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Wednesday, 3 October, 2001, 13:09 GMT 14:09 UK
Shock after 'fire attack' on mosque
Ednburgh mosque
The incident is being treated as a racist attack
The leader of Edinburgh's Pakistani community has expressed shock after a mosque and community centre in the city was damaged in a suspected racist attack.

Police officers confirmed that they were treating the fire as suspicious and it is understood a connection with the recent terrorist attacks in the US has not been ruled out.

Two incendiary devices were believed to have been thrown into the centre.

Muhammed Aslam, chairman of the Edinburgh and East of Scotland Pakistan Association, said inter-community relations were "very good" but added that the incident was worrying.

It is completely unacceptable that blameless members of our own community should be targeted because of their faith or colour

Councillor Sheila Kennedy
Fire crews were called to the Pakistan Association Mosque and Community Centre after a passer-by spotted smoke coming from a window of the building at about 0100 BST on Wednesday.

The building, in Annandale Street, Leith, was unoccupied and the full extent of the damage has not yet been assessed.

Detective Chief Inspector Ronnie Macintosh said: "There is an assumption that what's happened here is connected to the atrocities in America and that may or may not be the case.

Muhammed Aslam
Muhammed Aslam: Worrying incident
"But we have to view this as a racist crime just now.

"The emphasis is on crime. A crime has been committed here and my team and I have to progress that investigation and we will do so with the aid of the experts who are here."

Mr Aslam said about 250 people used the mosque for Friday prayers but the hall above was in constant use for activities such as after school classes.

"It's obviously quite shocking and saddening. I was there myself last night when the fire brigade and police came," he said.

No suspicious calls

"There's quite a bit of damage, mainly to the ground floor, to the prayer area of the mosque.

"We are lucky that no-one was in there at the time and that nobody got hurt.

Mr Aslam stressed that inter-community relations as "very good" and said there had been no threats or suspicious calls received at the mosque.

He said he would talk to local community leaders to consider what preparations could be made in time for Friday's prayers.

Ronnie Macintosh
Ronnie Macintosh: "We have to view this as a racist crime"
Mr Aslam also planned to meet the chief constable for talks about measures to protect minority communities after the terror attacks on the US.

He said: "We are very concerned about this.

"It was really worrying what happened in America and in fact the community here stands shoulder to shoulder and expressed its sorrow and horror and wants to make their solidarity with the American people after what happened there."

Mr Aslam said he welcomed measures to combat any anti-Muslim backlash to the US terror attacks announced by Home Secretary David Blunkett at Labour's annual conference.

Edinburgh councillor Sheila Kennedy said: "If it is the case that this is a racist attack, then the people responsible for such intimidation are guilty of the same extremism and intolerance that they claim to deplore in others.

'Day of prayer'

"It is completely unacceptable that blameless members of our own community should be targeted because of their faith or colour."

Lord Yousaf Inait, a founder of Edinburgh's first mosque in 1967, said: "I am really shocked because only yesterday we had a press conference organised by the Church of Scotland in which it was decided to have Friday as a day of prayer for the followers of all religions in respect of what happened in America.

"It is a very alarming situation that the attack has taken place on this place of worship.

"The public at large has been sympathetic to Muslims in this area because they know they have never done anything at all to harm property or persons."

David Nisbet reports
"Police forces have been on heightened alert for this sort of incident"

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See also:

02 Oct 01 | Scotland
Public urged to pray for peace
12 Sep 01 | Scotland
Church leaders offer prayers
04 Oct 01 | Scotland
Murder probe after fire death
18 Sep 01 | Scotland
Move to curb fire deaths
17 Mar 01 | Scotland
Police renew appeal over fire deaths
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