British police probe 'hate crime' catapult attacks on mosques


Police said they were investigating a hate crime on Thursday after catapult attacks on two mosques in the English city of Birmingham, as local residents linked the attacks to the arrest of a suspected terrorist in London.

West Midlands Police said armed officers were deployed at the two mosques after large ball bearings were fired at them from catapults during evening prayers late on Wednesday, breaking several windows.

The Masjid Qamarul Islam mosque and the nearby Al-Hijrah mosque were attacked at around 10 pm and 10:20 pm, the police said, adding that firearms officers were "deployed as a precaution." No injuries or arrests were reported.

"The attacks are being treated as hate crimes and are thought to be linked at this stage," the police said in a statement. They added that more officers would patrol the area over the next few days to "provide reassurance to worshippers and residents."

"We fully understand the concerns of the community following these two attacks," said Superintendent Tom Joyce. "The motives remain unclear and we are doing our utmost to discover who is responsible for these totally unacceptable incidents," Joyce said.

"While we don't fully know the motives yet, these ball bearings are the size of marbles - and have the potential to kill," said the Birmingham-based Bahu Trust, which runs several British mosques. 

Usman Hussain, an imam at the Masjid Qamarul mosque, told the Birmingham Mail that local Muslims were "concerned for our safety."

"We have noticed that whenever anything happens in the mainline mainstream media, be it grooming, be it terrorism, we take the brunt of it," community worker Naveed Sadiq told the newspaper at the Al-Hijrah mosque. "I would like people to know that we are a peace-loving community," Sadiq said.

The newspaper quoted Ali Khan, 20, a worshipper at the Masjid Qamarul mosque, as saying the attacks "probably happened as a reaction to the incident in London."

On Tuesday, a 29-year-old man was arrested in London on suspicion of terrorism after he injured several cyclists and pedestrians before crashing his car into security barriers at the British parliament. London's Metropolitan Police said the man was a Birmingham-based migrant from Sudan.

The group Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks, known as Tell MAMA UK, suggested last month that there appeared to be a pattern of a spike in Islamophobic incidents following terrorist attacks in Britain and abroad.

It said there was a rise of 700 per cent in anti-Muslim incidents in the week following a terrorist attack at the Manchester Arena in May 2017, when 22 people died and hundreds were injured after a performance by US singer Ariana Grande.

Tell MAMA also recorded a spike of nearly 500 per cent in anti-Muslim incidents reported in the week following Britain's vote to leave the European Union in a referendum in June 2016. The group said it had "verified 54 incidents against Islamic institutions" in Britain last year.    (dpa)

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