Two of the men at the centre of anti-terror raids say they feel “betrayed” by the police. Abu Bosher and Abu Saif had always thought they had a healthy relationship with the police, until their Stoke-on-Trent homes were raided on Tuesday. They are members of a group of young Muslims who have regularly manned stalls around the city for two years, preaching to passers-by and distributing leaflets and DVDs.
Police raided five homes this week as part of an investigation into a small group of people suspected of being involved in promoting violent extremist views, and radicalising vulnerable members of the community. But the men insist their activities have always been entirely legal and peaceful, and deny any links to terrorism or extremism. They say that as well as preaching Islam, they draw young people away from drugs and gangs, and encourage them to become better Muslims.
Abu Bosher, aged 24, of North Road, Cobridge, said he was shocked to find himself implicated with extremism. He said: “Why did they do this now? Why not two years ago? We have the same leaflets; we’re not doing anything different. So we’re asking them to produce the evidence.”
The group have become a familiar sight in Stoke Road, Shelton, and Waterloo Road, Cobridge, where they engage Muslims and non-Muslims in faith discussions. They say the fact they carry out their activities on busy main roads, in full view of CCTV, shows they have nothing to hide. Although they admit their discussions sometimes touch on controversial political issues, such as the war in Iraq, they deny preaching hatred or encouraging violence.
Mr Bosher added: “We disagree with the Government’s foreign policy, and we will debate with people on that, but they are free to disagree with us. We don’t want to force our views down anyone’s throat. The police come to our stalls regularly and take away our leaflets. I’m sure every police officer in Stoke-on-Trent has one. Some of them know us by our first names, so we don’t know why they’ve done this. We feel betrayed.”
Abu Saif, aged 17, whose sister’s Cobridge home was raided, said: “The police were welcome to come and speak to us at our stall, or come and look in my house. I would have invited them in for a chat and a cup of tea. But they came to my house at 7am, and knocked my door off its hinges. I think that’s disgusting.”
Fellow group member Abu Abdullah, aged 35, whose Cobridge home was not raided, said: “Muslims are being victimised and demonised in this country. We’re coming up to the anniversary of 7/7, and on previous anniversaries we found that Muslims were coming under increased scrutiny by the security services.”