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Racial Attacks Increase in Australia - 2002-11-04

Australian police say there has been a surge in racially motivated attacks on Muslims since the bombing in Bali, Indonesia last month. Islamic terrorist groups are suspected in the bombing that killed many Australian tourists. Muslim women, who wear traditional dress are becoming easy targets of public anger.

After the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington last year, anti-Muslim sentiment surged in Australia. There are now fears the racial and religious backlash could be even worse after the bombing in Bali.

In all cases, the al-Qaida terrorist network and its militant Islamic allies have been linked to the attacks. Australia and Western governments have stressed that their global anti-terrorism campaign is not targeted at the Islamic faith but only the individuals and groups responsible. Despite this, a Muslim school in Sydney has been attacked by a gang armed with bricks. In Melbourne, a mosque has been fire-bombed.

In the weeks since the bomb blasts on the Indonesian island of Bali, in which almost 200 people were killed, including at least 90 Australians the police in Sydney have recorded dozens of similar hate crimes.

The authorities are increasing the number of patrols in predominantly Muslim neighborhoods to try to combat acts of racial or religious vilification. But a founder of the Australian Arabic Council, Joe Wakim, says the country's senior politicians have not done enough to protect the country's Muslims.

He says a recent statement by the Prime Minister John Howard that militant Islamic groups had established "sleeper cells" in Australia simply incites suspicion. "This only reinforces that notion of separateness, that suddenly their [Muslim] loyalties come at a serious question. We thought we learned these loyalties during the Gulf War…. I think that, you know, the reaction by a lot of people is, well, I suppose that most Australians are sleeping racists," says Mr. Wakim. "Are we going to sink to those sorts of levels of "us and them" where everybody is a potential something or other, everybody is a dormant problem until they're inflamed?"

The Arabic community has been particularly critical of recent raids by Australian secret service agents on homes of suspected sympathizers of al-Qaida and its Southeast Asian connection, the Jemaah Islamiyah. No arrests were made in a series of operations the government here declared an important part of Australia's fight against terrorism.

Prime Minister Howard is calling on Australians to show religious tolerance at this sensitive time.

In a move showing the deep sense of nervousness felt in Australia, authorities in the country's largest city, Sydney, have ordered the all trash cans removed from underground train stations, fearing they might be used in a terrorist bomb attack.