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Last Updated: Friday, 4 November 2005, 16:01 GMT
Muslim graves destroyed in city
Niaz Petkar with family graves that were knocked over

Dozens of Muslim grave stones have been smashed and pushed over in a cemetery in Handsworth in Birmingham.

The desecration was discovered on Friday by relatives visiting the Muslim part of the cemetery.

Leaflets were scattered, with insults against Muslims which were attributable to "Black Nation".

Last month, riots involving Asian and black youths took place in nearby Lozells, sparked by a claim that a 14-year-old black girl had been raped.

West Midlands Police have been at the scene collecting the leaflets and taking statements from those who found them.

We can't point the finger at a single community
Khalid Mahmood, MP

Supt Tom Coughlan said it was clear there was tension in the community.

"That has been seen over the events over the last two weeks," he said.

"I have always said that those problems were caused by a few people with a criminal intent and I think what we have seen overnight is exactly the same.

"We have people who are quite determined to start up tensions between the two communities."

Police are carrying out forensic tests and house to house inquiries over the desecration, which was reported to them on Friday morning.

Between 35 and 45 grave stones had been damaged.

Naseed Sadiq with a note he found near the vandalised graves
Police said it was clear there were tensions in the community

Community leaders have condemned the act and called for calm over the situation.

Bishop Joe Aldred of the Black-Led Churches said: "Let us demonstrate to who did this, whoever they are, that what unites us is greater than they can ever try to use to divide us.

"As leaders in the Muslim and Christian communities of Birmingham we are at one in our condemnation of this act."

He said everyone was anxious there was no repeat of the disturbances of two weeks ago.

"We are hopeful, but watchful, against this kind of activity. We do not know the source of it but we cannot doubt the intention which is to divide."

The BBC's Phil Mackie, who was at the scene, said the leaflets were roughly photocopied and the messages could refer to the so-far unsubstantiated rumour which led to the riots.

It is not known if Black Nation is a real group or has been made up.

He said that many of the relatives tending the graves were there because of the Muslim festival of Eid.

Religious understanding

Perry Barr MP Khalid Mahmood was also at the cemetery.

He said: "These are disgraceful events, deliberately done to entice people. They are definitely trying to cause more problems particularly on this day when Muslim people are coming to pay their respects."

He said the person responsible must have had some understanding of the Muslim religion to pick the day of Eid to act.

Birmingham City Councillor Len Gregory said "We are all saddened at such senseless vandalism and our immediate concern is to re-establish the headstones in their rightful place and restore peace and tranquillity to the cemetery."

He said arrangements would be made to put the headstones back in place.

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