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Row over excusing British Muslim guard in Britain

A Scotland Yard statement said the decision to free Basha temporarily from guard duty was taken on safety grounds.

india Updated: Oct 05, 2006 23:33 IST

The decision to free a Muslim police officer from guard duty outside the Israeli embassy in London during the Middle East conflict earlier this year, sparked a furious row in Britain on Thursday.

Ian Blair, the chief of London's Metropolitan Police (MET), ordered an "urgent inquiry" into the case of Alexander Omar Basha, who asked to be relieved from his diplomatic protection duty because he objected to the Israeli action in Lebanon during the fighting with Hezbollah.

A Scotland Yard statement said the decision to free Basha temporarily from guard duty was taken on safety grounds and had "nothing to do with political correctness".

It remained unclear on Thursday who exactly in the police hierarchy had taken the decision to grant Basha dispensation.

The Association of Muslim Police Officers, defending the unusual decision to excuse Police Constable Basha from duty, said it was a "welfare issue" as Basha had relatives in the Middle East and "felt unsafe".

Basha, who was transferred to different duties, is British-born and has a Syrian father and a Lebanese wife. He is reported to have been worried about TV pictures showing him guarding the Israeli embassy in London.

The Muslim Police Association said the officer's reassignment had nothing to do with religion or politics.

But the Metropolitan Police Authority, which oversees the force's work, and which asked for an inquiry, said it was "unacceptable for officers to choose their duties" as confidence in policing could be undermined.

Muhammed Abdul-Bari, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said that anyone joining the police force had a responsibility to discharge their given duties.

"Being asked to guard a foreign embassy in no way implies an acceptance of that country's policy or actions," Abdul-Bari said.

"If there are legitimate concerns about the safety of family members overseas, then of course those concerns deserve to be taken seriously," he added.

The British government declined to comment, saying the affair was a matter for the police, while the Israeli embassy said in a statement that it had "full confidence in the ability" of the MET to provide the embassy with maximum security.

However, Lord Janner, the former president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, called the decision to withdraw Basha from duty a "grave error".

Malcolm Rifkind, a former conservative British foreign secretary, who is Jewish, said: "I think this is a very disturbing precedent. I think there is a very serious error of judgement on the part of his superior officers."