Homecoming parades by armed forces provide a stage for opposing groups to battle on streets of Britain
A summer of clashes between extremist groups is feared as both the English Defence League and Muslims Against Crusaders pledge to use soldiers' homecoming parades as a public platform for their protests.
The English Defence League, which has cancelled two planned protests this week, today said it would be focusing on parades by the armed forces and on preventing the completion of a large mosque in Dudley, West Midlands. It plans to hold its largest demonstration to date in Dudley on 17 July.
The two groups disrupted the Royal Anglian freedom of the borough parade in Barking, east London, last week with scenes that were branded a "complete and utter disgrace" by the defence secretary, Liam Fox. Police separated members of Muslims Against Crusaders, who brandished signs such as "British soldiers are cowards", from the English Defence League, whose members returned the abuse with jeers of "scum".
The angry scenes culminated in one man being cautioned for a public order offence and another being charged with possession of a knife.
A message from the English Defence League leadership to its supporters today said: "Muslims Against Crusaders have said that they will demonstrate against every homecoming parade for our troops. This means that the English Defence League divisions will also be attending all homecoming parades to ensure our troops get the respect they deserve."
Abu Jandal, a spokesman for Muslims Against Crusaders, who demonstrated against soldiers in Barking, said: "Of course we will continue to organise more demonstrations and more protests and more vigils. We will not just stop after one parade. We want to highlight the atrocity that has been taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Fox said the actions of the groups threatened to tarnish what should be a celebration of the soldiers by their families and communities.
Sonia Gable, the deputy editor of Searchlight, said the League was looking for places to be active and demonstrate against Muslim extremists. She said: "[They] are trying to pick a fight with Muslim extremists, so really we have got extremists on both sides."
The league was formed in response to Muslim extremists' protests in Luton, where soldiers were branded "butchers of Basra". Muslims Against Crusaders was set up specifically to protest against the homecoming parade in Barking. Its leaders have vowed to continue their protests, and have called for the introduction of Sharia law.
On Sunday, more than 1,500 Unite Against Fascism supporters marched peacefully from Tower Hamlets to Altab Ali park in London's Whitechapel. The English Defence League was thought to have been planning a counter-demonstration, though it now appears that this was cancelled.