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Australian Prime Minister Worries Over 'Extremist' Muslim Immigrants

Australian Prime Minister John Howard says he is concerned about "extremist" Muslim immigrants, insisting such people are antagonistic towards the wider community. Mr. Howard's remarks have sparked criticism from Islamic leaders in Australia.

Prime Minister John Howard says there is a "small section of the Islamic population in Australia" that holds extremist views about relations with non-Muslims, the rights of women, and other contentious issues. He said such views pose a challenge to Australia's liberal immigration policy.

Australia's conservative leader was repeating comments for reporters that he had made in an earlier interview for a new book that details his forthcoming 10th anniversary as prime minister. Mr. Howard says radical elements within the country's Islamic community need to be confronted.

"It is not a problem we have ever faced with other immigrant communities, who become easily absorbed into the mainstream," he said. "We want people, when they come to Australia, to adopt Australian ways."

Mr. Howard's remarks have provoked criticism from Muslim leaders. They have insisted their community already feels under siege due to the U.S.-led war on terrorism, in which Australia is an eager participant, and recent race riots in Sydney, where white gangs targeted people of Arabic or Middle Eastern appearance.

The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils said the prime minister's comments were inflammatory at a time when tensions between Muslims and Western nations were already running high over controversial cartoons of the prophet Mohammed that originally ran in a Danish newspaper.

It is estimated that there are 300,000 Muslims in Australia. They have come from more than 70 countries, including Turkey and Lebanon. Islamic leaders have said that racism towards this minority group has been increasing in recent years, since the terrorist attacks in the United States in September 2001 and the bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali a year later. Islamic leaders have also expressed concern that new counter-terrorism laws in Australia will unfairly target Australia's Muslims.

Australia has never suffered a major terrorist attack on its own soil, but the 202 people killed on Bali in 2002 included 88 Australians, and the country is on a heightened state of alert. It has combat troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.