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Greater Manchester Police boss apologises for Allahu Akbar shout during exercise

Published 10/05/2016

A person playing the role of suicide bomber detonates an explosive during an exercise at the Intu Trafford Centre in Manchester
A person playing the role of suicide bomber detonates an explosive during an exercise at the Intu Trafford Centre in Manchester
Police joined forces with other agencies for the simulated terror attack
The exercise aimed to test the emergency response to a major incident
One person played the role of a suicide bomber
An armed police officer during the exercise
People playing the role of injured shoppers
An 'injured' man reacts during the staged anti-terror exercise
Others playing the role of injured shoppers during the simulated terror attack

A police chief has apologised after his force was accused of "stereotyping" Muslims during a staged terrorist attack.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) came under fire following a mock terrorist operation at Manchester's Trafford Centre which saw a fake suicide bomber shouting "Allahu Akbar" immediately before detonating a bomb.

The overnight operation had been testing the anti-terror police's response to a Paris or Brussels-type attack on civilians but was criticised after footage showed one actor repeatedly shout the religious phrase meaning "God is great".

Critics said that it linked terrorism with Islam and called for an explanation from GMP.

The Assistant Chief Constable of GMP Garry Shewan issued an apology, calling it "unacceptable" to use the phrase - and apologised for any offence caused.

In the statement on Twitter, Mr Shewan said that the exercise had been based on an attack by an extremist Daesh-style organisation.

He said: "On reflection we acknowledge that it was unacceptable to use this religious phrase immediately before the mock suicide bombing, which so vocally linked this exercise with Islam. We recognise and apologise for the offence that this has caused."

Vice-chairman of the British Muslim Heritage Centre in Manchester, Saima Alvi, said that it had "reinforced stereotypes" but added that it was time to move forward and accept the force's apology.

Speaking on behalf of the organisation Mrs Alvi said: "They have clearly made a mistake that shouldn't have happened but as a community we would accept that apology. We know they are very supportive of the Muslim community.

"The whole exercise was excellent, very much needed and any community would support safeguarding us as citizens.

"All I can think is very poor training. It was clearly an error, my point would be - why did that error happen, why was it overlooked, we are talking about GMP here. It shows the lack of sensitivity and lack of training."

But she said it could still have a detrimental impact on the Muslim community.

"Obviously for us as a community the repercussions of that are totally reinforcing stereotypes - extremism, terrorist attacks could come from any community. All it does is reinforce the stereotype.

"It could actually have an impact on Muslim's every day life because it is such a commonly used word, it's a word we use in every single prayer."

The exercise came under fire soon after footage emerged with one Twitter user, Siema Iqbal, asking the force to provide an explanation as to why the terrorist was Muslim.

In response Dr Erinma Bell MBE, a peace activist who fought to rid the streets of Manchester of gun crime, tweeted back: "Good question. We need to move away from stereotypes if we want to achieve real learning. A terrorist can be any one."

It also received a backlash from Greater Manchester's Mayor and Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd, who said it could "undermine" community relations, adding the choice of words "didn't add anything to the event, but has the potential to undermine the great community relations we have in Greater Manchester".

He said that the operation had been "marred" by the "ill-judged, unnecessary and unacceptable decision by organisers" to shout the phrase.

Police had said they had wanted to make the "attack" at one of the UK's largest shopping centres as realistic as possible in order to test how the emergency services would respond to developing terrorist attacks.

Codenamed Exercise Winchester Accord - it had involved anti-terror police from the North West Counter Terrorism Unit armed with machine guns and around 800 people, including volunteers and fire and ambulance service personnel taking part in the different scenarios.

Mr Shewan added: "The scenario for this exercise is based on a suicide attack by an extremist Daesh-style organisation and the scenario writers have centred the circumstances around previous similar attacks of this nature, mirroring details of past events to make the situation as real life as possible for all of those involved."

It was the fourth major exercise in recent months, coming after previous ones in London, Glasgow and Essex.

The current UK terror threat level is described as severe, meaning an attack is highly likely, according to the security services.

A spokeswoman for the Muslim Council of Britain also commended GMP's apology, adding that terrorists must not be allowed to "hijack" the phrase.

She said: "We welcome and commend the Greater Manchester Police for recognising the problem and for apologising.

"Our effort to train and fight against terrorism should not be hampered by perpetuating stereotypes against Muslims. The Arabic phrase for God is Great is a perfectly noble term and we must not allow the terrorists to hijack it."

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