Blaze 'may be Woolwich retaliation'
A Somali cultural centre has been burnt to the ground amid fears it was targeted in retaliation for the Woolwich murder of Drummer Lee Rigby.
Counter-terror police launched an investigation into the blaze after the letters EDL - apparently referencing the English Defence League - were found scrawled on the wrecked building in Muswell Hill, north London.
The blaze came as a war memorial which was attacked by vandals in central London last week was defaced again, this time with the words "Lee Rigby's killers should hang". Scotland Yard said they were treating the fire as suspicious following the graffiti discovery.
The fire, which broke out shortly after 3am, ravaged the home of the Somali Bravanese Welfare Association - also known as the Al-Rahma Islamic Centre - described as a place for learning, cultural activities and prayer. People who attended the cultural centre spoke of their devastation and called the blaze an "appalling attack" on a peaceful community.
Lul Abukar, 31, whose cousin Abu Bakar Ali runs the Somali Bravanese Welfare Association, said the centre was largely attended by children and functioned as a place of learning and prayer. "It might have been attacked because of what happened with Woolwich, a kind of retaliation," she added. "It is a shock for everyone but I guess you have to stay strong. We wouldn't want this to bring the community down."
Scotland Yard said specialist investigation teams, led by the Met's counter-terrorism command, would conduct a "vigorous and thorough" investigation into the blaze which caused the building to partially collapse and saw one woman treated for shock at the scene. Officers will now examine any potential connection between the fire and the graffiti. Police have refused to be drawn on whether they are linking the blaze to a backlash against Drummer Rigby's death, which sparked outrage last month.
The Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) said Muslims were now living in fear of a "wave of attacks". Massoud Shadjareh, chair of IHRC, said: "Muslims feel scared right now and it is completely understandable. Muslims have been physically attacked, mosques burnt down, cemeteries vandalised and social media is full of anti-Muslim hatred and violent threats towards Muslims. More needs to be done to protect the Muslim community."
Fiyaz Mughal, of Faith Matters, a group which monitors anti-Muslim hatred, added: "Bearing in mind this is close to Woolwich, bearing in mind that it houses Islamic activities, bearing in mind that they have found alleged EDL graffiti, there's a strong likelihood that this could be an anti-Muslim incident. It is very concerning when we know that, online, there is a huge amount of anti-Muslim hate. When it moves into the physical world, it is extremely concerning."
The latest graffiti attack was covered up this afternoon by an RAF Benevolent Fund banner. Beneath it were the words: "Lee Rigby's killers should hang." The memorial - and the Animals in War Memorial on Park Lane - were previously daubed with graffiti on May 27. It is thought ''Islam'' was written on each of them.
Kevin Carroll, of the EDL, said: "The EDL do not approve of any religious buildings being attacked." Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "If this is confirmed as arson there must be robust action to bring the perpetrators to justice."