Muslim groups angrily condemned British Transport Police yesterday for suggesting that young men from ethnic minorities were more likely to be stopped and questioned in the wake of the London bombings.
Government ministers appeared to be divided on the issue. While Home Office minister Hazel Blears has backed the BTP, Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland minister, said a stop and search policy of discriminating against Muslims would simply act as recruiting agent for terrorism, as it had done with Irish communities in the past.
At the weekend, Ian Johnston, Chief Constable of British Transport Police, said his officers will not be searching "little old white ladies''. Yesterday a force spokesman said that the force did not intend to target specific communities but added: "Clearly if we are looking for people and being operationally efficient, we have got to target the people who we think are maybe involved.
"It is going to be disproportionate. It is going to be young men, not exclusively, but it may be disproportionate when it comes to ethnic groups."
Public racial profiling of suspects would have been almost unthinkable in recent years following criticism that young Afro-Caribbean men were being unfairly singled out.
But Chief Superintendent Ali Dizaei, of the National Black Police Association, said that he agreed racial profiling was acceptable provided searches were carried out politely and with respect.
Home Office figures show that stop and searches of Asian people have risen steeply since the September 11 attacks.
A spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain said that while it understands the police need to take all necessary actions, it had to avoid "alienating or stigmatising" and an entire section of society. "Otherwise this action will be counterproductive," said a spokesman.
Muslim Association of Britain, said such a policy would worsen the situation. "It won't help in terms of building a relationship or trust between the communities."