Blair calls for calm after attack on mosque

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The police are considering security measures to protect Britain's Muslim community from revenge attacks after a mosque in Bolton, Greater Manchester, was attacked with petrol bombs.

The incident, which took place on Monday evening while 20 people, including children as young as six, gathered for prayers, is the latest in a series of attacks that have taken place since last week's terrorist atrocities in the United States.

Two mosques have been damaged and two people seriously assaulted, including an Afghan taxi driver who was beaten and left paralysed from the neck down in Twickenham, south-west London, on Sunday.

Police in south Wales reported an increase yesterday in the number of racist incidents as a result of "heightened tension" in the community.

In an article for the Daily Jang, a London-based Asian newspaper, the Prime Minister insisted that Muslims should not be blamed for last week's terrorist outrages. He stressed that terrorists and their backers bear the responsibility for outrage, not followers of Islam.

Mr Blair wrote: "I want to assure [you] that the vast majority of decent people in Britain realise that neither you nor Islam is in any way responsible for what happened in the US. Blaming Islam is as ludicrous as blaming Christianity for loyalist attacks on Catholics or nationalist attacks on Protestants in Northern Ireland."

Mr Blair was joined by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, who said his force was "extremely mindful of the possibility of heightened community tension". Officers were liaising with "potentially vulnerable" groups and community leaders and will increase security where necessary, he said.

Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, has asked Sir John to keep him informed about plans to ensure the safety of Arab, Asian, Muslim, Sikh and other potentially vulnerable minority communities.

After the incident in Bolton, Chief Superintendent Tony Porter, of Greater Manchester Police, appealed for calm, saying: "Hate crimes are a crime against the whole community and we will not tolerate such crimes in this area."

The blasts occurred as worshippers washed themselves in readiness for their nightly "congregation of prayers"and as half a dozen children recited parts of the Koran at the back of the brick building.

"Obviously it was thrown at a time when [the perpetrators] knew there were people in there," said Mohammed Yasin, a mosque elder. "This area is renowned for these kinds of problems. We Muslims have no idea what the heck is happening. Islam means peace."

The mosque's imam, Mohammed Tayyib Ali, 19, said worshippers heard a sound like a brick landing and had turned to the mosque windows when the explosion happened. "We ran out and called the police," Mr Ali said. "We were scared, thinking there might be some further explosion."

The worshippers, who must by the rule of Islam complete prayer after sunset, returned to their damaged premises at 3am yesterdayfor the service.

Yesterday, multicoloured tinsel from the celebration of the prophet Mohammed's birthday two months ago lay among shards of glass from the four smashed windows. A path up the side of the mosque, where one of the devices appeared to have gone off, was scarred.

Fariq Mangera, general secretary of the Bolton Council for Mosques, described the attack as a "form of terrorism on the mosque" and said Bolton's racist minority was proving "difficult to contain".

Ten miles away in Oldham, mosque elders were repairing the damage of another brick attack yesterday. Five windows were smashed at the New Jamia mosque in the Glodwick district and racist graffiti was daubed on exterior walls.

In South Shields, Tyne and Wear, the slogan "Avenge USA ­ Kill a Muslim Now" was splashed in 6ft red letters on a wall near a mosque. It was the town's second racist incident in three days, prompting the local Labour MP, David Miliband, to warn against "outrage turning to hatred". On Saturday, a 20-year-old Bangladeshi man's jaw was broken when he was beaten and kicked by a gang of youths as he walked in a park.

Peter Hain, the Minister for Europe, said yesterday he would ask the police to investigate whether Sheikh Omar Bakhri Mohammed, leader of the Al-Muhajiroun organisation in Britain, can be prosecuted under anti-terrorism laws for making an alleged death threat against Pakistan's military ruler during a BBC radio interview.