British diplomats see 'soft side' of hardline Pakistani madrassa

Karachi, Pakistan - A hardline Pakistani madrassa opened its doors to two British diplomats, denying that religious schools of its kind promoted terror attacks like the July 7 suicide bombings in London.

The British deputy high commissioners (ambassadors) in Islamabad and Karachi, Simon Butt and Hamish Daniel, received a tour from staff at the Jamia Islamia seminary in violence-prone Karachi, officials at the school said.

"We invited them to visit our madrassa to prove that madrassas or Islam have nothing to do with terrorism. I am glad they accepted our invitation," a spokesman for the madrassa, Abu Hurrairah, told reporters on Tuesday.

"They stayed for more than an hour, during which they visited different classes and enquired about the education here," Hurrairah added.

The British High Commission was not immediately available for comment.

London pressed Islamabad to move against radical madrassas following news that three of the July 7 suicide bombers -- British nationals of Pakistani origin -- had visited Pakistan and may have studied at seminaries here.

The Jamia Islamia madrassa is affiliated to the fundamentalist Sunni Deobandi Muslim sect and has some 750 students, all Pakistanis.

Since July 7 Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has ordered more than 800 militant suspects arrested in sweeping raids and told some 1,400 foreign madrassa students to leave Pakistan, sparking widespread anger here.

"We used to have some foreign students but all of them had left much before the government announcement that they should leave Pakistan," another official at the madrassa told AFP.

Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, has around 800 foreign students in some 3,000 madrassas. It has a history of political, ethnic and sectarian violence which has left some 4,000 people dead in the past five years.