organization, accused Blair of sowing ''the seeds of discord" and blasted what she termed his ''thinly-veiled attacks on the courts and political critics." She said the proposed law against condoning, glorifying, or justifying terrorism ''is broad enough to catch moderates as well as ranting politicians and religious spokespeople."

''Mr. Blair says the rules of the game have changed, but public safety has never been a game," she said. ''The fundamental values of a democracy cannot be changed because we are provoked by terrorists."

Civil libertarians said the government is trying to circumvent domestic laws and the European Convention on Human Rights by deporting people to countries where they would face the death penalty or torture.

But Blair said he was certain Britain could get the ''necessary assurances" from the 10 countries where there are concerns that returnees might face such actions. He said Britain already had a letter of understanding with Jordan and was in talks with Algeria and Lebanon. He said that if legal obstacles arise to the deportations, he would consider amending Britain's Human Rights Act, which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights.

Blair delivered his speech as Britain's 1.6 million Muslims attended Friday prayers. Daud Abdullah, the assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella organization representing hundreds of Muslim groups in the United Kingdom, said Muslims see Blair's plans as unfairly targeting all Muslims instead of just extremists.

Abdullah, a human rights advocate, said British Muslims have been victims on three fronts: They were among the victims of the July 7 attacks; they have suffered a racist backlash since those attacks, including a 600 percent rise in hate crimes in London alone, according to the Metropolitan Police; and they are the target of measures announced by Blair.

Blair, however, said that ''much of the insistence on strong action to weed out extremism is coming most vigorously from Muslims themselves, deeply concerned that the activities of the fanatical fringe should contaminate the good reputation of the mainstream Muslim community."

He acknowledged there had been what he called ''isolated and unacceptable acts of a racial and religious hatred" against Muslims.

Blair also called for toughening border controls, following revelations that one of the men accused in the failed attacks on July 21, Osman Hussain, slipped out of the country on a train from Waterloo Station without his documents being checked. Hussain was arrested last week in Rome and is fighting extradition to Britain.

Yesterday, Hussain's wife and sister-in-law were arraigned on charges that they failed to alert police to his location.