Belfast Telegraph

Probe over pastor's Islam remarks

Police in Northern Ireland are investigating a potential hate crime after an evangelical Protestant preacher compared "cells" of Muslims in Britain to the IRA.

Pastor James McConnell branded Islam a heathen doctrine during a fiery address in Belfast.

Stormont's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and a Muslim community representative condemned the comments. They follow a recent spate of racist attacks in the region.

Mr McConnell said: "Islam is heathen, Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell."

He ministers to a congregation of fundamentalist Protestants at the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle Church in north Belfast.

The firebrand told worshippers that former Conservative MP Enoch Powell, whose 1968 "Rivers of Blood" speech criticised immigration, was right.

"Enoch Powell was a prophet, he called it that blood would flow on the streets and it has happened."

The preacher referred to Northern Ireland's past conflict.

He said: "Fifteen years ago Britain was concerned of IRA cells right throughout the nation.

"They done a deal with the IRA because they were frightened of being bombed.

"Today a new evil has arisen. There are cells of Muslims right throughout Britain, can I hear an Amen, right throughout Britain, and this nation is going to enter into a great tribulation, a great trial."

The IRA organised itself in military-style cell structures, known by republicans as active service units, during the 30-year conflict to minimise the amount of information any one member could give if arrested for questioning.

The Whitewell church on the Shore Road has a capacity to 2,600 and describes itself as one of the most vibrant in Ireland. It has a mainly working-class congregation who enthusiastically join in with hymns.

Its biblically-based creed believes in the punishment and judgment of the ungodly in a "lake of fire".

The church's website said: "This is the solemn fate of the Christ rejector. That is why, knowing the terror of the Lord - we persuade men."

Sinn Fein's Mr McGuinness said police should hold a thorough investigation into the senior pastor's comments.

"Coming in the wake of a recent spate of disgraceful racist attacks against families in parts of Belfast and elsewhere, such inflammatory comments only serve to fuel hatred."

Earlier this month, police said they were increasing patrols in areas where hate attacks had taken place.

On Saturday, graffiti was sprayed on two houses in south Belfast, which police said they were treating as a hate crime.

The home of a Jamaican woman and her family was targeted in what was believed to have been a racist attack in the early hours of Friday morning.

Raied Al-Wazzan, from the Belfast Islamic Centre, said Mr McConnell's remarks were irresponsible.

A Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) spokesman said: "Police are aware of an incident at premises at the Shore Road on Sunday 18th May. Inquiries are continuing and at this stage, police are investigating a hate crime motive."

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