Friday, March 23, 2007


Mohammed Iqbal, 45, is the first Asian Lord Mayor of Leeds. His ward of City and Hunslet covers the Beeston area where three of the bombers lived.

''The sense of disbelief about what happened 12 months ago remains as profound for me as for everyone around here. I came across Mohammed Sidique Khan several years ago and I distinctly remember his face. He wasn't working below the radar. He was a community worker; someone people knew. We've all asked ourselves how he could have carried out the acts he did under our noses.''

"Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying there's any sense of denial here about the four bombers - and the three [Khan, Shahzad Tanweer and Hasib Hussain] who came from my part of Leeds. A minority might subscribe to the view that these young men were not the bombers, that it was a set up in some way. The majority - the sensible people - don't feel the same, though. They feel that what's happened has happened and that's the end of it. ''

"That said, I do think we could do with seeing more of the forensic evidence and more information about the bombings. For as long as we have to go on the word of the investigators, it will be difficult for some people to accept the things that they are being told. It's important to remember how much of a shock it was for everybody when the names of people they knew started to appear on television.

"I do think that a public inquiry into the bombings would be for the best. It would enable everyone to know exactly what was going on and answer some of the nagging doubts people have about how much they ought to have known. We just want to learn lessons from it and move on. That is certainly my view - though all the opinions here are my own, and not necessarily the council's.

"My first concern when I heard that the bombs had gone off and that they were linked to Islamic terrorists [several days before a specific connection with Leeds was established] was to communicate the revulsion Muslims felt about it. Muslim leaders and I issued a statement condemning the bombings as barbaric and unislamic.''

"Of course, we had no reason to believe that our city was going to be linked to such an atrocity. Leeds - and Beeston - has its share of problems, but it is not really any different to many other districts in Britain. There's nothing that marks it down as a place for terrorism, and when people come back looking for exciting angles on the story here, it creates a distorted image of what is, at heart, a positive, vibrant community.''

"Is there radicalism that we should be worried about? Well, first I would say that radicalism is everywhere. I've encountered Stop the War Coalition activists who come across as violent - and I've come across Muslims. But that's not to say that anybody will go as far as those four went last July. Nobody thinks that was right. ''

"If anything, Beeston's link to the terror attacks has brought the community closer together. It has been besieged, but people have united in a sense of protection for their neighbourhood. People ask whether enough money is being put into the regeneration of Beeston to give young people hope. There is work to be done, as there is everywhere, but a lot is happening. The educational underachievement is being tackled. New schools and a community sports facility will be completed this year; a new swimming pool and health centre will be finished next year. We want to make people proud of their corner of this city, and of Britain.''

"People suggest that there is insufficient community leadership to keep potential radicals on the straight and narrow. But you tell me which young people listen to their community leaders? The parents are responsible - but only to an extent. Parents can't force their children into a particular behaviour, they can only lead by example and bring up their children to their own views. Yes, a society is responsible for the actions of its young people to an extent, and the local authority is responsible to an extent. But I don't think the Muslim community here should be held accountable. ''

"I do know that the British Muslim community of Beeston is proud of its nationality. So am I. I was born in Kashmir. My family moved here when I was nine. I am now Leeds' first Asian Lord Mayor. I have put something in to the country and got something back in return. My conscience is clear. But yes, it is right to examine the role of British foreign policy in all of this. The opinion polls say that 67 per cent of people think foreign policy contributed to the bombings.''

"We in Beeston have become stronger because of what happened. But we have also been shaken. I will officiate at a tree planting to mark the anniversary, in Cross Flatts Park [where Tanweer and Khan played cricket]. A tree is planted and grows. It becomes stronger. Good things stem from a new beginning. ''

Independent, one year on

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