The British government is reportedly planning a system of profiling where security staff focus their attention on people whose ethnicity or religion makes them statistically more likely to attempt to blow up aircraft.


Ali Desai, a chief superintendent and one of Britain's top Muslim police officers, said of the plan: "What you are suggesting is that we should have a new offence in this country called 'travelling whilst Asian'.


"What we don't want to do is actually alienate the very communities who are going to help us catch terrorists," he said on Monday.


The proposal has sparked outrage among Britain's Muslims but aviation experts said the step was vital to break the gridlock at airports, in chaos since police last week said they had foiled a plot by British Muslims to bomb several passenger planes.


Police arrested a further suspect in an alleged plot to blow up transatlantic flights on Tuesday, bringing the total number of people held to 24.


Young Muslim men


John Stevens, a former British police chief, said that airport bottlenecks caused by extra security checks could be reduced by focusing on "young Muslim men".


Officials from Britain's department of transport have refused to answer any questions on profiling proposals.


"What you are suggesting is that we should have a new offence in this country called 'travelling whilst Asian'

Ali Desai, a British Muslim chief superintendent

"Our security measures at airports are layered. Some measures are visible. Others we are not prepared to discuss. That plays into the hands of terrorists," a department official said.


Many of Britain's 1.7 million Muslims have accused the police of unfairly targeting their community since four British Muslims blew themselves up and killed 52 other people in July 2005.


Since 2000, police have arrested over 700 people - many of them Muslims - under tough anti-terrorism laws, but have brought only a handful to court. The vast majority have been released without charge.


Police support 


Muhammad Abdul Bari, general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, said British Muslims would withdraw their support for the police if the proposed profiling measure was put into practice.


"If you treat a community as a problem community, you are not going to get support from them," he said.


Asked what he thought passenger profiling might provoke, he told Sky News: "It could end up in racism, unfortunately.


"If the profiling is done on the basis of race and religion, it will be wrong. It is not going to work."


David Cameron, the leader of Britain's opposition, said that the government was failing to deal with "Islamist extremism".


Cameron asked why so few "preachers of hate" had been prosecuted or expelled from the country.


"I do not believe that the government is doing enough to fight Islamist extremism at home, or to protect our security," the Conservative Party leader said.


Cameron called for a minister to co-ordinate counter-terrorism efforts and a dedicated police force to patrol the borders.


Previous cases


British police have so far produced no evidence to back up their claims of a plot of blow up airliners, however, British Muslims have previously carried out attacks in Britain and abroad. 


In 1998, British Muslims were involved in a plot to kidnap and kill foreign tourists in Yemen and carry out bomb attacks there.


Leaders say profiling may alienate
the British Muslim community

In December 2001 Richard Reid, a British Muslim, attempted to blow up a transatlantic airliner. His bomb failed to explode.


In February 2002 a British-born Muslim, Ahmed Omar Saaed Sheikh, kidnapped and murdered Daniel Pearl, an American journalist, in Pakistan


In April 2003 two British Muslims blew themselves up in Tel Aviv, Israel, killing three others.


Two weeks after the attack on the London transport system in July 2005, another group of British Muslims attempted to carry out a similar attack, but their bombs failed to explode.


British Muslims have also travelled abroad to fight in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir and Bosnia.