- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 18, 2007

LONDON — Government and security officials say they expect planning officials to halt plans for construction of a “supermosque” on the doorstep of the 2012 London Summer Olympics.

Such a decision would be made by the Department of Communities and Local Government, headed by Secretary of State Ruth Kelly, who repeatedly has spoken of the need to reach out to Muslims.

Backers want the $585 million London Markaz, which would be the biggest religious building in Britain with room for 70,000 worshippers, to serve as a reception center for athletes and fans from Islamic countries during the 2012 Olympic Games.

The group behind the plans is Tablighi Jamaat, a Muslim missionary sect whose charitable trust, Anjuman-e-Islahul Muslimeen, has owned the 18-acre site since 1996.

The organization denies any link to terrorism and has never been banned, but two of the July 7 London suicide bombers are thought to have attended one of its mosques.

A senior security source told the Sunday Telegraph that he expected Cabinet ministers to use their powers to turn down the planning application.

That was confirmed by a senior government official, who said there were fears that the giant mosque could damage community relations in the area. “We are going to stop it,” he said.

There are clear planning grounds on which the development could be turned down. It is so close to the main Olympic venues that it may interfere with preparations for the games.

The government source said that the planning application needed to be rejected “to give the Olympics a clear run.”

Until now, it had been thought that planners would rubber-stamp the proposed mosque, which was agreed upon in principle in a 2001 deal with the local municipal council.

The London Thames Gateway Unitary Development Corp., which has planning powers over the site, is understood to support the plans. So does the London Development Agency, which reports to London Mayor Ken Livingstone.

Tablighi Jamaat has hired a lobbying firm with a track record of supporting controversial planning applications in an attempt to build political support for the project.

Indigo Public Affairs says that a formal planning application for the mosque will be submitted in the fall, possibly with the size scaled back to meet some of the objections.

A spokesman said: “Our client utterly refutes any links to terrorism. It is a predominantly apolitical organization seeking to go about its faith in a peaceful way.”

Tablighi Jamaat is a conservative and ultra-orthodox group with close links with the Wahhabi form of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia. Hundreds of British Muslims are sent by Tablighi Jamaat to madrassas in Pakistan every year.

Muslims living near the site in East London have collected more than 3,000 signatures on a petition calling for the project to be halted. They want any new mosque to draw in all strands of Islam.

Alan Craig, a local council member for the Christian People’s Alliance party, has warned of the “community and security impact” that the mosque would have, and says Muslims are already moving into the area in preparation for its opening.

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