London rallies around Muslim community in wake of terrorist attack

Safya Khan-Ruf - 20 06 17

In the early hours of yesterday morning, a van drove into worshippers near Finsbury Park Mosque and the Muslim Welfare House, leaving one man dead and 11 injured. The attack took place in the last week of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, and occurred after worshippers had broken their fast and finished their prayers.

The terror incident was all the more jarring as it happened just hours after the Great Get Together weekend, during which more than 100,000 events across the UK celebrated what people have most in common. The weekend was held in honour of MP Jo Cox’s life, a year after she was killed by far-right extremist Thomas Mair.

The suspected driver of the van has been identified as 47-year-old Darren Osborne, a father-of-four from Cardiff. He survived his attack and was reportedly pinned down until the police arrived. Local Imam, Mohammed Mahmood, was praised after witnesses described him protecting the attacker from the furious crowd until the police arrived.

Mahmood spoke out yesterday about the “demonisation of the Muslim community at the hands of those who wish to divide this great city”.

“They have succeeded to some extent in influencing the vulnerable and impressionable into thinking we are people who like to shed blood and therefore we must be eliminated and exterminated,” he said.

Osborne was arrested on suspicion of commission, preparation or instigation of terrorism including murder and attempted murder and was taken to a south London police station. Witnesses report him shouting “I’m going to kill all Muslims” when he attacked.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd wrote in The Guardian that the attack was “terrorism” and that her thoughts were “with the victims of this outrage, their families and the Muslim community”.

“The agendas of the Islamist extremists who carried out the Manchester and London Bridge attacks differ little from the far-right extremists who set out to target Muslims,” said Nick Lowles, founder of HOPE not hate. “Both share a belief that Muslims and non-Muslims cannot live peacefully together and both use the existence of the other to justify their own warped world view.”


When I walked through the packs of journalists outside Finsbury Park Mosque and slipped inside just before the midday prayers, I was surprised to see several women sitting in the room. They had come to pray, not even 24 hours after the attack. One woman told me she was worried, but that the attack would not stop her from coming to her local mosque.

The same resolutely defiant tone was again present shortly after the congregated prayers when Prime Minister Theresa May, Labour leader and local MP Jeremy Corbyn, Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP Diane Abbot and the Mayor of Islington, Una O’Halloran, along with faith leaders visited the mosque to reassure and support the Muslim community.

Earlier that day, speaking at 10 Downing street, Mrs May said: “Like all terrorism, in whatever form, it shares the same goal: to drive us apart. We will not let this happen… There has been far too much tolerance of extremism in this country.”

Mrs May left soon after her speech and was heckled by the crowd (unlike Corbyn who was cheered) but the other MPs and faith leaders remained. They met with the Muslim women attending the mosque and Corbyn then privately met with the survivors of the attack. The MP promised he would be pushing for greater security around places of worship.


He also spoke about how visibly Muslim women, who often bear the brunt of anti-Muslim hatred, should be able to feel safe. Several women spoke about their fears, with one stressing this was not an isolated incident but one of a series of attacks on the mosque.



The mosque was sent white powder last year, and two years ago it was targeted with a makeshift petrol bomb.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan also promised additional policing to reassure communities, especially those observing Ramadan. Just hours after the terror attack in Finsbury Park, the East London Mosque in Whitechapel was evacuated after a bomb threat was called in, increasing the worry felt by regular mosque goers.

“We don’t yet know the full motivations behind it, but terrorism is terrorism – no matter the target and regardless of what inspires the sick and twisted perpetrators who carry out these evil crimes,” wrote Khan in the Guardian.

Mohammed Kozbar, chairman of Finsbury Park Mosque, looked exhausted but smiled warmly when he told me he welcomed the positive response from the community.

Later in the evening, when hundreds of people came together outside the mosque (many handing out roses) along with various faith leaders, Kozbar said: “Yesterday we all experienced a horrific attack on our families, on our freedom, on our dignity. A man, a father of six children, being killed in cold blood and many injured by an extremist, by a terrorist.”



Finsbury Park Mosque has had issues with radicalisation and some have used to it to justify the attacks.

Stephen Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson), the founder of the English Defence League, told his 300,000 Twitter followers “the mosque where the attack happened has a long history of creating terrorists and radical jihadists and promoting hate and segregation.”

While a former imam and now prisoner, Abu Hamza, did assist in the radicalisation of Richard Reid, the Briton who tried to blow up a passenger jet in 2001, and Zacarias Moussaoui, one of the 9/11 plotters, the mosque has been under new management since 2005.

Since then, it has won local awards and was even the first mosque to win the prestigious Visible Quality Mark from the national body of Community matters. Corbyn has also used it for constituency surgeries.

So while the mosque has drastically changed in ethos, the old narrative is still being used, often to glorify the terror attack.

Many of the comments online justifying the attack has been reported to the Government’s terror alert system amid fear of further attacks.

Meanwhile, as the media races to uncover more about the suspect Darren Osborne, some are also asking how he was radicalised.

Senior HOPE not hate researcher Joe Mulhall writes that a climate of collective responsibility has been fostered, with a whole community held responsible for the actions of an individual. He urges the challenging of anti-Muslim prejudice in the mainstream.

“Despite Britain’s Muslim community being best understood as a hugely diverse ‘community of communities,’ all too often anti-Muslim activists and even mainstream media outlets homogenise the community into a single monolithic block, often characterised by its most extreme and violent elements,” he writes.

As the UK suffers its fourth terrorist attack in three months, it is heartening to see that whatever the supposed faith or justification of the extremist attackers, the support and response from the different communities and faiths remain high. After all, refusing to be divided is the best antidote to extremist goals and ideologies.



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