Counter-terror police investigating far-right hate mail campaign targeting mosques in UK and US

Counter-terror police are hunting a suspected far-right extremist sending hate mail and suspicious packages to mosques and political targets in the UK and US.

Three mosques in London are the latest to receive malicious letters from the unknown individual or group as part of what a monitoring group believes is a “structured” transatlantic campaign.

One letter seen by The Independent threatened to bomb Forest Gate Mosque “very soon… when there are plenty of Muslims”, while the sender told another mosque in east London they would “make you vermin pay” and a third letter received in Hackney called for the capital to be “cleansed”.

All bear a postmark from the same sorting office in Sheffield and share striking similarities with handwriting and content, including a symbol repeatedly used as a signature by the anonymous sender.

Tell Mama, which records Islamophobic hate crimes in Britain, said the letters appeared to be part of the same campaign that targeted three other mosques in the UK last year and others in the US.

Steve Rose, who has been documenting the phenomenon for the charity, said three mosques in Tottenham, Leyton and Finsbury Park received envelopes scrawled with abuse and containing white powder in July 2016.

“What was interesting was the relative proximity of these mosques,” he added.

“It seems whoever it is is targeting geographic areas of London and might have targeted a mosque in Rotherham as well.”

On the same day as letters arrived at London mosques last year, a security alert was sparked at Parliament when Muslim peer Lord Ahmed received a package containing white powder and a racist note, and similar envelopes arrived at the Bank of England and a Government mail screening service in Newham.

An investigation by specialist chemical units of the Metropolitan Police found that the substance was “not noxious or suspicious”.

The campaign spread to the US in February this year, when the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia, received a letter containing a death threat and a crude drawing of a pig defecating on the mosque.

Weeks later, another letter arrived from Sheffield at the Masjid Al-Iman in Jersey City, threatening to behead Muslims, while others sent to places of worship in New York, Georgia and Kentucky. 

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the US’ largest Muslim civil rights group, called for action amid increasing fears over the prospect of attacks by “those who have been emboldened by the current political climate”.

“We urge local, state and federal law enforcement authorities to treat this and all the other cases of threats and violence targeting American mosques with the seriousness they deserve and to bring the perpetrators to justice,” said Jim Sues, the group’s director for New Jersey.

CAIR has noted what it called an “unprecedented spike” in Islamophobic incidents since the US presidential election, while Tell Mama has recorded 167 attacks on British mosques in the past four years and rising reports of Islamophobic hate crime. 

tell-mama-graphic.jpg

Pattern of attacks on mosques in the UK over four years (Tell Mama)

The mosque targeted by hate mail in Finsbury Park was the Muslim Welfare House, where a van was rammed into worshippers in a suspected terror attack in June, although the incidents are not believed to be linked.

Iman Atta, the director of Tell Mama, told The Independent that those behind the malicious letters “are trying to create fear within mosques and this is important – to the users of the mosque”. 

“By targeting a mosque, they are sending out a wider message to the users of the mosque and the congregations,” she added.

“So the impact is wider and should always be taken into account in sentencing of perpetrators.”

Police have made no arrests in relation to the hate mail campaign, and the Sheffield sorting office handles post from a large area of northern England.

A spokesperson for the North East Counter Terrorism Unit, which is leading the investigation, said: “Police received a number of reports of malicious communications and packages which have been received recently across London.

“Specialist officers attended these addresses and the contents of the packages were examined. 

“In all cases, the substances were found not to be noxious or harmful.”

The spokesperson said “ongoing enquiries” are working to identify the origin of the packages, adding: “We are looking into the possibility that the communications are linked to a number of suspicious packages and malicious communications reported at locations in London, South Yorkshire and America.”

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