LONDON – Prime Minister Tony Blair's (search) 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.
Charles Falconer (search), the lord chancellor, said the deadly July 7 attacks in London 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. (search) radio.
Blair's government has been trying to build support among political opponents and Muslim leaders for new anti-terrorism legislation since the suspected homicide bombings that killed 56 people, including four attackers.
On Friday, the government announced plans to deport foreign nationals who glorify acts of terror, bar radicals from entering Britain, close mosques linked with extremism, ban certain Islamic groups and, if necessary, amend human rights laws. The measures appear to have cracked the spirit of consensus.
Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy warned that the crackdown 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 told BBC radio. "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."
The Islamic Forum Europe warned that 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," group president Musleh Faradhi said. "Many Muslims will perceive our prime minister as playing into the hands of the terrorists."
He criticized the government's plans to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir — the radical Islamic group that calls for the formation of an Islamic caliphate and is banned in several central Asian countries. Supporters insist it is a nonviolent group persecuted by corrupt governments.
"Proscribing it will be counterproductive," Faradhi said. "It will give a green light to despotic leaders in the Muslim world to silence political dissenters."
Meanwhile, three men appeared in court Saturday to face charges they did not disclose information about the whereabouts of a suspect in the failed July 21 London bomb attacks.
The Metropolitan Police said Shadi Sami Abdel Gadir, 22, Omar Almagboul, 20, and Mohamed Kabashi, 23, were charged under the Terrorism Act with withholding information that they "knew or believed might be of material assistance in securing the apprehension, prosecution or conviction" of suspected bomber Hamdi Issac, who is being held in Rome. The court ordered them to remain in custody until their next hearing Thursday.
Three other people already face similar charges, including Issac's wife and sister-in-law.