"The trends of Islamophobia unfortunately are worsening," Abdul Malik Mujahid, chairman of the Council of Islamic Organisations of Greater Chicago, said at the start on the annual meeting of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) on Friday.

"During the last five years the Muslim community has been scrutinized by almost all branches of the government and the media to the extent that more than half a million Muslims have been directly touched by this process."

"They continue to face dehumanization and a great trend of Islamophobia," Mujahid said.

Mujahid cited George Bush's recent remark that if terrorism is not beaten in Baghdad then Americans will have to fight it in their own streets as a remark that casts suspicions on Muslims in their own country.

Lack of understanding

The ISNA annual meeting is the largest yearly gathering of US and Canadian Muslims.

Ingrid Mattson, newly elected president of ISNA and the first woman to head the group, agreed that there was a continuing level of problems faced by Muslims, but said that there was also a growing level of education and understanding acros civil society.

This she said finds Muslim leaders sometimes hard pressed to keep up with demands for speeches and other outreach opportunities.

"Hollywood and popular culture in general seem to have done a better job of putting a human face on Muslim adherents than the news media," Mattson said.

September 11 anniversary

Almost 3000 people died when members of al Qaeda, a global Islamic group, flew two passenger planes into the World Trade Centre in New York and another into the Pentagon in Washington on September 11, 2001.

Western-born Muslims and converts have played an increasing role in armed Islamic movements worldwide since then.

British-born Muslims have carried out attacks in London and others have travelled to Iraq to fight US and British troops.

In 2004 a group of Moroccan Muslims killed nearly 200 people in Spain when they blew up a train in Madrid.

In 2005 a Belgian woman convert to Islam, Muriel Degauque, travelled to Afghanistan to carry out a suicide bomb attack against US troops.

In August 2006 British police arrested 22 British Muslims on suspicion of planning to blow up several transatlantic airliners.

Also in August, German police said that two Lebanese Muslims had attempted to blow up a train in Germany.