Scottish Muslims fear retaliation

The Associated Press GLASGOW, Scotland -- In the entire row of stores, the only one that was targeted -- the one that still smells of smoke -- is owned by a man of Pakistani descent. Shafiq Ahmed said vandals rammed a car into his "One Stop Shop"...

The Associated Press

GLASGOW, Scotland -- In the entire row of stores, the only one that was targeted -- the one that still smells of smoke -- is owned by a man of Pakistani descent.

Shafiq Ahmed said vandals rammed a car into his "One Stop Shop" convenience store, then set a fire -- an assault disturbingly reminiscent of the attempted terror attack just days earlier on the airport of this gritty Scottish city.

Police are investigating the alleged attack and others as part of an apparent backlash against Glasgow's Muslims since the failed airport assault and attempted car bombings in London. At least 24 incidents are being probed, from graffiti on a mosque to firebombed businesses.

As he cleaned the soot from his charred store, Ahmed, who moved to Britain as an infant, hoped the attack on his family business wasn't racially motivated. After 30 peaceful years in Scotland, the idea that some may no longer welcome him and his Scottish-born children is highly uncomfortable.


"I haven't got words to describe it. I'm hoping it's not retaliation," Ahmed, 41, said Sunday, in a thick Glasgow accent. "It's a shame to think you can't work with people and enjoy the company of people and instead have to worry."

Unlike in Muslim enclaves in northern England, Asian Muslims in Glasgow do not live in complete isolation. White customers are common in curry restaurants and ethnic grocery stores. Glaswegians wearing the colors of the local soccer team, the Glasgow Rangers, share the sidewalks with Muslim community elders clad in the long tunics and matching baggy trousers traditionally worn in Pakistan.

Like Muslim communities across Britain, there is seething resentment in Glasgow at the British government's foreign policy. The Iraq war, the alliance with the United States and a perception of one-sidedness in the Israel-Palestinian conflict all fuel hostility. But terrorism in the name of Islam is abhorred in equal measure.

Efforts to breed divisions have not fared well in Glasgow. In the former industrial towns of northern England where much of Britain's Asian diaspora is settled, the far right British National Party with its fiercely anti-Muslim rhetoric has made inroads. But in Glasgow -- Scotland's most populous Muslim city -- the BNP has hardly any presence. Problems of unemployment, poverty, and alcohol and drug abuse are shared by the community, not divided along racial lines.

Glasgow's Muslims are now wondering if all that will change as British police continue to thread together elements of the recent failed terror attacks.

Two Muslims allegedly rammed a Jeep Cherokee packed with gas cylinders and gasoline into the terminal building of Glasgow's airport on June 30. Bilal Abdullah, a 27-year-old doctor born in Britain and raised in Iraq, was charged Friday. Kafeel Ahmed, from Bangalore, India, was believed to be driving the jeep. Hospitalized in critical condition with severe burns, he has not been charged. Six others remain in custody over that plot and a pair of failed car bombs 24 hours earlier in London's theater district.

The plot unraveled just days before the anniversary of the July 7, 2005, transit attacks in London, when four British-born Muslims blew themselves up on trains and a bus, killing 52 people and injuring more than 700. England's Muslims have complained of unwelcome scrutiny, even alienation and violence, since the 2005 attacks.

"After 7/7 it was not that bad for Muslims here," said Imran Ali, a 22-year-old in Pollokshields, the most populous Muslim district of Glasgow. "It's going to be worse now."


John Neilson, one of Glasgow's most senior police officers, told The Associated Press that they have made 25 arrests in the 24 attacks they suspect were revenge for the airport assault. But he also pointed out that for every attack, there were hundreds more expressions of support for Scotland's 60,000 Muslims.

"We showed resilience that some other nations don't have the capacity to show," Neilson said.

Ahmed's store is on a row of shops that includes a Chinese take-out restaurant, a betting shop, a kebab restaurant, a bank, a post office and a pub, The Princess. Plywood boards now cover part of his storefront.

Robert Wishart, who lives opposite, said he was awakened by a bang early Tuesday morning, and saw from his bedroom window that a silver car had smashed into the shop front. Five minutes later, the car was set on fire by a man who arrived in another car with an accomplice. They then sped off.

"He's always been a friendly guy," Wishart said of Ahmed. "We all get on."

Unlike in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States or the 2005 bombings in London, where some young British Muslims saluted the terrorists, the latest terror plot drew nothing but condemnation here.

"We are not going to tolerate any racists or terrorists coming in and dividing us," said 23-year-old youth worker Javed Aslam.

Pointing to other young Muslims gathered around him, Aslam added: "If one of these guys supported any terrorism, we would all let him know that we were ashamed."

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