Faith hate hotline launched as attacks on Muslims increase

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The Independent Online

Police reports seen by The Independent on Sunday show the number of attacks in the capital rose to more than 20 a day after the first bombings on 7 July. The police have recorded 230 religious hatred offences in the past three weeks.

After the first blasts and the attempted bombings two weeks later, racist attacks more than doubled to a peak of nearly 60 a day. The police have logged more than 800 racist crimes since the first bombings, reversing a long downward trend.

Somali Muslim women, who tend to wear long robes and hijab head-coverings, have been singled out after it emerged several of the suspected bombers arrested last week are of East African origin. One woman had her hijab torn off.

The new hotline will be set up tomorrow by the Met's Assistant Commissioner Tariq Ghaffur. Mr Ghaffur, the most senior Asian and Muslim policeman, said there had been a "very substantial increase" in faith crimes in London.

There had also been an increase in the severity of attacks. "What used to be abuse has now escalated into assault. What was minor damage could escalate into a lot more serious damage. I think that is trend across the country," he said.

Mr Ghaffur will ask people to report incidents to the hotline because he fears some ethnic and religious minorities could "retreat" and not report incidents to the police. "Quite clearly, we fear there will be an escalation," he said.

To the concern of Muslim community groups, no other major English force has compiled detailed figures - despite a surge in serious, violent attacks around the country, culminating in the alleged racist murder of Pakistani Kamal Raza Butt in Nottingham four days after the 7 July bombings. Welsh forces said last week that racist attacks had increased by up to three times since the bombings. In North Wales, 64 incidents were reported, compared with 20 for the same period last year.

Azad Ali, chairman of the Muslim Safety Forum, appealed for the new hotline to be extended nationwide. "The Muslim community has unanimously shown that, like everybody else, it's committed to catching these criminals who carried out the bombings. But the community has seen institutional denial from the police about the increase in Islamophobic hate crime."

Mr Ghaffur also warned, however, that Muslims should expect to be singled out for stop and search operations by the police. "There will be a focus on the community as it is a reality and therefore there will be more stop and searches," he said.

Meanwhile, Home Office ministers are to engage Muslims in the fight against al-Qa'ida. Hazel Blears, the minister for Policing, and Paul Goggins, a junior Home Office minister, will meet Muslim leaders in eight UK cities. On 20 September, Muslim leaders will attend a summit to be chaired by Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary.