British Jews are welcoming new legislation that allows the government to ban organizations that support terrorism.
The Terrorism Act 2000, which goes into effect this week, also makes it a crime to incite terrorism abroad and gives the police broad powers to arrest suspected terrorists and seize funds belonging to suspected terrorist groups.
Civil liberties groups and Muslim organizations criticize the law, but Jewish leaders say it will make Britain less of a haven for terrorist planners and fund-raisers.
“We are particularly pleased that individuals or groups in the U.K. that incite or finance terrorist acts abroad will be answerable to the British courts,” said Neville Nagler, the executive director of the Board of Deputies, the umbrella organization of British Jewry.
“There is much evidence that individuals have been recruited and trained in the U.K. for the purpose of carrying out attacks abroad, and it is vital that the legislation is enforced to prevent these sorts of activities,” he said.
Britain is a base for many dissident Islamic organizations, as well as a number of Muslim fundamentalist clerics.
The publishing operations of Hamas are in Britain, and alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden owns property in London, according to an online intelligence magazine.
There have been persistent reports that Islamic fundamentalists recruit young British Muslims to fight in holy wars from the Middle East to Bosnia.
Last summer, a 25-year-old Muslim from London told the BBC he had spent four months at a paramilitary training camp in Kashmir.
The new law should help end this type of recruitment, the British Home Office said.
“Incitement to commit terrorism is now an offense,” a Home Office spokesman told JTA. “Under the new law, sending people abroad to participate” in terrorist “training camps is illegal.”
An expert in security issues for the British Jewish community said the recruitment occurs mainly through mosques in London and Birmingham.
“At least several thousand have gone” abroad to fight for Islam since the late 1970s, said Mike Whine, a spokesman for the Community Security Trust, a Jewish organization that monitors security issues.
It is believed that most such recruits have gone to places like Yemen, Kashmir and Bosnia, but there is evidence that in the past six months some have gone to fight for the Palestinians, Whine said.
At least one group has been advertising for recruits to go to the Palestinian- ruled territories, he added.
Such recruitment is a problem for two reasons, Whine said.
“First, having Britons fight for Islam is an embarrassment for the government,” he said. “Second, these people return to the U.K. and become a reservoir who could potentially get angry and bomb a shul – and that is not far-fetched.”
The security trust fears instigators will try to turn the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians into a broader Jewish-Muslim conflict, Whine said.
“There is anti-Semitism within the Islamic jihad movement,” he said. “The old idea that we have a common origin as the People of the Book is fading with the rise of European-style anti-Semitism” within Muslim fundamentalism.
One British-based extremist group, Al-Muhajiroun, has denied the Holocaust on its Web site, describing the “claim” that 6 million Jews died as “ludicrous.”
But relations between British Jews and mainstream Muslim groups generally are positive.
Most British Muslims are not Arabs but come from South Asia, and moved to Britain for economic, not political, reasons.
The security trust takes the threat of violence seriously. British synagogues and Jewish events are guarded by CST volunteers, who intentionally maintain a high profile.
British police and security services also take terrorism seriously, partly because of the country’s history of Irish militancy.
A British army base was attacked when the Gulf War began in 1991, apparently in retaliation for the bombing of Baghdad.
The Islamic Human Rights Commission said the Terrorism Act 2000 smacks of Islamophobia.
“Previous cases show clearly that Muslims are liable to be the key targets of a crackdown,” said Massoud Shadjareh, chairman of the rights commission, a British-based group.
Stories of young British Muslims being recruited by Islamist organizations are blown out of proportion, he said, adding that the new anti-terrorism law imposes “draconian restrictions on basic rights to freedom of statement, freedom of association and so on.”
Islamist recruitment of Britons “is not happening, or if it is, it’s in such small numbers that it shouldn’t be of concern,” he said.
The CST’s Whine agreed that the number of recruits is probably small.
“We’re not talking about an enormous number,” he said. “But you need only one.”