Supermosque for 70,000 will be blocked

Controversial plans to build a “supermosque” on the doorstep of the London Olympics will be blocked by the Government.

Ruth Kelly’s Whitehall department is expected to refuse planning permission for the London Markaz, which would be the biggest religious building in Britain with room for 70,000 worshippers.

Backers want the £300 million mosque, in east London, to serve as a reception centre for athletes and fans from Islamic countries during the 2012 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. Tablighi Jamaat was called “an ante-chamber for fundamentalism” by French security services. Two of the July 7 London suicide bombers are believed to have attended one of its mosques.

The organisation denies any link to terrorism, and has never been banned.

A senior security source said that he was concerned about the proposed mosque, and expected ministers to use their powers to call in, and turn down, the planning application.

The move was confirmed by a senior Government source, who said there were fears that the giant mosque could damage community relations in the area, and added: “We are going to stop it.”

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 was thought that planners would rubber-stamp the proposed mosque, which was agreed in principle in a 2001 deal between Newham Council and Anjuman-e-Islahul Muslimeen.

The London Thames Gateway Unitary Development Corporation, the quango with planning powers over the site, is understood to support the plans. So is the London Development Agency, which reports to Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London.

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 autumn, 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 organisation 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 practised in Saudi Arabia. Hundreds of British Muslims are sent by Tablighi Jamaat to madrassas in Pakistan every year, raising fears that some may be brainwashed. A leaked FBI memo alleged that al-Qaeda was using the organisation “as cover… to network with other extremists”.

Mohammed Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, two of the July 7 suicide bombers, are believed to have visited the organisation’s European headquarters, a mosque in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. Supporters of Tablighi Jamaat point out that even if this were the case, the mosque would not necessarily be the place where the pair were brainwashed.

Muslims living near the site, in West Ham, have raised 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 Newham councillor for the Christian People’s Alliance party, has warned of the “community and security impact” that the mosque would have, and claims Muslims are already moving into the area in preparation for its opening.

Ali Mangara, the practice principle at Mangera Yvars Architects, the firm behind the scheme, has promised that the mosque would be “inclusive”.

A makeshift mosque currently on the site has been operating without planning permission for the past five months.

The plans will put the spotlight on Miss Kelly if she is still at the helm of the Department of Communities and Local Government when the decision is taken. Earlier this month she launched a ?5 million fund for grassroots Muslim projects, while warning that “the battle for hearts and minds is more important than ever”.

In a separate move, the Kingsway International Christian Centre, Europe’s biggest evangelical church with a capacity of 12,000, is being pulled down to make way for the Olympics.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday February 19, 2007.
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