Call for ‘solidarity’ after Stevenage mosque attack

A member of a mosque which was targeted in a suspected arson attack has called for “solidarity”. Salman Lone, from the Stevenage Muslim Community Centre, spoke at a meeting with the police on Friday – three days after a flammable liquid was poured inside the mosque in Vardon Road and set alight.

A toilet extractor fan was smashed before the liquid was poured in at some point between the evening of Tuesday, February 25, and the following morning. The toilets had a tiled floor and walls, preventing the fire from spreading. However the smoke caused extensive damage throughout the building.

Chief Inspector Richard Harbon and Inspector Simon Tabert, head of the Stevenage Safer Neighbourhood initiative, chaired a discussion with congregation members on Friday, when Mr Lone also spoke.

“This is a major incident and it’s the worst thing that has ever happened to the mosque since it was set up 14 years ago,” said Mr Lone, executive committee member for the mosque. “People are concerned, confused and cross about the whole thing because a lot of them cannot understand why this has happened. We want to show solidarity with everyone in the community and demonstrate that this sort of thing is wrong.”

Stevenage Muslim Community Centre chairman Sarfraz Awan added: “I was very pleased to see the police come here today and strengthen our members’ confidence in the work they are doing. We are a peace-loving community but, of course, some people felt this was a sign that we were under attack and were unsure of the best way to react.

“I would invite anyone who holds prejudiced views towards our people to come down to the centre and learn more about our way of life. I have lived here for more than 20 years and know Stevenage to be a very peaceful area. We will try to reach out to the wider community and let people know that we are a force for good.”

Addressing the congregation, Ch Insp Harbon said: “We will do everything we can, working with the community, to ensure whoever is responsible is brought to justice. We believe this to be an isolated incident of wreckless vandalism rather than a targeted religious attack. It is important to me that you know you are welcome in this town and we do not want you to be driven away by these kind of foolish one-off incidents.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact Hertfordshire Constabulary on the non-emergency number 101.

The Comet, 6 March 2014