After EDL protesters gather in Woolwich and three mosques are attacked overnight, a helpline reports a rise in reports of anti-Muslim abuse amid fears of a backlash.
The politically-motivated murder of a British soldier in Woolwich has sparked a rise in anti-Muslim attacks and fears of worse to come during weekly prayer gatherings at British mosques on Friday.
The anti-abuse monitoring group Tell Mama reported a ten-fold rise in attacks overnight. Most incidents took place online on social networking sites and forums, but some included “threats to kill”, the group told Channel 4 News.
We really fear if we have more attacks like this, that our good relations in this country will fracture – Fiyaz Mughal, Tell Mama
On Thursday, an EDL supporter falsely tweeted that Muslims were gathering to “celebrate” the Woolwich attack in Bolton. Greater Manchester Police told Channel 4 News there was no truth to the rumours.
Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, the organisation that runs Tell Mama, told Channel 4 News that there was a lot of “concern and fear” in the Muslim community.
“What some people are saying to us, is that they feel extremely vulnerable,” he said. “During Friday prayers, there can be 4,000 to 6,000 people at many of the largest mosques.”
Mosques in Woolwich, Oldham and Essex were attacked after the Woolwich incident and 38 incidents were reported to Tell Mama staff on Wednesday evening. “We weren’t able to pick up more,” Mr Mughal said. “The reality is that there were tons more. We’re just scratching the surface.”
The Muslim Council of Great Britain were quick to condemn the attack and said it would “no doubt heighten tensions on the streets of the UK”.
The reported rise of anti-Muslim abuse comes as the prime minister called on the British public to “stand together” to defeat violent extremism.
“This was not just an attack on Britain, and on our British way of life, it was also a betrayal of Islam, and of the Muslim communities who give so much to our country,” he said.
Mr Mughal said incidents like Woolwich posed a threat to community cohesion in Britain: “We really fear if we have more attacks like this, that our good relations in this country will fracture,” he told Channel 4 News.
The brazenness (of the attack) and willingness to stick around afterwards – that is a novel thing – Raffaello Pantucci, Rusi
“We need calm heads, reflection and we need to work with the authorities so that people get dealt with by the criminal justice system.”
Assistant Commissioner Simon Byrne of the Metropolitan police said in a statement: “What is even more important today is that we continue to work together, and we are working with our communities. We are here to listen and understand the concerns that this brutal attack will have raised.”
One of the suspects, believed to be Michael Adebolajo, was filmed after the attack wielding a bloody cleaver and saying the attack was a message to the government and a response to British troops in Afghanistan.
Defence and security expert Raffaello Pantucci, Senior Research Fellow at Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) told Channel 4 News that the attack was part of a trend of “small cell or even lone actors”, rather than networks of cells, using tools they had to hand.
However he said it is very rare that individuals are radicalised solely on their own, or via online material.
“The internet makes it infinitely easier for an individual to find these ideas online… It clearly has had an accelerating effect. But it is rare for individuals to be radicalised solely by the internet. Most of the time, there are other actors involved.”
The former leader of the banned Islamic group Al Muhajiroun, Anjem Choudary, said that Adebolajo had attended some of the group’s meetings, but was not a member.
The very graphic nature of the decapitation is also part of a wider trend, and is clearly aimed at getting attention, said Mr Pantucci: “The more bloody, the more dramatic the attack, the more attention it will attract.”
“However the brazenness and willingness to stick around afterwards – that is a novel thing,” he added.