Woman whose smile in face of EDL protester put her in national spotlight tells how it happened

'All I saw was an angry man having a bit of a rant.' says Saffiyah Khan

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The Independent Online

A young woman pictured smiling at the leader of the English Defence League at a rally in Birmingham has told of how she was coming to the aid of a woman wearing a headscarf.

The image of Saffiyah Khan appearing calm and defiant in the face on EDL leader Ian Crossland during a far-right demonstration has been shared thousands of times on social media. It was praised Labour MP Jess Phillips, while Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan described it as “photo of the week”.

The Muslim woman who was the initially targeted by the far-right protesters told The Independent that a "swarm" of EDL members had tried to put an Islamophobic sign on her head and shouted at her to "go back to where you came from".

Ms Khan, who is from Birmingham and has family ties to both Bosnia and Pakistan, said: “I kept myself out of the way but sadly it did kick off between the EDL and a lady in a headscarf.

“She was quite a small woman. When I realised that nothing was being done and she was being surrounded 360 — that's when I came in as well.”

She said she had no idea at the time who the man was, adding: “All I saw was an angry man having a bit of a rant.”

Asked if the presence of police at the protest had made a difference to her decision to go to the aid of the woman, Ms Khan replied: “Not in the slightest. I would have done the same regardless.”

In a post on her Twitter feed, Birmingham Yardley MP Ms Phillips said of the photograph: “Who looks like they have power here, the real Brummy on the left or the EDL who migrated for the day to our city and failed to assimilate.”

On Sunday, the Muslim woman who was initially targeted by the EDL supporters told The Independent that she was at the back of the protest when she heard statements made about Islam, portraying all followers of the religion as terrorists.

"Now me being a Muslim, I could not stay silent," she said. "I could not allow that narrative being thrown around in public in such a central location in the city of Birmingham. [It] is such a vibrant city with so many different races and we all live alongside each other really peacefully.”

She said she began shouting “No to Islamophobia, no to war” when suddenly “they rushed towards me”. 

“It was like a swarm of them. They came at me so aggressively”, she said “They had fully surrounded me and they were trying to get past the two or three officers who were stood in front of me and the few counter protesters who were standing next to me”

EDL activists said on Twitter that the scuffles broke out after counter-protesters shouting “Nazi scum” disrupted a silence being held at the rally for victims of terrorism.

In a Twitter message, Mr Crossland claimed counter-protesters had been disrespectful by interrupting the silence for victims of the Westminster terror attack.

On Facebook, the EDL leader said Ms Khan was "lucky she had any teeth left" following the incident.

West Midlands Police said an 18-year-old woman and a 21-year-old man detained during the protest were later “de-arrested” by officers.

Officers also took a 26-year-old man into custody to prevent a breach of the peace. He was later released without charge.

Press Association contributed to this report

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