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Reporters on the Job

AT THE MOSQUE: Given the current international tensions, European correspondent Peter Ford was astonished to find security precautions at the London Central Mosque almost nonexistent. He visited the mosque for today's story (page 1) on moderate Muslims.

Worshippers crowded into the enormous square prayer room without once being checked, leaving their bags, coats, as well as shoes, unattended.

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Outside, however, police were in full force: One detachment of bobbies patrolled the sidewalk in case of trouble with a group of demonstrators, while a pair of uniformed officers stood directly in front of the speakers and filmed their fulminations. The videotape would be key evidence in any prosecution the police might bring for incitement to racial hatred.

REALITY CHECK: The Afghans have a reputation as stouthearted warriors who flinch at neither bomb nor bullet.

But while covering fighting between the ruling Taliban and Northern Alliance rebels (this page), the Monitor's Scott Peterson discovered this ain't necessarily so. The myth began to pale when Scott heard the full translation of the words of a rebel chief on the front lines.

The commander - whose rank and nickname translate as "Major Danger" - handily blasted a visible Taliban position with a missile or two. But when Taliban guns responded, and fired with rifles upon their rooftop aerie - where Scott and a television cameraman were filming the event - everybody ducked.

Several bullets whizzed past at a safe height overhead, but Major Danger yelled to nearby troops: "Hide yourselves!" As to the Western correspondents in their midst, the commander bellowed: "Forget about the infidels, let them get themselves killed if they want to!"

- Margaret Henry

Europe editor

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