Britain’s far-right group says anger against Muslims increasing in Europe
The leader of a British far-right group to which Anders Behring Breivik claims links called the attacks a sign of growing anger in Europe against Muslim immigrants, while a politician in a party in Italy’s governing coalition called some of the gunman’s ideas “great.”
Following a wave of near universal revulsion against the attacks, the comments were among the first public statements that appeared to defend the extremist views which drove the Norwegian gunman to carry out the massacre.
Stephen Lennon, leader of the English Defense League, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he does not condone Mr. Breivik’s rampage but “the fact that so many people are scared - people have to listen to that.”
“What happened in Oslo shows how desperate some people are becoming in Europe,” said Mr. Lennon, 28. “It’s a ticking time bomb. If they don't give that frustration and anger a platform as such and a voice - and a way of getting emotion out in a democratic way - it will create monsters like this lunatic.”
Backtracking on earlier denials of any link to Mr. Breivik, Mr. Lennon said he is in touch with regional EDL leaders to find out whether the gunman had contact with members of the group as he claims in his sprawling manifesto. He says so far, police haven’t come knocking on his door to investigate or to ask questions about his members.
Mr. Breivik had posted admiring comments about the EDL online and expressed a wish to attend its rallies, but he also was critical of members for seeming to oppose violence and for being from different ethnicities.
“It could turn out that one of our members met with him but at this point we’re not turning anything up,” Mr. Lennon said.
Meanwhile, Mario Borghezio, a European parliamentarian who belongs to Italy’s populist Northern League party, told a mainstream Italian radio station that he sympathized with some of Mr. Breivik’s ideas.
“Some of the ideas he expressed are good - barring the violence - some of them are great,” he told Il Sole-24 Ore radio station.
The Northern League, the junior partner in Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s government, has caused a stir with its increasingly virulent anti-immigrant, anti-Islamic rhetoric.
Mr. Breivik has confessed to the attacks on Oslo’s government district and a summer camp for the youth wing of Norway’s ruling Labor Party that killed 76 people. He said he carried out the massacre to publicize his calls for expelling Muslims from Europe.
The act of such deadly right-wing terrorism stunned a continent that has been grappling with a wave of xenophobia and anti-immigrant violence amid faltering economies, rising unemployment, and ongoing fears about Islamic terror plots.
Mr. Lennon, also known as Tommy Robinson, said he has recently taken his group touring in Germany, France and the Netherlands, and finds rising European support for anti-Islamic groups like his.
“They’re going to get bigger and bigger,” said Mr. Lennon, who is missing several teeth from brawls with police and others. The EDL leader was convicted Monday of leading a football hooligan street fight and sentenced to 12 months community service.
Mr. Lennon also claimed that a man Breivik describes in his manifesto as his mentor – “Richard (the Lionhearted)” - is a former EDL member called Paul Sonato, who was kicked out of the group a few years ago.
Sonato, an English right-wing blogger who now goes by the name Paul Ray, told the AP in an telephone interview from his home in Malta that he never had any dealings with Mr. Breivik and condemned the massacre.
“Being implicated in this, I just want the truth to come out and it proven that I'm nothing whatever to do with this,” he said.
The 35-year-old blogger said he fled England almost two years ago after being arrested for stirring racial hatred and settled in Malta.
The English Defense League was founded two years ago when Lennon says British troops returned from Afghanistan to insults and harassment from Muslims in Luton, a town outside of London where the radical Islamic preacher, Abu Hamza al-Masri - the one-eyed, hook-handed cleric - used to preach occasionally.
The group says it wants peace - but it also wants an end to “Islamic immigration,” Shariah law and building mosques “until Islam sorts itself out,” Mr. Lennon said.
He says other groups across Europe feel the same way.
“Islam is a threat to Europe,” he said, denying that he is against cross-culturalism or Muslims.
The European police agency said Tuesday it was investigating links between Mr. Breivik and right-wing groups in Europe.
A task force was set up shortly after the Norway attacks to help in the probe but Europol spokesman Soeren Pedersen said Tuesday that British police would also join the task force. He said the task force could expand to even more countries later in an attempt to assess the threat of right-wing extremism in Europe.
Many countries are being contacted by Norwegian authorities about local people Mr. Breivik contacted electronically, according to a European security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about police investigations. He said Portugal was one of the latest.