UPDATED 16.06.13, 18.00
Police and community leaders are working hard to calm tensions in the community after four men were stabbed in Birmingham’s Ward End Mosque during the final prayer session on Saturday night. All the victims were taken to hospital. One man suffered injury to his hand and he has since been discharged. The other three remain in hospital: a 31 year old police constable and a 28 year old man who suffered multiple stab wounds and a 36 year old man who suffered a single stab wound to his leg.
There were immediate fears that the incident was a hate crime and police were called in from across the city to help with the initial response. Some officers cordoned off the mosque and the surrounding area and began to investigate the scene of the crime, while other officers began to undertake patrols to reassure the community in Ward End. Early responses from the police were that they were not ruling out the possibility that this was a hate crime and they gave assurances that they would investigate from every angle.
However, Birmingham Hodge Hill MP Liam Byrne visited the scene on Sunday morning and denied that it was a hate crime. He did not clarify how he came to this conclusion, but said that he formed this opinion on the basis of the work the police and community had done together during the night. Police later confirmed to the BBC that the did not believe this was a hate crime. By Sunday evening they were able to confirm that although the attacker had been worshipping during the prayer session, he was a stranger not known to the regular mosque community. Police also thanked the whole local community for their behaviour during the investigation and reassured everyone that they would do all they could to keep the area safe.
Dr Arshad Mahmood, who was at the mosque, told the BBC: “A man started stabbing one of the guys who was just sitting right next to him. I don’t know what exactly was the reason but he just started stabbing him. We went to save him. He had multiple injuries, three or four wounds. Then the policeman came and was also attacked and stabbed.” Eye witnesses report that the attacker was “of Somali appearance” and that he was stabbing his victims with a large knife or machete. There are also reports that there was arguing before the stabbing started, which was so loud it could be heard by those living near the mosque.
The first official police statement said: “Officers were called at 11pm on Saturday night to a mosque in Washwood Heath Road, Ward End, to reports of three men with stab wounds. They arrived at the incident and whilst the man was being detained, one police officer suffered a stab wound. The three people and the officer have been taken to hospital, all are currently described as stable.”
Police later clarified that two officers had gone to the mosque in response to a request for the emergency services to attend – arriving within four minutes of the call for assistance. They found three men had been stabbed and the suspected attacker was in a room at the mosque. The police challenged him, but he ran towards them. One of the officers, a 31 year old PC, attempted to subdue the attacker with a Tazer.. This had no effect on the assailant who was able to stab the officer in the chest and abdomen. However, the injured police officer and his colleague were then able to overcome the assailant and arrest him on suspicion of attempted murder.
Police inquiries have been held up by the fact that medical experts judged that the assailant was not fit to be interviewed. He was taken to a secure mental health unit, where he is under constant observation. If he is judged to be fit for interview, the police will be informed.
Ansar Ali Khan, the city councillor for Washwood Heath, spoke about the locality being quiet. “We’ve never had a problem, we always have a very peaceful situation in this area,” he said. “This is shocking for me to know the police officer has been stabbed as well.”
However, Ward End is in eastern Birmingham, just north of Small Heath, where 82 year old Mohammed Saleem was stabbed to death as he left the Green Lane Mosque at 10.30pm on 29th April. The case was later featured on Crimewatch but remains unsolved (see video, on our home page). In January this year, a 16 year old boy was sentenced to four years in custody after being found guilty of murdering 21 year old Saleem Hassan last year near the Noor-Ul-Uloom mosque, also in Small Heath, in what police described as “a brutal attack” last year.
The recent stabbing in similar circumstances in such proximity to the earlier violent instances – while racial tensions increase across the UK in the aftermath of the murder of Lee Rigby – caused great concern in the local community. Although immediate worries have abated, the community await the results of the police investigation for a full explanation of what has happened.
The Birmingham Central Mosque was one of very many which spoke out against the murder of Lee Rigby, posting the following statement on its website:
“What compels me to make this statement is the sheer brutality and in humanity of the brazen attack committed in Woolwich. By bringing God’s name into it, they have actually defied His name.
“The Police need to be commended for keeping their cool in such a trying situation and ensuring to capture them alive by wounding them and not killing them in anger. It will now be possible to find out when and where these individuals became ‘Muslims’, who was their mentor and how many others are there who are being ‘educated’ in the same way. Looking at the stills they do not appear to be mentally ill but they certainly have been brain washed and their humanity has been turned around. It is a picture of a cult and not any religion, let alone Islam. The government, past and present, have made mistakes but this is not the time for counting faults and failures. This is a time to come together and listen to each other. The Secret Services, the Police, the Communities need to come together and work together to root out this evil. Each party working on its own has not been able to solve the problem. One may consider some to be ‘swivelled eyed loons’ but let us accept the possibility that even those may come up with something sane which needs to be listened to. Keeping aloof will just increase the distance, it is only by coming together that we can reach understanding and respect for each other. By helping each other we can solve every problem, by staying apart we will only aggravate the situation.
“Dr. M. Naseem
“Chairman – Birmingham Central Mosque”