THE MAKING; the 7/7 Bombings Shook Britain. but Should We Have Been Surprised? A New Book Reveals How for Years - despite Warnings - Politicians Have Been Happy to Let Islamic Fundamentalism Thrive Here. It Has Amounted, the Author Says, to an Act of Cultural Suicide

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Byline: MELANIE PHILLIPS

THE London suicide bombings last year caught MI5 with its trousers down. Last week's report by the Commons Intelligence Select Committee revealed astounding incompetence by MI5, which had never understood the nature and extent of Muslim radicalisation and had let two of the bombers slip through its fingers.

The London bombings lifted the veil on Britain's dirty secret in the war on terrorism - the fact that, for more than a decade, London had been the epicentre of Islamic militancy in Europe.

Under successive governments, Britain's capital had turned into 'Londonistan' - a mocking play on Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda had been trained. Incredibly, London had become the economic and spiritual European hub of a production and distribution network for Islamist extremism and terrorism - all being carried out right under the nose of MI5.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Islamic radicals flocked to London. A combination of Britain's reverence for freedom of speech and its loss of control over immigration meant that such extremists and terrorists found London to be the most hospitable place in the world.

As a result, London fostered the growth of myriad radical Islamist publications and preachers spitting hatred of the West. Its banks were used for fundraising accounts funnelling money into extremist and terrorist organisations, and it provided the launching pad for many of Osama Bin Laden's fatwas. Indeed, some authorities believe it was in London that Al Qaeda was forged into a global terror movement.

Terrorists wanted in other countries were given safe haven in the UK.

Extremist groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir remained legal, despite being banned in many European and Muslim countries. Radicals such as Abu Qatada, Abu Hamza and others were allowed to preach incitement to violence, raise money and recruit members for the jihad.

An astonishing procession of UK-based terrorists turned out to have been responsible for attacks upon America, Israel and many other countries.

YET the bizarre fact is that the British authorities allowed all this extremist activity to continue with impunity for more than a decade - even after the ostensible 'wakeup call' of 9/11.

So how could this have happened?

The truth is that even now the British Establishment is in a state of denial about the nature of the threat to the free world posed by Islamist extremism, and paralysed in its attempt to combat it.

Nowhere is this more alarming than within the nexus of politicians, civil servants, intelligence services and the police which is responsible for guarding Britain against this threat.

After the London bombings last year, ministers were appalled by how little the security service knew. Yet MI5 had known since at least the late 1990s that some British Muslims were becoming radicalised and recruited for the jihad, or holy war - and with British targets included in their sights.

In December 1998, eight young British Muslims were arrested and eventually convicted in the Yemeni capital, Aden, of plotting terrorist attacks against British targets in that country and abducting tourists.

Subsequently, security officials confessed they had no idea the youths had been recruited from mosques around England and were being trained at special 'terrorist camps' sponsored by Osama Bin Laden. 'It was a complete shock to us, and it was a shock that chilled us to the bone,' one source said.

Over the years, the governments of India, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel, Peru and Russia, among others, lodged formal or informal protests about the presence in Britain of terrorist organisations or their sympathisers. Many countries asked Britain to extradite radicals back to the nations they were threatening but were turned down, often by the courts.

So why has Britain been so reluctant to act against the Islamist extremists in its midst? …