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London Defends Anti-Terror Measure

Prime Minister Tony Blair's government on Saturday defended its plans to crack down on extremist Islamic clerics who preach hate, as critics warned the measures could further alienate British Muslims.

Meanwhile, London police on Saturday charged suspected July 21 bomber Yassin Hassan Omar with conspiracy to murder passengers on the London transport system and possession of an explosive substance. Omar, 24, who was arrested in Birmingham on July 26, is the first of the four suspected bombers to be charged in Britain.

Britain's chief legal official, Lord Chancellor Charles Falconer, said the deadly attacks in London on July 7 showed the government must act against people "who are encouraging young men who are becoming suicide bombers."

"I think there is a very widespread sense in the country subsequent to July 7 that things have changed. A new balance needs to be struck. It needs to be a lawful balance but it needs to be an effective balance," he told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

A British Muslim group called the Islamic Forum Europe warned the measures could jeopardize national unity in Britain.

"If these proposed measures are allowed to see the light of day, they will increase tensions and alienate communities. The measures are counterproductive and will encourage more radicalization," said forum President Musleh Faradhi. "Many Muslims will perceive our prime minister as playing into the hands of the terrorists."

He also criticized the government's plans to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir, a radical Islamic group that calls for the formation of an Islamic caliphate and is banned in several countries in Central Asia. Supporters insist it is a nonviolent group persecuted by corrupt governments.

On Friday, the prime minister announced proposals to deport foreign nationals who glorify acts of terror, bar radicals from entering Britain, close down mosques linked to extremism, ban certain Islamic groups and, if necessary, amend human rights laws.

"Proscribing it will be counterproductive," said Faradhi. "It will give a green light to despotic leaders in the Muslim world to silence political dissenters."

Clerics who preach hate and Web sites or book shops that sponsor violence would be targeted. Foreign nationals could be deported under the new measures.

Since the bombings on three subway trains and a bus, which killed 52 people and four suspected suicide attackers, Blair's government has been trying to build support among political opponents and Muslim leaders for new anti-terrorism legislation.

But the government's new plans appear to have cracked the spirit of consensus.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy warned the measures could alienate the law abiding majority of Britain's 1.8 million Muslims and inflame tensions.

"A fundamental duty, a responsibility on all of us, whether government or nongovernment, is to uphold the rule of law and the safety of the citizen," he said. "But alongside that, of course, is to uphold civil liberties and the right to free speech. It is getting that balance right that will be very important ...," he told BBC radio.

The announcement came a day after a top al Qaeda leader blamed Blair for the London bombings and warned that more destruction lay ahead for Britain and the United States.

Blair said his government was prepared to amend human rights legislation if necessary if legal challenges arose from the new deportation measures.

Britain's ability to deport foreign nationals has been hampered by human rights legislation. As a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, Britain is not allowed to deport people to a country where they may face torture or death.

"Let no one be in any doubt that the rules of the games are changing," Blair said, promising to crack down on extremists blamed for radicalizing pockets of Muslim youth.

By the year's end, Blair wants to pass legislation that would outlaw "indirect incitement" of terrorism — targeting extremist Islamic clerics who glorify acts of terrorism and seduce impressionable Muslim youth.

The law would ban receiving training in terrorist techniques in Britain or abroad. A new offense of "acts preparatory to terrorism" would outlaw planning an attack and activities such as acquiring bomb-making instructions on the Internet.

Blair said his government would hold a short, one-month consultation on new grounds for excluding and deporting people from the United Kingdom.

"The Muslim community have been and are our partners in this endeavor," said Blair, who has appealed to community leaders to help roots out extremists in their midst.

On Thursday, Al-Jazeera television broadcast a tape by Ayman al-Zawahri, al Qaeda's No. 2 leader, in which he blamed the London attacks on Blair's decision to deploy and keep troops in Iraq. Britain maintains 8,500 forces mainly in southern Iraq.

"Blair has brought to you destruction in central London, and he will bring more of that, God willing," al-Zawahri said in the tape, which was excerpted by the pan-Arab satellite channel.

Al-Zawahri also promised tens of thousands of U.S. casualties in Iraq, and renewed threats against other countries with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, claiming they had shunned Osama bin Laden's offer last year of a truce if they left the battleground.

"What you have seen in New York and Washington, you Americans, and the losses you see in Afghanistan and Iraq — despite all the media blackout are merely the losses from the initial clashes," he said.

"If you go on with the same policy of aggression against Muslims, you will see, God willing, what will make you forget the horrible things in Vietnam," he said.

In London, a sea of 6,000 police flooded the streets and the Underground,

reports, but the security hike was explained to the public as unrelated to the terror warning. The massive security operation Thursday was said to be intended to reassure the public one month after the July 7 bombings and two weeks after the failed July 21 attacks.

Officials stressed there was no specific intelligence of a third attack, but undercover police were mingling with passengers, and officers were armed with machine guns and pistols. Police helicopters hovered above while traffic was heavier than normal.