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Australia's Muslims Urged To Condemn Extremism


Australia's Islamic leaders are being urged to denounce terrorism. Senior Islamic figures, fearing a backlash following the recent bombings in London and Egypt, have sent a letter to 200 clerics and community leaders, advising them to condemn extremist attacks.

The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, the country's main Muslim organization, has written to clerics around the country asking them to do all they can to help fight extremism. The letter urges Islamic leaders to acknowledge that radical Muslim elements exist within Australia, and that action is needed.

Preachers are being advised to inform young Muslims that their religion condemns both violence and terrorism.

The letter is aimed at clerics like Sheihk Mohammed Omran, who once claimed that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was "a good man," and insisted that the 9/11 attacks in the United States were orchestrated by the U.S. government.

Sheihk Omran, who was recently criticized by Prime Minister John Howard, has since retracted those remarks, and now condemns Osama bin Laden. "I am talking of Osama bin Laden, the man that did September the 11th, the man behind so many atrocities or bad actions or horrible actions," he said. "Of course, I won't support one percent a man [that] did something like that."

The letter was written in response to mounting anger within the broader Australian community, which is fearful of a London-style outrage.

Callers to talk radio programs have spoken of deporting Muslims from Australia and of closing down mosques.

Prime Minister Howard has joined the debate, urging Muslim leaders in the country to make it their "absolute responsibility" not to sow the seeds of extremism.

It is estimated that there are 300,000 Muslims in Australia - around 1.5 percent of the total population. This group has been under intense scrutiny by the authorities since the attacks in the United States in September 2001, and the bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali a year later that killed 202 people.

The government in Canberra is considering introducing tougher anti-terror laws in the wake of the London bombings. New measures could include stripping people of citizenship for inciting terrorism, installing more surveillance cameras in public places and bag searches for commuters.

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