Belfast Telegraph

Pakistani man vows to flee Northern Ireland after race-hate attacks, blaming anti-Islamic atmosphere

Friends targeted after rally in city

By John Porter

A Pakistani man has vowed to flee Northern Ireland after he and a friend were injured in two racially motivated attacks — carried out within a matter of hours.

Less than 24 hours after attending an anti-racism rally in Belfast, friends Muhammad Khattak and Haroon Khan were assaulted and had their north Belfast home set upon by thugs yesterday.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Khattak blamed the atmosphere stirred up by the fallout of an anti-Islamic sermon given by Pastor James McConnell, who was later backed by First Minister Peter Robinson.

In the six months since they moved into their home in Parkmount Street in the north of the city, they said they have suffered constant racial abuse.

Mr Khattak (24) said Peter Robinson's remarks about not trusting Muslim terrorists “cast suspicion over every Muslim”.

And he said the controversial words of Pastor McConnell gave his attackers “the licence” to do what they did.

“They have lit the fire in the forest and it is not going to stop,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

The two men — one a university graduate, the other a trained lawyer — were first attacked in the early hours of yesterday morning when a bottle was hurled through a window. They were clearing up the remnants of the smashed window yesterday afternoon when they were attacked yet again.

This time they were approached by three men who racially taunted them before setting on them.

Both victims tried to escape into the house. However, the men chased them and Muhammad, who tried to lock himself into the bathroom for safety, was badly beaten with a bottle.

The 24-year-old was taken to hospital for treatment to a suspected broken foot and minor cuts and bruises. Haroon (38), was also injured, but did not require hospital treatment.

A 57-year-old man and an 18-year-old woman were last night arrested by police investigating the incidents.

The woman has been charged with disorderly behaviour and is due to appear at Belfast Magistrates' Court on June 27.

The man has been released on bail pending further police enquiries.

Police were maintaining a presence in the area late last night as some people remained in the street.

The double attack came days after the police were called to their home after receiving reports of “suspicious illegal activity”, something the men said the police found no proof of. The friends also said they have been subjected to constant racist abuse from people in the community and wanted to leave the country “as fast as they could”.

Mr Khattak said: “The people don't trust us to live here, they don't want us in the area and it's all because of our religion. The pastor has motivated the people to think Muslims are terrorists. The people know we are Muslims and they have targeted us. We are so scared, we just want out.”

He said Mr Robinson's recent comments about Muslims left him feeling feel “degraded”.

“Trusting someone to go to the shops — that's what a slave does,” said Mr Khattak.

“Those are not the comments of a leader, they made us feel like third-class citizens.”

Mr Robinson has condemned racist attacks and privately apologised to Belfast’s Muslim leaders.

However, Muhammad joined calls for the DUP leader to make his apology public.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, last night condemned the attacks. He said: “There is no justification for any attack on an individual or their home whatever the religion, lifestyle, or ethnicity of the person concerned. The perpetrators of such attacks are cowardly and I would urge anyone with any information about this attack to contact the police so that they can be brought to justice.”

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly also condemned the incident and called for political leaders to unite to help fight racism.

 

Taunts from residents relentless

Dark clouds were descending on Parkmount Street as Muhammad Khattak talked about the experiences he had faced after an attack on his home in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Photographers and television journalists have the ability to bring people out into the street, and this loyalist community in north Belfast was no different.

But other than the heavy rain clouds, there was a weight in the air, that soon became all the more apparent the longer we stayed.

Since moving in, Muhammad had been subjected to racist abuse in the street. Taunts of “Paki B******” and “dirty Arabs” were thrown out constantly he said in the past six months as he made his way to and from the house.

As our photographer documented the scene one person began the taunting once again with the same vile insults.

“Tell him he should pay his rent and this won’t happen again,” was the shout from across the street, referring to a rumour being circulated to put the air of suspicion on Muhammad and his friend Haroon.

After a visit from the police about the false accusations, officers warned both men to be aware of their safety and to lock doors and windows.

“Ask him where he gets his electric,” was another taunt from the same man.

Muhammad said these claims are invented by residents to try and avoid accusations of hatred and racism. “What business is it of theirs?” was his response.

But the atmosphere was toxic and when asked if stealing electricity was justification for attacks, there was no response from the person who had been jeering earlier.

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