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We'll bounce back, vows Belfast Multi-Cultural Association founder following racist arson attack


Attack: Police and firefighters at scene of arson

Attack: Police and firefighters at scene of arson

Stephen Hamilton

Attack: Police and firefighters at scene of arson

The founder of the Belfast Multi-Cultural Association (BMCA) has said learning of a racist arson attack on the charity was like a "dagger to the heart".

Ali Khan revealed his devastation over the hate crime during an online meeting of the BMCA last night.

The building, a former Presbyterian church on Donegall Pass in south Belfast, was torched last Thursday.

The centre was badly damaged, but thankfully no one was in the building at the time.

The PSNI believes the fire was started deliberately and has appealed for witnesses.

Mr Khan, who is currently not in Northern Ireland, said he received the devastating news via a phone call.

"I was on the runway and my flight was about to take off and my phone started buzzing; Whatsapp messages, you name it, [saying] the BMCA is on fire," he said.

"My phone goes dead and the only thing coming to my mind is: 'Fire, fire, fire'. And I'm thinking: 'Has anybody been injured? Has anybody been killed?'"

He added: "In truth, I felt like a dagger had hit me in my heart. Something that had been a dream had just been shattered.

"When I saw pictures of the flames coming out of the roof, and I'm just thinking that I hope the volunteers weren't downstairs."

Mr Khan explained that earlier on the day of the fire the centre had been preparing food parcels to be distributed that evening.

The interior was badly damaged by water used by firefighters, and sections of the roof were destroyed.

Last September two vehicles parked outside the centre had their windows smashed in another hate crime.

Mr Khan said the building had been targeted on numerous occasions in the five years since the charity took it over.

"Our dream has been shattered... from day one, unfortunately, we've been having issues with the centre," he added.

But he added the generosity of the public in the aftermath of the blaze had overwhelmed him.

"It's absolutely unbelievable the response we have got. Yesterday a statement went out and there was thousands of people who were supporting us," said Mr Khan.

"So at least there was something right about what we were doing."

The fire was condemned by First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill.

"I thank everyone for supported us, and we're going to come back stronger," insisted Mr Khan.

"We already have plans to increase our intake of what we were doing in the centre."

Around £60,000 has been raised for the charity in an online crowd funding campaign after Amnesty International's Patrick Corrigan set up a JustGiving page with an initial target of £10,000.

Mr Khan also told the meeting that he hoped those responsible for the attack were caught.

"All I can say is that I would love for the people behind this to be brought to justice," he said.

"The firefighters did a tremendous job.

"They risked their lives to get the fire under control.

"We just don't understand why this was done, but our plans are to get the centre up and running as soon as possible again."

Belfast Telegraph

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