London Islamic Center Fire Is Under Close Police Scrutiny

Jun 5, 2013

Two weeks after the brutal murder of a British soldier that brought a rise in hate crimes against Muslims in the U.K., a fire devastated an Islamic community center in London Wednesday. Scotland Yard says the cause of the blaze is being treated as suspicious.

"Graffiti was found amid the charred ruins, including an abbreviation for a far right anti-Muslim fringe group," NPR's Philip Reeves reports for our Newscast unit. "Detectives are trying to figure out when it was written."

Counter-terrorism officers are among those now working on the case, according to multiple reports.

The building, the Al-Rahma Islamic Centre, had been used by the Somali Bravanese Welfare Association, which is listed on a government website for Barnet, the local borough,as providing recreational activities, financial advice, and other services.

"I have absolute confidence in the police and their commitment to get to the heart of this matter," the leader of the borough council, Richard Cornelius, said. "We are very proud of our diversity and Barnet has long been a model of tolerance. In part this is because of the support the police give to all communities in the borough."

At the scene of the fire, the chairman of Somali Diaspora UK, Mohamed Elmi, told The Guardian that his group has received more than 100 phone calls today.

Fifty percent of those who contacted the organization "are scared – scared to leave their homes or women scared to wear their hijabs in the street," Elmi said. He said the fire had shaken many people in his community, but he added, "We have to be calm and strong and not let these people win."

Two main suspects in the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, who was killed on a street in Woolwich, in southeast London, by men wielding knives and a meat cleaver, are in police custody.

One of the men, Michael Adebolajo, 28, participated in a court hearing today by video link — but the judge ordered the video turned off after the suspect persisted in interrupting him, the BBC reports.

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