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Angry Britons attack mosques with Molotov cocktails, knives and bacon after the Woolwich killing.
LONDON, UK — The London Islamic Cultural Society sits on a quiet street in Wood Green, a multiethnic, working-class neighborhood in north London.
Next door is the Greek Cypriot Women’s Organisation and across the street is the Gospel Centre, an evangelical Christian church with a billboard depicting a smiling Jesus in an England soccer jersey and the caption “No one saves better.”
But on Tuesday, only the mosque bore a warning to its members on the door.
“Security Alert: This Mosque will open 10 minutes before each prayer and close 15 minutes after each Prayers,” reads a sign posted next to a prayer time reminder and a flier for an upcoming fundraising carnival.
Mosques and Muslim community centers around the UK have been on alert since the May 22 murder of an off-duty soldier by two men with alleged ties to Islamic extremism.
Suspects Michael Adebolajo, 28, and Michael Adebowale, 22, were shot by police and injured after confronting officers after the killing. Adebowale was released from the hospital Tuesday and immediately taken into police custody in south London.
Amid the emotional public response to the brutal public killing of Drummer Lee Rigby, 25, a violent minority has chosen to direct its anger at members of Britain’s Muslim community.
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People have thrown Molotov cocktails at mosques in Bletchley and Grimsby. Mosque windows were smashed in Dorset, Gillingham and Maidenhead. A man wielding knives and what police described as “incendiary devices" entered a mosque in Essex before being arrested. Someone left bacon outside a mosque in Cardiff.
Signs on the door of a mosque in north London. @corinnepurtill.
The interfaith organization Faith Matters has received 162 calls of reported hate incidents against Muslims since Wednesday — up from a daily average of four to six calls, the organization said in a statement.
This pattern of anti-Muslim violence in the wake of extremist attacks has become all too familiar in Britain over the last decade. The public has grappled with angry backlashes to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, the London transport bombings of July 7, 2005 and now the murder in Woolwich.
“We’ve been down this road in 2002, then in 2005, now again in 2013,” said Ketan Dave, equalities officer at the Haringey Race and Equality Council, a community organization. “The first thing that came into my mind [after the Woolwich attack] was, my God, how many more kids are going to be stopped?”
In Wood Green, an ethnic and racially diverse community where Muslims make up roughly a quarter of the population, locals said the tense clashes making headlines across the UK had not been felt there.
“This one is a mixed community, mixed background, mixed race. We have Turkish, Bengalis, Africans — let’s say from all the continents in the world,” said Nour Ibrahim, director of the Hope Community Centre on Turnpike Lane. “I’ve never come across someone verbally abusing someone else, or doing something Islamophobic or xenophobic.”
Originally from Somalia, Ibrahim was disheartened to hear reports that one of the suspects, Adebolajo, had allegedly attempted to travel there to join the radical Islamist group al-Shabaab.
“Somalia has been a failed state for 23 years,” he said. “Everybody wants to take advantage. Some are organized criminals, some are extremists.”
A few days after the attack last week, a customer came into Paradise Halal Butchers, the shop on Turnpike Lane that Mohamed Malik has owned for 22 years.
The man had just been accosted by a group of four or five youths who saw his beard and assumed mistakenly that he was Muslim. They began to verbally abuse the man, “calling him a terrorist and all that,” Malik said, before firing the xenophobic mantra, "go back to where you came from."
Recalling this, Malik started to laugh. The man was from Holloway, a north London neighborhood a few miles away. “He said, ‘I will do — I’ll just go buy my milk from Tesco’s first!’” Malik said, referring to the supermarket chain.
As police and counterterrorism investigators work to uncover the trail leading to the attack, they are also trying to keep it from leading to more violence. Vandals painted two prominent war memorials in central London with the word “ISLAM” in the early morning hours Monday.
The same day, more than 1,000 protesters from the far-right English Defence League marched through London, clashing with counter-protesters at Downing Street.
Two prison officers at a maximum security prison in Yorkshire were attacked over the weekend by three prisoners. Counterterrorism investigators have been called in, though the authorities are refusing to give further details while the investigation is ongoing.
This corner of London is no stranger to violence. Wood Green is adjacent to Tottenham, the epicenter of the 2011 riots, and several shops here were smashed and looted.
Nor is it a stranger to the kind of extremism that flourishes in the absence of economic opportunity. Omar Bakri Mohammed is a radical cleric who praised the London bombers in 2005 and who took credit last week for helping radicalize Adebolajo. He was derisively known as the “Tottenham Ayatollah” before leaving the area for Lebanon in advance of a UK directive barring him from this country.
The lack of opportunity here poses a far greater threat than any kind of religious tension, locals said.
“Across the UK, the 2 million people who are jobless. The problems come from there. [We need] more and more education,” said Yusef Karagecili, a shop clerk who struggled to express himself in English.
A Kurdish Muslim from Turkey, Karagecili emigrated to the UK in 1999. He’s seen the consequences of religious strife in his home country and his adopted one, and he doesn’t like it.
“I don’t like the religion,” he said, tapping the shop’s worn countertop. “I believe in this life.”