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Islamophobia in UK: Teenagers arrested after Stoke mosque set on fire

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  • Zafar Khan
    Teenagers arrested after Stoke mosque set on fire Police detain three men and a woman and describe arson attack as racially-motivated crime Jo Adetunji and
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 5, 2010
      Teenagers arrested after Stoke mosque set on fire
      Police detain three men and a woman and describe arson attack as racially-motivated crime
      Jo Adetunji and agencies
      The Guardian, Saturday 4 December 2010


      Four teenagers were arrested yesterday after an arson attack on a Staffordshire mosque – described by police as a racially-motivated crime. The fire began at a newly-built mosque in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, at 6.30am.

      Police detained three men and a woman in their late teens. Firefighters were called after smoke was seen coming from the mosque. Police said they were investigating a link between the attack and damage to a nearby gas main.

      The mosque was not seriously damaged. Chief inspector Wayne Jones said: "We are treating this as a racist attack on a religious building."

      He added: "I am sure the community are as appalled as we are at this behaviour. I would appeal for anyone with information to come forward.

      "Local neighbourhood police officers are meeting with members of the community to keep them informed and to address their concerns and obvious anger about this criminal incident."

      A police spokesman said that the four people who were in custody were to be questioned by detectives and police were reviewing CCTV footage from the area as well as making house-to-house inquiries. Mohammed Pervez, leader of Stoke-on-Trent council, called the attack an "irresponsible and reckless" act. "This is a very serious incident," he said. "City council officers are working closely with the police to assist them in their inquiries."

      Pervez urged anyone with information about the incident to come forward as soon as possible.

      Racial tensions in Stoke-on-Trent were inflamed after the city became one of two key battlegrounds for the British National Party during local council elections in May. The party currently has five city councillors. Ethnic minorities make up around 7% of the city's population.

      Jewish? Gay? Join us, white extremists say
      By Robert Verkaik, Law Editor
      Saturday, 27 November 2010


      A white extremist organisation is forging links with Jewish, Sikh and gay communities to fuel prejudice and fear and hatred of the Muslim community, it was claimed today.

      The English Defence League (EDL), which was formed last year in protest at Islamic extremist activity, has also reached out across the Atlantic to build close ties with the American right-wing group, the Tea Party.

      Hundreds of EDL members are planning demonstrations in Nuneaton and Preston today to protest at the building of mosques and what they claim is the growing influence in the UK of Sharia law.

      But a new report, written by Professor Nigel Copsey of Teesside University, warns that the growth of EDL membership will spread Islamophobia in communities sharing a perceived "historical angst" against Muslims.

      New branches of the League, such as the Jewish Division, could exploit the existing religious hostilities caused by territorial disputes in the Middle East, says Professor Copsey whose report was commissioned by the organisation Faith Matters.

      It claims that these inter-faith tensions were brought into sharp focus last month when the senior US Jewish leader and Tea Party activist Rabbi Nachum Shifren denounced Islam at a EDL rally outside the Israeli Embassy in London. Israeli flags have also been spotted at several EDL demonstrations across the UK.

      As well as aggravating religious tensions, the EDL has established a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Division to "defend" gay people from Sharia law. There are also specialist divisions for women, soldiers and disabled people. The report warns these communities to be vigilant against "selective racism" and the EDL's attempts at manipulation.

      Contributors to the EDL Facebook site confirm that the group wants to work with other minority organisation including those which promote women's rights. One members writes: "After all, leftists have portrayed themselves for decades as the only ones really interested in promoting a progressive and inclusive agenda: homosexual rights, women's equality, minority rights, reproductive rights, immigration, world peace, among others."

      One member added: "Remember there is a difference between being anti-Muslim and anti-Islam. We are against the ideology not the people. Let's not forget that many Muslim women and children are victims of their own religion."

      But Professor Copsey warned: "True to the spirit of the enemy of my enemy is my friend, the EDL is targeting other ethnic communities. These communities need to guard against approaches by the EDL."

      Founder and director of Faith Matters, Fiyaz Mughal, said: "The EDL's main aim is to increase tensions, raise hate and divide communities. Their attempts to portray themselves as a legitimate and open movement cannot disguise their violent, anti-Muslim agenda. This hate can easily mutate against another community."

      The EDL membership claim that they are not a racist group. In guidance issuedto its members attending today's rallies the EDL leadership warns: "Violence and racism will not be tolerated. If you are found to be doing this, you will be ejected from the demonstration."

      On Monday, EDL founder Stephen Lennon denied assaulting a police officer during clashes with Islamic protesters in west London. He was granted bail and a trial date was set of 12 January. About 30 supporters gathered outside the court, some with EDL placards.

      The Faith Matters report is entitled The English Defence League: Challenging Our Country and Our Values of Social Inclusion, Fairness and Equality.

      Is a storm brewing in Europe?
      By Billy Briggs


      On platform one at Bolton train station in England a mob of about 100 men punch the air in unison as a chant - "Muslim bombers, off our streets!'' - goes up. Their voices echo loudly, and as more men suddenly appear, startled passengers move aside. The protesters wave St George's Cross flags - the red and white English national emblem - and raise placards. Some wear balaclavas, others black-hooded tops. There is an air of menace.

      These are some of the most violent football hooligans in Britain and today they have joined in an unprecedented show of strength. Standing shoulder to shoulder are notorious gangs such as Cardiff City's Soul Crew, Bolton Wanderers' Cuckoo Boys and Luton Town's Men In Gear: a remarkable gathering given that on a match day these men would be fighting each other. But today they are not here for football; it is politics that has drawn them. Their destination is Manchester to support a protest by the newly formed English Defence League.

      The police are here in force, too. "Take that mask off," barks a sergeant to one young man. The man does so immediately but retorts: "Why are they allowed to wear burqas in public but we're not allowed to cover our faces?" The sergeant snaps back: ''Just do what you're told."

      A man with a West Country accent standing next to me says: "It's always the fxxxxx' same these days. One rule for them and another for us. I'm sick of this fxxxxx' country." He draws on a cigarette before flicking it to the ground in disgust. He starts to complain again, but when the public address system announces the arrival of the train to Manchester Piccadilly, he raises his hands above his head and starts another football favourite: "Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves ..."

      His companions join in singing, and as the train comes to a halt beside the platform the crowd surges forward. The carriages are almost full, so the men pack into aisles followed by police speaking into radios. A group of young men drinking beer at a table eye the protesters warily, but one protester wearing a baseball cap notices their fear and reassures them. "It's all right lads, nothing to worry about. We're protesting against radical Islam. Come and join us," he says, and as the train draws nearer to Manchester, the singing starts again. "Eng-e-land, Eng-e-land, Eng-e-land ..." the men sing rowdily. The English Defence League is in town.

      A ready-made army?

      The league seemed to spring from nowhere in 2009, but since its formation the far-right movement has held major protests in nearly all of Britain's cities. Although it claims to be a peaceful group, violence has erupted at most league demonstrations, with its supporters fighting on the streets against police, Muslim youths and a group called Unite Against Fascism, an umbrella organisation consisting mainly of students and trade unionists and formed in 2003 to oppose the far-right. During the fighting hundreds of people have been arrested, weapons have been seized and city centres have been brought to a standstill.

      Britain has not witnessed such street violence for many years and there are growing fears that the league - despite its official multiracial stance - has become a ready-made army for neo-Nazis who for years have operated underground and that tensions will erupt resulting in major disorder.

      All mainstream political parties in Britain have criticised the league, including John Denham, the former communities secretary, who compared the group to Oswald Mosley's Union of British Fascists, which ran amok in London during the 1930s.

      Tinderbox northern towns such as Bradford and Oldham - which witnessed race riots in 2001 - have been among the league's targets this year and a countrywide police team set up to combat domestic extremism, the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit, has been investigating the movement.

      I had met members of the league for the first time in a derelict building in Luton, near London, three weeks before the Manchester rally. They had agreed to talk on the condition that I did not identify them. Eleven men turned up. All wore balaclavas and most had black league hoodies with ''Luton Division'' on the back. A man using the pseudonym Tommy Robinson did most of the talking and explained the movement's background.

      "For more than a decade now, there's been tension in Luton between Muslim youths and whites. We all get on fine - black, white, Indian, Chinese - everyone does, in fact, apart from some Muslim youths who've become extremely radicalised since the first Gulf War. Preachers of hate such as Anjem Choudary have been recruiting for radical Islamist groups in Luton for years. Our government does nothing, so we decided we'd start protesting against radical Islam, and it grew from there," he said.

      With Islam Europe's fastest-growing religion - Muslim populations are projected to expand rapidly in coming decades - the group's fear that traditional British culture is under threat have been exacerbated.

      Robinson could barely conceal his anger as he described radical Muslims protesting as the Royal Anglican regiment paraded through the town on its return from Afghanistan in May 2009. Following the incident, he and others set up a group called United People of Luton. After linking up with a Birmingham-based group called British Citizens Against Muslim Extremists and a group calling itself Casuals United, they realised there was potential for a national movement. Robinson said members wore balaclavas to protect their identities because league members had been targeted by Muslim extremists.

      But although the league publicly espouses peaceful protest, there is growing concern over its secrecy and quasi-paramilitary appearance - as well as some of its membership. According to the international anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, far-right British National Party activists and other fascist extremists are at the core of the league. The publication's allegations have been backed by a former league member called Paul Ray who claimed that the group had been hijacked by the anti-immigration British National Party.

      Then there is Casuals United. The group came to the fore about the time the English Defence League was formed. An unprecedented alliance of football hooligans, it was the brainchild of Jeff Marsh, a member of Cardiff City's Soul Crew who has been convicted three times for violent offences. This included a two-year jail sentence for stabbing Manchester United fans. Marsh has now taken a back seat, so the public face of Casuals United is fellow Welshman and Soul Crew member Mickey Smith.

      Casuals United makes full use of modern communications and uses social networking websites such as Facebook to organise the 50 or so gangs that have been recruiting members around Britain. Other neo-Nazi groups, including the British People's Party and the British Freedom Fighters, have also participated in league protests, despite their opposition to the league's multiracial position.

      A 'perfect storm'?

      The high command of the league is much more astute than its foot soldiers, however, and distances itself from violence. In a Covent Garden pub I meet a computer expert from London called Alan Lake who runs a website called Four Freedoms. Last summer he contacted the league and offered to fund and advise the movement.

      His aim, he says, is to unite the "thinkers" and those prepared to take to the streets. He describes this marriage as "the perfect storm coming together," adding that street violence is not desirable but perhaps inevitable. "There are issues when you are dealing with football thugs - but what can we do?"

      He strongly criticises fascist organisations, however, and says that one of his conditions for backing the movement is that it does not associate with far-right groups. "There are different groups infiltrating and trying to cause rifts by one means or another, or trying to waylay the organisation to different agendas. The intention is to exclude those groups and individuals."

      But while some league leaders may oppose fascism, there are others who seem to have no problem with extremism. At league protests in Swansea, Wales, skinheads chanted British National Party slogans and raised Nazi salutes. In Northern Ireland, according to Searchlight, loyalists have started an Ulster Defence League, backed by the former paramilitary group the Ulster Defence Association, while in Scotland, the hooligan Inter City Firm attached to Rangers football club helped set up a Scottish Defence League.

      At an EDL protest in the city of Leicester, the movement's supporters pelted police officers with bottles, cans, bricks and coins resulting in 17 arrests. One police officer suffered a broken leg.

      The EDL protest garnered the largest police deployment in Leicestershire since the miners' strike 25 years ago. Police deployed 1,400 officers from 12 forces to deal with around 1,000 EDL supporters and a counter demo of around 700 anti-fascists.

      During the demo, the International Arts Centre Fabrika had to be evacuated, with journalists and staff making their escape through the back entrance as EDL protesters attempted to break into the building and smashed windows. The Leicester Mercury, a local newspaper, reported that there were also confrontations between the protesters and a group of Asian and black men in the Humberstone Road area, near St Matthew's, with pockets of fighting.

      What is concerning many people in Britain is that the movement is becoming more organised and stronger and feeding off growing Islamaphobia. With its anti-Islam stance, the EDL has been gaining support from abroad. Pamela Gellar, the woman leading the protest against the Islamic centre near Ground Zero in New York, has backed the movement and EDL members were welcomed when they flew to the US to oppose the Muslim community's plans on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

      Leader Robinson was refused entry at JFK airport, however, and taken into custody and flown straight back to the UK.

      Support has also come from Europe and on October 30, the EDL joined forces with the newly formed French and Dutch Defence Leagues at an event in Amsterdam. The meeting, organised by the European Freedom Initiative, was promoted as a demonstration for freedom and in opposition to Sharia. It was planned to coincide with the end of Dutch politician Geert Wilders' trial for hate speech and inciting racism.

      The fears are, however, that European cities could soon be witnessing the widespread violence being experienced in Britain.

      CCTV aimed at Muslim areas in Birmingham to be dismantled
      • Police chief axes scheme in an effort to rebuild trust
      • Council: Officers deliberately misled us about project
      Paul Lewis
      guardian.co.uk, Monday 25 October 2010 21.45 BST


      More than 200 cameras targeted at Muslim suburbs of Birmingham as part of a secret counter-terrorism initiative are to be dismantled, it emerged today.

      The West Midlands police chief constable, Chris Sims, said he believed all cameras installed as part of the £3m surveillance initiative should be taken down to rebuild trust with local Muslims.

      The scheme, Project Champion, was shelved less than six months ago when an investigation by the Guardian revealed police had misled residents into believing the cameras were to be used to combat vehicle crime and antisocial behaviour.

      In fact, the CCTV and automatic number plate reading (ANPR) cameras were installed as part of a programme run by the force's counter-terrorism unit with the consent of the Home Office and MI5.

      Police failed to obtain statutory clearance for around a third of the cameras, which were covert. After the Guardian's investigation, bags were placed over the cameras, which had been installed in Sparkbrook and Washwood Heath.

      In a statement, Sims said: "I believe that the support and the confidence of local communities in West Midlands police is the most important thing for us in the fight against crime and terrorism.

      "We can fight crime and the threat posed by terrorism far more effectively by working hand in hand with local people, rather than alienating them through a technological solution which does not have broad community support."

      Sims made no reference to the legal action he would have faced if he let the scheme continue. The civil rights organisation Liberty wrote to the force last week, threatening to commence judicial review proceedings at the high court unless the force agreed within 14 days to "dismantle the full surveillance infrastructure".

      Today's recommendation was backed by the police authority and will not be put to a project board set up in August to take over management of the cameras. The board, which was recently told almost all members of its advisory group wanted the cameras dismantled, is unlikely to object when it meets on Thursday.

      Last month an official inquiry found the initiative had been implemented with virtually no consultation, oversight or regard for the law. The review by Sara Thornton, the chief constable of Thames Valley police, found the scheme was devised in 2007 to place a surveillance "net" around two neighbourhoods identified as containing a high proportion of terror suspects.

      A bid was made for a national counter-terrorism grant in January 2008. Thornton found that senior officers devised a "storyline" that concealed the cameras' purpose. Counter-terrorism insignia was removed from paperwork as part of a strategy to "market" the surveillance operation as a local policing scheme.

      Senior police failed to ask questions about the operation's "proportionality, legitimacy, authority, necessity, and the ethical values inherent in the proposed course of action", Thornton found.

      Officers also failed to comply with national CCTV regulations or conduct proper consultation, Thornton said.

      Today, a Birmingham council scrutiny committee released its own report, finding senior police officers guilty of "deliberately misleading" councillors over the purpose of the scheme.

      There have been no resignations or disciplinary action, although the police authority has launched an investigation into claims that councillors were misled by Stuart Hyde, who is now deputy chief constable of Cumbria police. No action is known to have been taken against the assistant chief constable Anil Patani, who had overall responsibility for the project.

      Six arrested over 'burning Korans'
      Thursday, 23 September 2010


      Police arrested six people on suspicion of inciting racial hatred after a recording of what appeared to be Korans being burned appeared on the internet, a force spokesman said today.

      Officers detained two men on September 15 and four more yesterday and all six were bailed pending further inquiries, Northumbria Police said.

      "The arrests followed the burning of what are believed to have been two Korans in Gateshead on September 11," the spokesman said.

      "The incident was recorded and a video placed on the internet."

      In a video still accessible on Youtube, six young men in hooded tops or wearing scarves over their faces can be seen pouring petrol on a book and setting it alight, before burning another.

      On the video, which appeared to have been filmed behind a pub, they cheer as the first book bursts into flames.

      Northumbria Police said the men were not arrested for watching or distributing the video, but on suspicion of burning the Koran.

      Gateshead Council and the force issued a joint statement to stress that community relations in the area were good.

      It said: "The kind of behaviour displayed in this video is not at all representative of our community as a whole.

      "Our community is one of mutual respect and we continue to work together with community leaders, residents and people of all faiths and beliefs to maintain good community relations."

      The men may have been copying Florida-based Pastor Terry Jones, who caused an international outcry by threatening to burn the holy book on September 11, although he did not go ahead with the plan.

      'They asked me where Bin Laden was, then they took my DNA'
      Fears of racial profiling after rise in number of British Muslims held by border officials
      By Robert Verkaik, Home Affairs Editor
      Tuesday, 21 September 2010


      Hundreds of British Muslims leaving and returning from holidays abroad face harassment and intimidation by security forces when they pass through UK airports and seaports, an investigation by The Independent has found.

      One man interrogated by police over his British credentials was asked whether he watched Dad's Army, while another was questioned over the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.

      New figures seen by this newspaper show that the number of innocent people stopped and questioned at airports and other points of entry to the UK has doubled in the last four years, raising serious concerns about racial profiling. Many British Muslims have cancelled future vacations rather than risk being questioned and held for up to nine hours by anti-terrorist officers.

      Senior Muslim police officers are also understood to be concerned about the overuse of the special powers granted under the Terrorism Act 2000. The frequent searches at ports and borders have been criticised by Lord Carlile QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, who argues that the number of cases can be "reduced in number without risk to national security".

      Earlier this year the Home Secretary, Theresa May, scaled back section 44 of the Terrorism Act, which gives police officers the power to stop and search members of the public without any reasonable suspicion. But under Schedule 7 of the same legislation, police officers have greater powers to stop and detain travellers leaving and entering Britain, including taking samples of their DNA.

      Figures obtained by the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) under the Freedom of Information Act show that the number of people stopped and questioned has risen from 1,190 in 2004 to 2,473 in 2008. The most recent numbers of Schedule 7 cases of stopping, questioning and searching last year show that, between January and September, police and Special Branch officers carried out 1,773 operations.

      In the last five years 1,110 people were held and questioned by the police for up to nine hours. And despite a total of 10,400 "stops" carried out over the same period, only 99 people have been arrested. Of these, 48 were charged with terrorist or terrorist-related offences.

      Mohamed Nur, 26, was stopped at Heathrow airport in June after returning from a holiday in Dubai. He was held for nine hours and forced to give DNA samples and fingerprints. During the questioning, one of the police officers asked about his British credentials. "He asked me 'Do you consider yourself to be English?' I said I consider myself to be British, rather than just English," Mr Nur said.

      "He said 'How do you consider yourself to be British when you have no historical links with Britain? It's like me going to Somalia and living there and people still not considering me to be Somali because of the way I look.'

      "I said 'I've lived most of my life in Britain so that's why I'm British'. Then he asked me about Dad's Army, and whether I watched it or not. I said 'Yes'. He said 'Do you find it funny?' and I said 'Yes'. Then he said 'I consider you British'."

      Mr Nur's complaint is being investigated by the Metropolitan Police.

      Asif Ahmed, 28, a property developer from Renfrew in Scotland, was stopped at Edinburgh airport as he returned from Stansted airport with his wife. The couple were collecting their bags when two plain-clothed officers approached them. They were taken to an interrogation room, separated and questioned for more than an hour. During the questioning Mr Ahmed claimed: "I was asked if I knew where [Osama] bin Laden was."

      Zin Derfoufi, civil liberties officer for FOSIS, told The Independent: "Schedule 7 is the most wide ranging 'stop' power in the UK but it is also the least transparent. This new information will not only assist the public's understanding of how this power is being used but, significantly, 10 years after it was first introduced, it is also the very first step in empowering us all to be able to monitor its use and to hold the police to account."

      A Home Office spokesperson said: "Stopping people at airports is, on occasion, a necessary activity to protect public safety. These figures cover from 2004 to 2009. No figures are kept on ethnicity of individuals who are stopped and it is therefore not possible to conclude if any particular group is targeted unfairly."

      Adil Hussain, 26: Detained and quizzed on beliefs for six hours

      The PhD computer student at Imperial College London was stopped by police at Dover in April this year at the start of his walking holiday in the Alps.

      Although Mr Hussain and his companions protested that they were simply spending the weekend on a short break, anti-terrorist officers told them that some of the terrorists who attacked Britain were also well educated and enjoyed hill walking.

      They were held for six hours, during which time they were searched and had their phones confiscated. At first the group believed their detention would last no longer than a few minutes.

      Mr Hussain said: "Half an hour or so passes and one of the officers comes by for me to sign a paper outlining my rights and declaring that I have been held under the Anti-Terrorism Act. I am asked whether I would like anything to drink or eat – they have halal food. It turns out to be lamb curry and I think they must have a lot of Muslim visitors. They even have a prayer mat. I am reminded that I do not have the right to remain silent – if I refuse to answer any questions I could be arrested. "

      For the next six hours the men were separately interrogated about their interest in Islam, their friends in the UK and their views on British and American troops in Afghanistan. Finally they were released, but all their electronic equipment was confiscated.

      Mr Hussain added: "My being singled out randomly for a 'pat down' and for my car to be inspected for dangerous materials is understandable – all of this delaying me an hour or so.

      "However, I find it wholly unacceptable to be held a further five hours late into the night simply for the officers to profile me, questioning my religious and political views and threatening to charge me for refusing to answer any questions. I find this outrageous and do not see why I have to be subjected to such treatment merely on account of my ethnicity and religion."
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