Detectives today checked CCTV footage to try to identify arsonists who attempted to torch a mosque in the latest such attack since the killing of a soldier outside his barracks in May.
The attackers sprayed insulation foam underneath the shuttered doors and windows of an Islamic centre in Harlow, Essex, then tried to set it alight, according to police and mosque leaders. The attack caused only minor damage and the centre was opened for prayers hours later.
Mosque leaders blamed anti-Muslim prejudice for the attack but had not identified a specific motive. "We have been working very hard within the local community, building bridges, and we were hoping we wouldn't have this kind of problem, but in the current climate there are elements within society that are not happy and there are issues," said Zia Rehman, the Islamic Centre's vice-chairman.
The attack is the latest on mosques amid a reported increase in violence following the killing of Lee Rigby outside Woolwich barracks in May. A man was jailed last week for threatening worshippers with knives at another Essex mosque hours after that killing. Geoffrey Ryan was jailed for nine months.
A Somali community centre in Muswell Hill, north London, was burned down two weeks after the Woolwich attack. The initials of the right-wing English Defence League were found daubed on the outside of the building. Nobody has been arrested over that inquiry. And last month, a Ukrainian student was charged with the murder of a pensioner and with charges connected to three small bomb attacks close to mosques in the West Midlands.
Police were patrolling the area yesterday while forensic experts were examining the scene of the attack and detectives looked through CCTV footage for clues to the identity of those who had carried it out.
"Detectives are investigating this concerning incident and there will be a significant police presence throughout the day to reassure all local residents as we seek to identify those responsible," said Chief Inspector Ed Wells, of Essex police.
"Naturally, if and when we identify suitable, productive footage, we will release this… in order to help with our investigation," he told reportersn accompanied by the chairman of the centre, Ajaib Hussain. "We stand here together today appalled at the criminal behaviour of the individuals who last night tried to set fire to this building."
The mosque was set up 18 years ago when the Muslim community in Harlow grew in numbers and now serves a 2,000-strong community, according to the centre's website.
It was in the news last year after a funeral was held there for a woman and her five children who died in a blaze at their home in Harlow. The children's father, Dr Abdul Shakoor, worships at the mosque.