Muslims' fears rise after fire destroys Somali community centre in London
Police reassure Somali community of support after arson attack on centre in north London, where possible far-right graffiti was found
Agencies in London
A suspected arson attack on a British mosque has intensified fears of a backlash against Muslims after a soldier was killed on a London street last month.
Police said they were treating Wednesday's mosque fire as suspicious and that the letters "EDL" had been scrawled on the side of the building. EDL is the acronym of the English Defence League, a far-right group that has held several protests in London and elsewhere since the murder. The EDL denied any involvement.
The Islamic centre in the Muswell Hill neighbourhood of north London was mainly used by the local Somali community.
"The safety of our communities is always our priority and we are consulting widely, offering our support and reassurance," police spokesman Chief Superintendent Adrian Usher said. "All communities can be confident that they have our support."
Last week a mosque in the northeastern city of Grimsby was pelted with petrol bombs and similar attacks were reported in the south of England after the May 22 murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich. Police, politicians and religious leaders have called for calm and unity after the murder. Rigby's family has appealed against any reprisals.
"This is the latest in a series of attacks on Muslim institutions since the horrific murder of Drummer Lee Rigby," Muslim Council of Britain secretary general Farooq Murad said. "The British Muslim community came out in droves to condemn this murder, and it is despicable that Muslims should be held to account and suffer in this way."
Mohamed Ali, of the Somali charity BritSom, believed the latest incident was linked to the Woolwich attack. "The place has been absolutely destroyed," he said. "The community is shocked and very distressed because they have been here in peace for the past 20 years. This is shocking but it will not break the community as a whole. I would appeal to the people who did this to come and sit down with us and have a dialogue. That is the only way forward."
Since the murder of Rigby last month, monitoring groups have recorded the targeting of 11 mosques, while women wearing the hijab have complained about being spat at or having their headscarves pulled off.
For the imam of the Grimsby Islamic Cultural Centre, in northeast England, the answer to whether Islamophobia is a problem is clear. Dr Ahmad Sabik said his mosque had always had a good relationship with its neighbours, pointing to regular school visits and an active interfaith network. But days after the Woolwich killing, bricks were hurled through the window, narrowly missing worshippers. A group of teenagers were arrested and the community shrugged off the incident. But three days later things became more serious.
"It was about 10pm and one of the brothers was leaving," Sabik said. "Just as he was opening the door, fire was thrown at it. We realised it was a petrol bomb. Another one had been thrown at the fire exit - can you imagine? And there was a third that they had tried to throw on the roof. There were children inside. Everyone was frightened."
Two ex-soldiers have since appeared in court, charged with arson with intent to endanger life, but Sabik worries such incidents are not taken seriously enough. "What happened in London was nothing to do with Islam, and what happened in Grimsby was nothing to do with British culture - but both are terrorist acts."
Reuters, The Guardian