Tensions mount in community where racial harmony is the norm

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The Independent Online

The economically deprived district of Barton, with row upon row of red-brick terraces, is home to the majority of Gloucester's Asian, Afro-Caribbean and Chinese communities.

Dotted with ethnic food and clothes shops, the main thoroughfare of Barton Street is usually a picture of racial harmony with residents chatting on street corners.

But since the arrest of Sajid Badat, the streets have been lined instead with scores of police officers. Tension was etched on the faces of worshippers heading for the two local mosques yesterday.

Scores of residents evacuated overnight were allowed to return home, although the house on St James Street where Badat lived remains under police guard.

Just 150 metres away, a flat above the Pound Plus grocery store, opposite the police station, was being searched by detectives, triggering a guessing game about the address's connection with the suspect.

At the Jama mosque in All Saints Road, the Imam reiterated a message of peace and condemned involvement in terrorism. Mahmood Moolla, the founder of the Gloucestershire Islamic Trust, who attends the Jama Mosque, said: "To say we are very shocked would be an understatement. We never expected any such thing to happen here in this peaceful community. This has always been a trouble-free place. We teach our children in our mosques that violence is wrong and that terrorism is not acceptable in Islam."

Yacoob Motola, a member of the National Muslim Association of Britain, who runs an Asian supermarket in Victoria Street, said: "We lived peacefully in this community for 40 years and served customers of all nationalities. We've never had any problems. We don't want such troubles here or anywhere else in the world. If it turns out to be true I will be very disappointed."

The Gloucester MP Parmjit Dhanda, who returned to his constituency from Westminster when the news broke, said: "We have a great deal of religious and racial tolerance here in Gloucester and we can be proud of that. I wanted to get back and provide some reassurance for people who will undoubtedly be feeling unsettled now."

Police evacuated residents of 119 homes in St James Street to the nearby GL1 Leisure Centre after Thursday's arrest. Some of the evacuees, who were kept under police guard before being allowed to return home in the early hours yesterday, compared the atmosphere to the Blitz.

Mary Smith, the leader of the city council, said: "The mood in the centre was good, although obviously people were a little worried. One man told me he went through much worse in the Second World War."

Atti Sayed, 21, said: "We just managed to grab some clothes and put them on before we had to get out."

Juliette Morefield, who works in Barton, summed up the shock and disbelief felt there. She said: "This is the kind of thing you expect in London, not in a place like Gloucester. The community here used to feel safe and now there's something big and serious and it's scary. I cannot help wondering if this person was white, would they be pointing the finger at the entire white community."