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Bomb disposal team is called to mosque in Walsall after suspicious item discovered

Residents say an explosion was heard on Friday evening before the item was discovered on Saturday

Police examining a suspicious item found in a Walsall mosque have confirmed they are treating the incident as a hate crime.

A police spokesperson said an explosion was heard by residents on Friday evening. On Saturday, the item was discovered by a member of the public and handed into the police.

Superintendent Keith Fraser, the head of crime and operations for Walsall Police, said the incident was being treated as hate crime but the motive for placing the item near a mosque remained unclear.

Army experts ordered the evacuation of nearly 40 homes near the Rutter Street mosque in Walsall, West Midlands Police said.

Speaking at the scene, Mr Fraser said: “At around 10.15pm on Saturday police were called to Aisha mosque in relation to a suspicious item that had been found.

"The force are taking this extremely seriously.

“We have launched a full investigation into the suspicious item that has been found, and what's going to be the key to this is the public's help in relation to helping us to understand why that suspicious item was in the area.

”So if anybody saw anything over the weekend I'd like them to call police on 101 or Crimestoppers 0800 555 111."

Mr Fraser, who confirmed that the suspicious item was being examined by trained experts, also appealed for the media not to speculate about what had been found.

The officer added: "Obviously there are going to be a number of hypotheses around this suspicious item, what I would ask is that we work with what we know at the moment.

“The investigation is at a very, very early stage.

“Hypotheses which raise people's concern about what may or may not have happened would not be helpful at this stage."

Earlier, a police spokesman said the item was discovered in the grounds of the mosque by the member of the public before being taken inside the building.

The spokesman stressed that the evacuation of homes was a “precautionary and temporary” measure, and added: “Officers were immediately dispatched and cordoned off an area around the building.

”Army bomb disposal experts are currently at the scene and have this morning ordered the evacuation of around 39 homes in the immediate vicinity of the mosque.

“People in the affected area and who are unable to make alternative arrangements are being taken to Walsall Town Hall, where they will be cared for.

”Officers are continuing to work hard to establish what the item is and how it got there."

Meanwhile, local officers remain at the scene and are talking to residents to keep them up-to-date with the incident and offer reassurance.

Officials from Walsall Council are working closely with the emergency services to support local people and minimise disruption in the area.

Zahid Ali, Cabinet Member for Public Protection at Walsall Council, also spoke outside the mosque.

Cllr Ali said: "In terms of the local authority's position, we have executed the procedures that we normally use for any emergency planning.

"We have taken the residents living within the immediate vicinity of the area into the council's civic offices and premises.

"We have put in comprehensive support for them, including food and whatever other support they require."

Describing the incident as "unfortunate", Mr Ali added: "It's absolutely wonderful to see that the communities have come together supporting the residents, and most of those residents are now back in their homes."

Zia Ul-Haq, who acts as a spokesman for the mosque and also sits on its committee, said: "First of all can I thank the police force and the local council for really supporting us on this occasion.

"We found this suspicious item which we didn't consider to be very serious or very threatening, but as a precaution we thought that we would call the police and bring this to their attention.

"They have taken this very seriously and they have supported us whole-heartedly and we are very grateful to the police and the local authority.

"We are not suspecting anybody, we are leaving it in the good hands of the police."

Additional reporting by PA