Violence on rise between rival Asian groups

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The Independent Online

A spate of attacks within the Asian community has increased fears that tensions are rising between Sikh, Hindu and Muslim groups in Britain in the wake of the World Trade Centre attack on 11 September last year.

The Commission for Racial Equality now plans to intervene after several incidents this month, including the murder of a Pakistani restaurant owner by a Sikh gang and an unprovoked attack by Pakistani youths on three Sikh boys in east London.

Seven men were arrested after a gang of about 20 Sikhs allegedly attacked the Lahori Village restaurant in Southall, west London, last Saturday night, leaving its owner, Imtiaz Hussain Syed, dead with multiple stab wounds.

In Ilford, police are looking for four Pakistani youths who allegedly robbed three Sikh teenagers of their mobile phones and wallets, leaving one boy with a head wound and a broken finger.

They allegedly described themselves as "Paki Panthers" and racially abused their victims. Sikh community activists claim that gangs using the same name are operating in other parts of east London.

The incidents have deepened concerns about religious divisions within the Asian community that have been worsened by the 11 September attacks and by a British National Party (BNP) campaign to divide Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims by smearing all Muslims as violent terrorists.

Sunrise Radio, the country's largest south Asian radio station, has now banned the word "Asian" to describe all its listeners because Hindus and Sikhs no longer wanted to be associated with Muslims.

Sikh leaders have complained strongly to the Commission for Racial Equality chairman Gurbux Singh about white attacks on Sikhs wearing turbans in the mistaken belief that they are Muslims.

Mr Singh is planning to make a direct plea to religious leaders and local councils to tackle the problem. "It is clear that there are tensions across the communities," he said. "Faith communities have a major role to play in developing coherent strategies and bridge-building."

Mr Singh is hosting a meeting of religious leaders to discuss plans for a network of local, community-based multi-faith projects. Council leaders will be warned that they are now legally obliged under new race relations legislation to set up "community cohesion" plans to tackle racial tensions.

In Southall, the police have played down claims that Mr Syed's killing was racial after his son alleged that, before the fight, one Sikh attacker had referred to the hostilities between India and Pakistan. The Met believes the attack was not sectarian, but was linked to Mr Syed's attempts to break up a fight between the Sikhs and some Tamils two weeks ago.

However, Sikh radicals in Southall have supported BNP claims that only Muslims are to blame for last year's riots in northern England, and that Islamic fundamentalists are bribing Muslim youths to convert Sikh and Hindu women.