KKK incident at Islamic centre is hate crime, say Belfast police

30th Nov 2018
KKK incident at Islamic centre is hate crime, say Belfast police

Eight men were photographed wearing KKK outfits outside an Islamic centre County Down, Northern Ireland last month, the outfits were similar to the one worn here in a 1922 KKK parade in Virgina (Photo: Library of Congress/ Wikimedia Commons)

Elham Asaad Buaras

Police in Northern Ireland have confirmed they are treating an incident in which a group of people dressed up in Ku Klux Klan-style outfits outside an Islamic centre house as a hate crime.

Eight men were photographed with their arms aloft and their fists clenched outside Bangladesh Islamic Community Centre in Greenwell Street, Newtownards, County Down on October 28. At least two were holding a wooden cross.

The centre, a converted Victorian house that is used for community meetings and prayer was subject to another Islamophobic incident in August 2017 when a pig’s head was left at the Islamic Centre’s door and graffiti painted on the building.

A local resident who did not wish to be identified said that he had seen the group go into a nearby pub dressed in the haunting regalia.

“At about 2 am they came out of the bar, so they had been allowed into it in their costumes,” he said, adding that he was “disgusted” and “saddened” by the incident.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) confirmed it had received reports at about 5 pm of a group of people dressed as KKK members around Greenwell Street in Newtownards.

Inspector Richard Murray said: “Hate crime, in all its forms, is totally unacceptable. It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to ensure that we live in a society where diversity is respected. Our inquiries are ongoing, and we are treating this as a hate incident at this time.”

George Hamilton, the Chief Constable of the PSNI, described the incident as “disgusting” and confirmed his officers would be investigating it as a hate crime. “There’s no place for it anywhere in Northern Ireland and we will investigate this, we will gather evidence and we will report that evidence to the public prosecution service,” he said on local radio.

The incident has been widely condemned by political and religious leaders. Dr Raied Al-Wazzan, of the Islamic Centre in Belfast, said: “I understand it is Halloween, people are dressed in costume, but to go there specifically wearing that costume in front of an Islamic centre is not acceptable.”

He added: “Unfortunately this is not the first incident that has happened around Newtownards. This is the second time [the centre] has been targeted.”

Kellie Armstrong, an Alliance party Stormont assembly member, urged the police to review CCTV evidence from local bars where the group were believed to be drinking before putting on their masks.

She said: “Everyone knows exactly what the KKK stands for. The KKK represents a brand of hatred not wanted or welcome in the area. This group did not simply dress up for Halloween, rather they deliberately posed outside the prayer house in Newtownards.

“This is a clear demonstration of aggression and bullying towards one particular religion and that is a hate crime.”

Peter Weir, a DUP assembly member for the area that covers Newtownards, said: “The Ku Klux Klan is a deeply repugnant racist organisation and anyone happy to associate themselves with such a vile body is clearly a moron. That such a large group of people took the time and the effort to get their costumes completely correct, and above all the fact that they chose to pose outside the Islamic prayer centre in Newtownards, takes this episode of stupidity to a more sinister connotation.”

Sinn Fein MLA Mairtin O Muilleoir welcomed the cross-party unity over the incident.

He said those responsible should know “the entire society is appalled by these actions and will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the victims of this intimidation”.

“The Bangladeshi community makes an enormous contribution to our society and any threat to the members of the Newtownards mosque is a threat to everything we hold dear.”

Police are appealing for information.

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