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UK: Foreign policy not cause of threats

London, Aug. 12 (Reuters): The British government today rejected as “dangerous and foolish” accusations that its foreign policy heightened the threat of terrorist attacks after police foiled a plot to blow up transatlantic airliners.

In an open letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair, British Muslim groups and politicians said his policies on issues like Iraq and the Israel-Hizbollah war were putting civilians at increased risk in Britain and elsewhere.

Thirteen months after four British Islamist suicide bombers killed 52 people on London’s transport system, British Muslims fear they are being demonised because of extremist militants.

“We urge the Prime Minister to redouble his efforts to tackle terror and extremism and change our foreign policy,” said the letter, whose signatories included six politicians from Blair’s Labour Party. But ministers were quick to reject claims that their policies had given ammunition to extremists.

“No government worth its salt should allow its foreign policy to be dictated to under the threat of terrorism,” transport secretary Douglas Alexander told BBC Radio.

“The contemporary challenge we face is how do we maintain the safety of the British public, how do we uphold the perfect right of people to debate these issues but never to succumb to what I think would be both dangerous and foolish.”

Foreign secretary Margaret Beckett was equally forthright, saying people who blamed Britain’s foreign policy for the terrorism threat were making “the gravest possible error”.

“This is part of a distorted view of the world, a distorted view of life. Let’s put the blame where it belongs: with people who wantonly want to take innocent lives,” she said.

A suspected British al Qaida operative arrested in Pakistan has been pinpointed as a key person in the plot to blow up as many as 10 transatlantic airliners.

Rashif Rauf was seized by Pakistani intelligence who had monitored his telephone calls and e-mails after a tip-off from Britain's secret services.

“He is a British citizen of Pakistani origin. He is an al Qaida operative with linkages in Afghanistan,” interior minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao said.

Sherpao said his seizure had led to the arrest of 24 suspects in Britain on Thursday who police said were plotting “mass murder on an unimaginable scale”. Police have been given until Wednesday to question them. One has been released without charge.

Chaos at airports eased yesterday as travellers grew used to tough new security measures, including a ban on liquids being carried on to flights from US or British airports. But British Airways warned customers to expect further flight delays and cancellations at Heathrow airport today.

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