Britain's foreign policy has made it a target for extremists, a coalition of prominent Islamic groups said in an open letter published yesterday, as Pakistan said it had arrested a British al-Qaeda member over an alleged plot to blow up trans-Atlantic airliners.
A court gave British police more time to question 22 of the 24 suspects arrested in swoops on Thursday when officials said they had foiled a plot to use chemical bombs to bring down as many as 10 airliners flying from Britain to the US.
The police crackdown, 13 months after four British Islamist suicide bombers killed 52 people on London's transportation system, raised fears among British Muslims they were being demonized because of the militancy of a few.
In an open letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair, leading British Muslim groups and politicians said his foreign policies on issues such as Iraq and the Israel-Hezbollah war were putting civilians at increased risk of attack in Britain and elsewhere.
The letter, carried by several major British papers, said that the British intervention in Iraq and the failure to secure an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon was providing ``ammunition to extremists who threaten us all.''
Among the signatories were three of four Muslim members of parliament, as well as 38 Muslim groups, including the influential Muslim Council of Britain.
The letter condemned attacks on civilians and urged increased action against terrorism, but it also suggested Britain had not acted forcefully enough to protect innocent Muslim lives abroad.
``We urge the Prime Minister ... to show the world that we value the lives of civilians wherever they live and whatever their religion,'' the letter said.
``Such a move would make us all safer.''
Many Muslims are critical of Blair's decisions to commit British troops to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq and not to call for an immediate halt to the fighting between Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas.
Responding to the letter, British Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander told Britain's Channel 4 television: "Nothing justifies the kind of actions which terrorists perpetrate."
On Friday, British police released one of the 24 people arrested in Thursday's swoops without charge.
A court granted police a warrant to hold 22 suspects until next Wednesday. A decision on the other suspect will not be taken until tomorrow.
Britain named 19 of those arrested, ranging in age from 17 to 35, and ordered that their assets be frozen.
British media said the suspects were mostly British-born men of Pakistani origin, three were converts to Islam and one was believed to be a security guard at London's Heathrow Airport.
Friends of those arrested said the men had led ordinary lives and had jobs such as being a taxi driver or pizza delivery man.
The Independent newspaper said Britain's security service and police believed a Britain-based cell, assisted by al-Qaeda members, had planned to start a series of suicide bombings on US-bound planes as early as Friday or Saturday.
It said officers investigating the plot had found bomb-making equipment.
Chaos at airports eased on Friday as travelers grew used to tough new security measures, including a ban on liquids being carried on to flights from US or British airports.
But British Airways warned customers to expect further flight delays and cancelations at Heathrow Airport yesterday.