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(photo credit: AP [file])
Britain's Jewish and Muslim communities are reacting with consternation, but not surprise, to a recent warning issued by UK police following the uncovering of a network of far-right extremists.
The Community Security Trust (CST), the organization charged with the security of the Jewish community in the UK, said that community was aware that neo-Nazis had increased their efforts to launch attacks in the past few years.
"CST has viewed with mounting concern the number of investigations, arrests and trials connected with neo-Nazi terrorists, and it is important that we do not allow the threat of pro-al-Qaida terrorism to deflect us from dealing with this additional problem," CST's communications director Mark Gardiner said. "These fanatics are seeking to spark a so-called race war and largely target the Muslim community - but we are all at risk, as shown by the recent shooting at Washington's Holocaust Museum."
His comments came in the wake of major law enforcement operations in the UK in recent weeks, during which counterterror police seized a large cache of arms - including rocket launchers, grenades and pipe bombs - the largest haul since the days of the IRA in the early 1990s, and questioned 32 people under the Terrorism Act.
An array of far-right paraphernalia, as well as a British National Party membership card, were also seized in operations which police made public this week.
The discovery raised fears of a right-wing attack against Muslim or Jewish targets, heightened by the discovery of an alleged plot involving the lethal poison ricin in which two men have been charged under the Terrorism Act. Both communities have been warned to be on the alert.
Police sources also said that in a recent case, not linked to the current arrests, detectives seized maps and plans of mosques from the homes of suspected far-right supporters.
Abdurahman Jafar, chairman of the Muslim Safety Forum, which advises police on matters of safety and security, said: "Muslims are the first line of victims in the extreme Right's campaign of hate and division, and they make no secret about that. Statistics show a strong correlation between the rise of racist and Islamophobic hate crime and the ascendancy of the BNP.
"With the rise of the far Right, we have seen an increased number of attacks on mosques and Islamic Centers. Islamophobia is a crime and we will work with the police and other partners to ensure that it is being fought."
Scotland Yard's counterterrorism unit fears that right-wing extremists will stage a deadly terrorist attack in the UK to try to fuel racial tensions.
Speaking at a meeting of Muslim leaders on Wednesday, Cmdr. Shaun Sawyer, from the Metropolitan Police counterterrorism command SO15, said police were responding to the growing threat.
"I fear that they will... carry out an attack that will lead to a loss of life or injury to a community somewhere," Sawyer said.
Neo-Nazis "are not choosy about which community" they target, he added. "Which ever group they target, they will hope to cause serious injury or loss of life."
He speculated that the aim of the attack would be to cause a "breakdown in community cohesion."
Sawyer said more of his officers needed to be deployed to thwart neo-Nazi-inspired violence and that the threat posed by al-Qaida remained a priority.
A police source said on Thursday that while the neo-Nazi terrorist threat is
believed to have grown in the UK, police had no specific intelligence of an attack.
"There is an increased possibility of violence from the far Right that is driven by people who "don't like immigration, don't like Islam, and we are seeing a resurgence of anti-Semitism as well."
In last month's European elections, the far-Right British National Party won two seats for the first time in Yorkshire and the northwest of England and took 6.2 percent of the national vote.
Sawyer also said police departments would need to channel more funds to preventing neo-Nazi attacks in the country. The money was likely to come from funding currently used to monitor Islamic extremism, although police detectives warned that Muslim terrorist groups remained a threat as well.
"The big bad wolf is still the al-Qaida threat," said police chief Sir Norman Bettison. "But my people are knocking over right-wing extremists quite regularly."