Forest Gate sceptic

Observations on a terror raid by <em>Shiv Malik</em>

"Look!" says the young man, holding up his wrists to show the red marks. "They cuffed me for trying to get to my house." He tells me he is called Abdullah, but like a lot of people in the area he will not give his full name. Like a lot of people in the area, too, he is angry. "Yeah, 20 officers arrested me and the other brother there" - he points to an African-Caribbean man in a red sports saloon parked on the curb, who raises his hand and says salaam.

Abdullah is 5ft 11ins with slick, collar-length black hair and traces of a beard, and he is wearing khaki combats and a blue polo shirt. He lives nine doors down from Abdul Kahar Kalam and Abdul Koyair Kalam, the two brothers arrested in the huge anti-terror raid on 2 June in Forest Gate, east London.

He says he was trying to get around the barriers when he was arrested. The police said he tried to force his way through.

"You see, all of the local community are unsafe. They can come in and shoot a half-naked man and they know that the Muslims can't do nothing. Shoot first then ask questions later," he says. Who fired the shot, in fact, was still officially unclear, though few in Forest Gate seem to be in doubt.

Abdullah says he has known the brothers since they were children. Their father, Abdul, who has heart problems, had rebuilt their house in Lansdown Road "brick by brick". Now, says Abdullah, the police are gutting it. "For God's sake, they're even ripping up the road." What about the police intelligence of a credible threat? "Chemical, biological weapons? They didn't even go to college, bro," he says. "And anyway which jihadi do you know that listens to rock music?"

Abdullah's theory is that the raid was carried out to distract people from government woes such as the release of foreign prisoners and the doings of John Prescott. The genius of the plan, he informs me, was that once the World Cup began everyone would forget about Forest Gate. For the little crowd that has gathered around us, however, he has a simpler explanation for it all: "Kuffars, bro, kuffars." Kuffar is a pejorative term for non-Muslims. The people nod.

Katherine Street, where the local shops are, tells a curious story about Muslim life around here. While the older Pakistani and Bangladeshi women go around in the hijab, the younger generation, often chaperoned by men, are generally wearing the full jilbab or burqa. Among men, the older generation gossip on the street corners in their tucked-in shirts and cotton trousers, but the younger ones, with their MP3 players and rudeboy walk, wear the full Arab thobe or have folded up the bottoms of their trousers to make sure they don't touch the ground, in accordance with Wahhabi teaching.

I ask Abdullah about a separate raid in Forest Gate last November when three Uzis and 3,000 rounds of ammunition were discovered. Was there an extremist presence? "It wasn't hard to go and get terrorism training back home in PK [Pakistan]," he replies, which I take to mean that some local men had. It was events like the Lansdown Road raid, he adds, that turned people into jihadis.