By Laura Smith-Spark. Lonzo Cook and Erin McLaughlin, London (CNN) — Concern grew Saturday that the slaying of a British soldier by attackers who claimed they were acting to avenge the deaths of Muslims overseas has prompted a swell in anti-Muslim sentiment in Britain.
A group which monitors incidents of anti-Muslim abuse said Saturday morning it had seen a huge increase in the number of reported incidents in the past 48 hours.
Meanwhile Northumbria Police said its officers had arrested three people in northern England on suspicion of posting racist tweets Saturday, ahead of a planned protest march in Newcastle by the far-right English Defence League.
Another group, Newcastle Unites, will stage a counter demonstration at the same time.
“The policing operation will allow people the right to peaceful protest, protect the safety of everyone in the city and prevent serious disorder and damage,” a police statement said.
Members of the EDL clashed with police near the scene of the killing late Wednesday. A tweet from its official account proclaimed then that “it’s fair to say that finally the country is waking up!:-) NO SURRENDER!”
Politicians and community leaders have been trying to damp down tensions in the wake of the murder of the soldier, Drummer Lee Rigby, while police numbers have been boosted in vulnerable areas.
But despite those efforts, reports of anti-Muslim abuse have soared according to figures gathered by the Tell Mama project, which describes itself as “a public service for measuring and monitoring anti-Muslim attacks.”
Fiyaz Mughal, a coordinator of Tell Mama, told CNN Saturday morning that 162 incidents had been reported in the past 48 hours — compared with four to six incidents a day on average before the Woolwich attack.
The latest include street-based incidents like name calling, assaults and materials being thrown at individuals, Mughal said, as well as online incidents, where targeted hate is directed at individuals through the Internet and social media. Eight incidents of attacks against mosques across Britain are also included in the figure.
Mughal, also director of an interfaith national hate crime reporting project, Faith Matters, said he had observed that people are scared, particularly female Muslims who wear headscarves and have told Tell Mama that they are afraid to go out. “It’s quite endemic,” he said.
Tell Mama recorded 632 incidents of anti-Muslim abuse in the year from March 2012, it said, about three-quarters of which occurred online. More than half were directed at women.
Imams sign letter condemning attack
The apparent increase in abuse comes as Muslim leaders, as well as their Christian counterparts, seek to keep communities calm.
Shaykh Shams Adduha, founder and director of Ebrahim College, which teaches Islamic studies in London, is one of nearly 100 imams and Muslim groups to have signed a letter Friday condemning the “outrageous attack” on Rigby and offering their condolences to his family.
“We share the absolute horror felt by the rest of British society at the sick and barbaric crime that was committed in the name of our religion. We condemn this heinous atrocity in the strongest possible terms. It is a senseless act of pure depravity worthy of nothing but contempt,” it read.
Shams Adduha told CNN Saturday that the Muslim community had reacted promptly and was working hard to defuse tensions.
“First of all we’ve been very open in our condemnation and very open about the fact that there is no place … in Islam for this kind of act,” the imam said.
“At the same time we’ve been calling for calm, we’ve constantly been talking to our communities to make sure that their fears are allayed. But of course the reactions are happening — and they will happen.”
These types of attacks are also a reaction, he said, to problems and grievances among “angry young people out there in the world.”
With regards to the Woolwich attack, he said, Muslim leaders must make clear that what happened is “un-Islamic” and seek to educate young people so they are not susceptible to “fringe voices.”
Prime Minister David Cameron stressed Thursday that “the fault lies solely with sickening individuals who carried out this attack,” adding that “nothing in Islam … justifies this truly dreadful act.
Friends, acquaintances and British media identified 28-year-old Michael Adebolajo, a British national of Nigerian descent, as the suspect seen in a gory video from the scene of the Woolwich killing. He is said to be a Muslim convert.
He apparently approached a man filming the gory scene in the Woolwich neighborhood and suggested that Rigby had been targeted only “because Muslims are dying daily” at the hands of British troops like him.
“We must fight them as they fight us. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” he said in the video aired by CNN affiliate ITN.
Britain’s armed forces have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. All its combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
The identity of a second man, aged 22, seized at the scene by armed police has not been released. Both suspects were shot and remain in hospital.
A third man, aged 29, who was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to murder on Thursday is also still in custody.
Terror arrest after TV interview
British counter-terrorism police arrested a man who said he was a friend of Woolwich suspect Adebolajo after he gave an interview to the BBC Friday night, the British broadcaster said.
The man, Abu Nusaybah, was arrested on suspected terrorism offenses after telling on air how his friend had been approached by Britain’s domestic intelligence service, known as MI5, according to the broadcaster.
A BBC staffer, who did want to be named, told CNN that police were inside BBC Broadcasting House in central London waiting for the interview to conclude before they made the arrest.
In the interview with BBC’s “Newsnight” show, Nusaybah said MI5 had approached Adebolajo in the past year, asking if he wanted to work for them.
Adebolajo rejected the approach, according to his friend.
Abu Nusaybah said the contact from MI5 occurred last year after Adebolajo returned from a visit to Kenya during which he was detained by security forces.
Adebolajo told his friend that he was physically assaulted and sexually threatened during his detention.
CNN is working to independently verify the claims made by Abu Nusaybah about his friend’s treatment in detention.
Abu Nusaybah went on to say that Adebolajo appeared changed and withdrawn after his return from Kenya.
The pair first met in 2002, he said. Abu Nusaybah had converted to Islam in late 2004 and Adebolajo followed suit about four months later, he said.
A security source told CNN that “we would never comment” on the kind of allegations made in the interview.
London’s Metropolitan Police Service said a 31-year-old man had been arrested in London Friday night on terrorism-related offenses, but following standard practice would not give the arrested man’s name.
A Scotland Yard spokesman told CNN the arrest was not connected to the investigation in Woolwich into the murder of Rigby.
Officers from Counter Terrorism Command arrested the 31-year-old man under the Terrorism Act, on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism. He was taken to a south London police station, where he remains in custody, a police statement said.
Search warrants were being executed at two homes in east London, police said.
Donations flood in
It is understood that the two individuals suspected of carrying out the knife and cleaver attack were known to Britain’s domestic security service. They had featured in previous investigations into other individuals, but were not themselves under surveillance.
CNN understands that one line of inquiry being examined in the Woolwich terror investigation is that suspect Adebolajo might have attempted — but failed — to travel to Somalia some time last year.
The brutal slaying of Rigby near the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich, a working-class neighborhood in southeast London, shocked people across the United Kingdom.
The 25-year-old, who was married and had a 2-year-old son, was a machine gunner who became a recruiter. He was also a ceremonial military drummer.
His family spoke Friday of their sorrow at losing a son, husband and brother who was dedicated to his job and devoted to his family.
Help for Heroes, a charity which helps injured military veterans and servicemen and women, said Saturday that nearly £600,000 in public donations had poured in since the news of Rigby’s murder — with more still coming in.
“The nation has rallied behind our Armed Forces in an extraordinary and wonderful display of support,” the charity said.
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