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Attempt to burn down prominent London mosque a 'terrorist attack'

Police are searching for a white-hooded male seen throwing a can of petrol at Finsbury Park Mosque
The front of the five-story Finsbury Park Mosque in north London (Twitter)

An attempt to burn down Finsbury Park Mosque in London was a “terrorist attack,” its chairperson told Middle East Eye in an interview on Sunday.

CCTV footage released today showed a white male wearing a hooded top throwing a canister of petrol at the entrance of Finsbury Park Mosque at 8.25pm on Friday evening.

The Metropolitan Police are treating the incident as an Islamophobic hate crime and have called on the public to come forward with any information on the identity of the man seen in the CCTV footage.

“This was a clear and deliberate attempt to cause arson,” Sergeant Stuart Smillie said in a statement. “Although the petrol did not fully ignite, the threat and intent was obvious and the resulting fire could quite easily have endangered anyone inside as well as those living nearby.

"I would urge anyone who recognises the man in this footage to get in touch."

Mohammed Kozbar, chairman of trustees at Finsbury Park mosque, said the fact it was raining on Friday night may have been the reason “a gallon” of petrol in the canister did not catch fire and burn down the mosque.

“I consider it a terrorist attack,” he told Middle East Eye at his office in the five-story north London mosque.

“It has to be taken seriously and the person responsible must be brought to account by the police to reassure the local community that this kind of thing will not be accepted.”

The mosque was closed at the time of the attack and no one was injured.

A canister filled with petrol found outside Finsbury Park Mosque (FPM)

A scorched piece of paper found by the petrol canister (Finsbury Park Mosque)

On Sunday two police officers were stationed outside the mosque, but Kozbar said he has asked the police not to have a regular visible presence at the building.

“We do not want the criminal to feel they have scared us,” he said. “Our community is resilient – we will keep coming to the mosque.”

The mosque, which has capacity to hold 2,000 people, was filled with people praying and attending various events on Sunday. There was also a meeting of community leaders discussing how they should respond to an increase in Islamophobic attacks over recent weeks.

The mosque has received a slew of abuse and threats through the post, via email and phone calls since the Islamic State group claimed deadly attacks in Paris on 13 November that killed 130 people. In that time there has been a 300 percent rise in attacks against Muslims in the UK.

One week before the attempted arson the mosque received a letter on 20 November threatening to burn it down - no link has yet been established between the letter and Friday's attack.

Kozbar called on anyone in the Finsbury Park area who is concerned about Islam or Muslims to visit the mosque.

“Please come and listen to us before you judge us. Come to us, listen to us, if you any concerns we are happy to address it. After that – judge. Our mosque and our centre is open for everybody, we welcome everybody here. Yes we are Muslims – we don’t have to be the same – we are all humans. We all want to live in peace and harmony,” he said.

After news of the attempted arson was reported on Saturday, some young Muslim men in the local area responded angrily on Twitter.

Kozbar said he wasn’t worried about retributive attacks by young Muslim men because “we have a mature community here and they know such a reaction will not help the Muslim community and will put the blame back on the Muslim community."

Kozbar said blame for Friday’s attack, as well as for the wider rise in Islamophobia, was in part down to the actions of some British newspapers.

Last week The Sun printed a front page that said one in five British Muslims have “sympathy for jihadis,” in a reference to IS.

The story was immediately denounced as untrue, as the poll had not asked respondents about IS, but The Sun is yet to issue a correction or apology.

“I think the media has played a major role in terms of inflaming the situation by giving false information about Muslims,” said Kozbar.

Senior members of the Metropolitan Police have visited the mosque and will hold further meetings on Monday.

Corbyn offers support

Kozbar praised the police for their support, as well as local constituency MP and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has been a long-time supporter of the mosque.

On 20 November, Corbyn visited and spoke to mosque-goers prior to Friday prayers.

“Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism has no part in modern in Britain, no part in our society,” he said. “There is to be no attacks on anyone for their faith, their belief, or their religion. Instead we have to reach out that hand of support and friendship.”

“I will continue speaking out to respect the Muslim community, respect for the faith of Islam, understanding what Islam brings to the world. A message of peace, of charity, of justice and hope – that’s the message I’ll continue to convey.”

Corbyn, who has been the constituency MP for Islington North since 1983, said the area’s diversity – 70 languages are spoken locally – is an “an example to the rest of the world that you can live together”.

The Labour leader has phoned to offer his support since Friday’s attack, Kozbar said, but no one from Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative government has been in touch, or ever even visited the mosque.

“The government is not engaging properly within the Muslim community,” Kozbar said. “We have tried many times to engage with the government but nothing.

"We need to work together. We hope that the government will think again [about visiting] after what has happened.”

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