LONDON – Prime Minister Tony Blair (search) pledged Wednesday to open dialogue with Britain's Muslims to tackle a "perverted and poisonous misinterpretation" of Islam after evidence suggested that last week's bombings were carried out by four homicide attackers, including at least three Britons of Pakistani descent.
Blair also said his government would begin consultations on new anti-terrorism legislation.
Addressing the House of Commons (search), Blair said the government would also look urgently at how to strengthen the process for excluding from the United Kingdom those who incite hatred and make it easier to deport such people.
"This is not an isolated criminal act we are dealing with," he said. "It is an extreme and evil ideology whose roots lie in a perverted and poisonous misinterpretation of the religion of Islam. ... We will seek to debate the right way forward in combating this evil within the Muslim community with Muslim leaders and it is our intention to begin this process immediately.
"In the end this can only be taken on and defeated by the community itself, but we all can help and facilitate," added Blair, who met Wednesday with British Muslim lawmakers.
"We are talking to other nations, Muslim and non-Muslim, about how to mobilize internationally the moderate and true voice of Islam. Round the world, such action is taking place, though we need to see how it can be better coordinated, publicized and driven through."
Two militant Islamic groups have claimed responsibility for the July 7 subway and bus bombings in London (search), which killed at least 52 people. Blair told the House that 50 people injured in the attack were still hospitalized, including 12 in intensive care.
His official spokesman said there had been much more contact between the government and Muslim communities since the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.
"Do we need to change gear? The answer to that is yes," he said, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, because he is a civil servant.
Mohammed Sarwar, a lawmaker in Blair's governing Labour Party, said Britain's Muslim community was "in deep shock."
"We are deeply shocked that these are homegrown bombers, and the vast majority of the Muslim community condemn these barbaric attacks," he said. "We told the prime minister that the community will be hoping to extend full cooperation to find the mastermind behind these attacks."
Shahid Malik, also a Labour lawmaker, said in the past people had been prepared to tolerate rhetoric from radical preachers, but there was now an appetite to counter them.
"Condemning alone however is probably insufficient, what I'm saying is we need to go beyond that. We need also to confront," he said.
Analysts believe a clutch of fundamentalist Islamic preachers across Britain have helped radicalize pockets of disaffected Muslim youth.
"This is a small group of extremists, not one that can be ignored because of the danger they pose, but neither should it define Muslims in Britain who are overwhelmingly law abiding, decent members of our society, and we condemn any attacks against them unreservedly," he said.