Bomb suspects "radicalised in weeks" 

LONDON (Reuters) 

A group of British Muslims suspected of plotting to blow up U.S.-bound airliners flying from Britain had been radicalised in just weeks or months, London's police chief said on Wednesday. 

British detectives announced last August they had foiled a suicide bomb plot to blow up planes using liquid explosives. Officers have charged 15 people over the suspected plot with offences including conspiracy to murder and planning acts of terrorism.

The suspects are due to go on trial next year.   "One of the really shocking things ... is the apparent speed with which young, reasonably affluent, some reasonably well-educated, British-born people were converted," police chief Ian Blair told a conference on Islamophobia. 

He said the suspects had been converted "from what would appear to be ordinary lives in a matter of some weeks and months, not years, to a position where they were allegedly prepared to commit suicide and murder thousands of people". Authorities are trying to understand what has caused a growth in extremism among the Britain's 1.8 million Muslims, dramatically exemplified by the July 2005 suicide bomb attacks on London's transport system by four British Islamists who killed themselves and 52 other people. 

Last November, domestic spy chief Eliza Manningham-Buller said agents were tracking some 1,600 suspects.Blair said the "extreme view of one austere strand" of Islam was proving powerful. 

"It seems to be very potent," he said, repeating his warning that the threat to Britain was "growing, and extremely grave" and the conspiracies were growing in "number and gravity". He said he was concerned about recent opinion polls taken amongst British Muslims which found support in "principle at least" for terrorist action. 

A poll of Islamic students and Muslims generally found that 4 and 6 percent of those questioned thought the July 7 London bombings were justified -- the equivalent of about 80,000 and 120,000 people, Blair said.   "I'm not suggesting that means there are that many terrorists. It does however indicate the power of the ideology involved.

" Blair said it was vital to get over the message of "Britishness" based on values of tolerance, fairness and respect for faiths and traditions of others. "We have to get over the message this is not a clash of civilisations."  

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