c.2013 New York Times News Service
LONDON — Despite calls by British politicians and religious leaders for calm, there has been a rise in threats and invective against Muslims across the country in the wake of the killing of an off-duty soldier on a London street by two men who shouted Islamic invocations.
The police and Muslim community groups have said that anti-Muslim episodes have occurred in many parts of the country, with the most common involving the posting of derogatory — and, the police said, in some cases inflammatory — messages on social media sites, including Twitter.
A number of arrests have been made, with criminal charges being leveled in some cases under laws against inciting racial or religious hatred, and Muslim community leaders have reported rising concern among the estimated 2.5 million Muslims in Britain.
Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, a group that seeks to promote harmony among religious groups, said in a BBC interview Saturday that the anti-Muslim episodes had included graffiti being scrawled on mosques and Muslim-owned businesses, women’s headscarves being yanked off and verbal abuse. He described the occurrences as “quite aggressive.”
The brutality of the assault on the soldier, Lee Rigby, which took place Wednesday in Woolwich, has stirred a wave of public outrage.
One of the suspects, later identified as Michael Adebolajo, 28, justified the attack as revenge for British military deployments in Muslim countries, including Afghanistan.
In the aftermath of the assault, which the police have characterized as a terrorist attack, many of Britain’s political and religious leaders have appealed for a renewed commitment to tolerance among religious and ethnic groups.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who cut short a European tour to return to London, said: “The people who did this were trying to divide us. They should know: Something like this will only bring us together and make us stronger.”
The archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, who visited a community in Birmingham with Ibrahim Mogra, a leader of the Muslim Council of Britain, said, “This is very much a time for communities to come together.” Mogra, echoing other Muslim leaders, called the soldier’s killing “a betrayal of Islam” and “a truly barbarous act” with no basis in Islam.
On Friday night, a man claiming to be a friend of Adebolajo’s, Abu Nusaybah, appeared on a BBC television program saying that Adebolajo had been “a changed man” since he returned last year from a trip to Kenya. The trip appeared to have been the one cited by British security officials who said that Adebolajo had planned at one stage to join al-Shabab, an Islamist insurgent group in Somalia.
The police arrested Nusaybah after the interview. They said he was wanted on suspicion of involvement in unspecified acts of terrorism unrelated to the soldier’s killing.
On Saturday, three more men were arrested in connection with the Rigby case, the British police said.
In what may have been a copycat attack Saturday evening, a French soldier in uniform was stabbed in the neck while patrolling with two other soldiers in the Paris suburb of La Défense. The attacker fled.
The police said the soldier had lost a considerable amount of blood but would survive.