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Van attack prompts many assurances of good relations

23 June 2017


Respect: members of the public queue to place flowers at the scene of the Finsbury Park attack, in London, last month

Respect: members of the public queue to place flowers at the scene of the Finsbury Park attack, in London, last month

THE terror suspect who drove a van into pedestrians outside a Muslim place of worship in north London this week “does not repre­sent the faith communities” in south-east Wales, the Bishop of Mon­mouth, the Rt Revd Richard Pain, has said.

Darren Osborne, 47, a father of four from Cardiff, w as arrested at the scene outside Muslim Welfare House, Finsbury Park, in the early hours of Monday. He is being held on suspicion of attempted murder and alleged terror offences.Wor­shippers were leaving prayers, soon after midnight, when the van mounted the pavement, injuring 11 people. Nine were hospitalised, but are now out of critical care.

One man, Makram Ali, 51, who had collapsed in the street and was reportedly receiving medical atten­tion from the public before the incident, died at the scene.

The Metropolitan Police con­firmed that the incident was being treated as a terrorist attack, and that an address in Cardiff had been searched.

Bishop Pain responded: “I am very saddened to hear of this terrorist attack. Cardiff and New­port areas are well known for enjoy­ing good relationships among the dif­ferent cultures and faiths, and this attack does not represent the faith communities who work well together for the well-being of all in south-east Wales.”

Representatives of the Muslim community had attended a service at St Woolos’ Cathedral, Newport, only the day before, the Bishop said.

The Queen’s Speech, on Wednes­day, introduced a counter-terrorism commission “to support the Gov­­­ern­ment in stamping out extremist ideology in all its forms, both across society and on the internet, so it is denied a safe space to spread”.

The counter-terrorism strategy would also be reviewed, in the after­math of recent terrorist attacks, “to ensure that the police and security ser­­vices have all the powers they need”.

The Government also pledged to make “further progress” to tackle discrimination against people on the basis of their faith, race, gender, disability, or sexual orientation.

Comments reported by witnesses suggest that the attacker may have intended to target a Ramadan march, Al Quds, organised by the Islamic Human Rights Commission, in Lon­­­don, on Sunday, but fell asleep in the van he had hired. South Wales Police confirmed that an officer had been called to an in­­secure van in the Llanedeyrn area of Cardiff, but that no offences were recorded.

The secretary-general of the Mus­lim Council of Britain, Harun Khan, said: “During the night, ordin­­ary British citizens were set upon while they were going about their lives, completing their night worship. My prayers are with the victims and their families. It appears from eye-witness accounts that the perpet­rator was motivated by Islamo­phobia.”

Witnesses reported that an imam at the centre had prevented angry members of the public from harm­ing the suspect while awaiting the arrival of the police.

The Archbishop of Canterbury com­pared the incident to other recent terrorist attacks, calling it “a crime against God and against human­ity”.

He posted on Facebook: “At a time when we are all grieving the loss of so many precious people in London and Manchester, this brutal attack can only compound the trauma. Violence only begets more violence — it serves only the inter­ests of those who would ter­­rorise others.”

The Archbishop later shared an informal iftar meal with members of Muslim Welfare House.

Christian Muslim ForumSolidarity: Archbishop Justin Welby on a visit to Muslim Welfare House, in Finsbury Park, on Tuesday

Addressing worshippers before prayers, on Tues­­day, he said: “The freedom to worship without fear is a right we cherish as a nation. The appalling attack on Muslims in Finsbury Park is an attack on us all and on the culture and values of our country.”

A spokesman for Muslim Welfare House urged the public and the media not to speculate. “We have worked very hard over decades to build a peaceful and tolerant com­munity here in Finsbury Park, and we totally condemn any act of hate that tries to drive our wonderful community apart.”

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who is MP for the area (Islington North), called for calm: “I call on everyone to stand together against those who seek to divide us.”

Mr Corbyn attended prayers at Finsbury Park Mosque later that day.

The Prime Minister said at the scene on Monday afternoon that the attack was “every bit as sickening” as those in Manchester and London in recent months. “It is a reminder that terrorism, extremism and hatred take many forms; and our deter­mination to tackle them must be the same whoever is responsible.”

The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, pointed to the Government’s places-of-worship grants, which, she said, were “there to protect places of worship like mosques. We will make sure we do all we can to reduce these sorts of attacks.”

The Bishop of Stepney, the Rt Revd Adrian Newman, met religious leaders at New Scotland Yard, on Tuesday. He said: “An attack on any faith is an attack on us all.”

The Team Rector of Tollington, which borders the scene of the attack, Canon David Bird, reg­ularly attends interfaith events at Muslim Welfare House, most re­­­cently a Great Get Together event in memory of Jo Cox MP on Saturday.

He said: “The relationships we have in Finsbury Park with the other faiths are really strong. We meet every six weeks for conversa­tions about faith issues and those that impact upon our community.”

The mosque attracted negative attention in the 1990s, after Abu Hamza al-Masri, known for his extremist ideologies and views on terrorism, became imam of the mosque. It was raided and shut down by police in 2003. It reopened in 2005.

“That did cause a lot of trouble for the mosque,” Canon Bird said, “but I have been here five years, and though I was told there was a lot of animosity, I have found nothing but graciousness, peace, love, commun­ity cohesion, and care for one another.”

Nonetheless, the issue of hate-crime remains. “There have been incidents of Muslim women being abused on buses, and kids being picked on at school. And, of course, what has happened today is hate crime against Muslims.”

The APPG for International Free­dom of Belief reported a five-fold increase in faith-related hate crimes since the London Bridge attack. A statement read: “After significant public support from the Muslim community in the wake of the Manchester and London Bridge attacks, it is horrifying to see such violence against innocent people, just because of their faith.”

The parish church, St John the Evangelist, was open for prayers, the Vicar, the Revd Daniel Sandham, said. He prayed for his “Muslim friends” and those injured.

“We are shocked and saddened by this attack, which in no way reflects this local community, which is as harmonious as it is diverse. It’s not just an attack on the Muslim community, but on all people of peace and good will.”

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