At least three people have been injured after a vehicle rammed into pedestrians close to a mosque in northwest London, British police have said.
The Metropolitan Police said in a statement that the suspected “hate crime” took place shortly after 12:20am local time on Wednesday, when three males and a woman, all aged in their mid-twenties, were asked to leave a private car park in Cricklewood belonging to the Hussaini Association.
After engaging in a confrontation with a group of worshippers at the Shia Islamic centre, “comments of an Islamophobic nature were allegedly made,” then the car “proceeded to make off at speed colliding with three individuals as it left.”
“The car and its occupants failed to stop and injured three people,” the police statement added.
Police said they had launched an investigation but the incident was not being treated as terror-related but as a possible hate crime.
“We are treating this incident very seriously and a number of enquiries are under way to trace the car and those involved,” Kelly Schonhage, an officer from a local branch of the CID said.
The incident left a man in his 50s hospitalised with a “serious leg injury,” while two other men in their 20s suffered minor injuries, the police said.
‘Premeditated Islamophobic attack‘
Ali Salman, who claims he was at the scene of the incident, said he was “milliseconds” from injury when the car swerved into groups of people leaving the centre.
“The driver was swerving into people, trying to run over as many people as possible,” he said in a Facebook post.
Miqdaad Versi, the assistant secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), the largest Muslim umbrella body in the United Kingdom, claimed eyewitnesses reported hearing “anti-Islamic” slogans being shouted during the incident.
“Reports of Islamophobic insults being hurled mean that the incident is being treated as a potential hate crime,” he said in a statement sent to Al Jazeera.
Images posted on social media appeared to show paramedics delivering first aid to the wounded, with one of the injured appearing to need help to breathe.
Reports suggest a car swerved into a crowd of Muslims outside the The Hussaini (Balaghiya) Association in Cricklewood, with 5 injured (3 seriously). Eye-witnesses apparently suggest perpetrators were heard shouting anti-Islamic sloguns.https://t.co/VmvysZgpC5 pic.twitter.com/niMOgf8ccM
— Miqdaad Versi (@miqdaad) September 19, 2018
The Hussaini Association called the incident a “premeditated Islamophobic attack,” adding that the worshippers were attending a 10-day series of lectures commemorating the death of Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, who was killed 1379 years ago according to the Islamic calendar, a date which will coincide with Thursday this year.
“We are in deep shock at such an attack taking place on our community,” a spokesman for the association said in a statement.
“We remain proud to live in a diverse and tolerant society and as such we remain unintimidated.”
London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted: “We have a zero-tolerance approach to hate crime in London. Places of worship – for people of all faiths – must remain safe.”
We have a zero-tolerance approach to hate crime in London. Places of worship – for people of all faiths – must remain safe.
— Mayor of London (gov.uk/coronavirus) (@MayorofLondon) September 19, 2018
Surge in Islamophobia
Tell MAMA, an NGO tracking hate crimes against Muslims in the UK, reported a surge in Islamophobic attacks last year, with 1,201 verified reports submitted.
It said the 2017 figures marked a 26 percent increase on 2016, and were the biggest number since it began recording incidents in 2012.
Reports of Islamophobia in the UK, including within the ruling Conservative Party, have come under scrutiny in recent months with calls to look into the problem.
Sayeeda Warsi, a senior Tory member, called for an inquiry into allegations of Islamophobia in the party in July, after writing an open letter in the Guardian newspaper.
“There should be a forensic, wide-ranging and transparent inquiry into Islamophobia in the party,” Warsi, a member of the House of Lords said, adding “the process should be published, those who are found wanting should be publicly named and membership withdrawn”.