Islamic School Fire Near London Prompts Police Call for Unity

London’s police commissioner called for residents of the U.K. capital to stay unified after a suspicious fire at an Islamic boarding school added to attacks against the Muslim community following the murder of a soldier.

“These are difficult times for London’s communities,” Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. His force is now investigating suspicious blazes at two locations within the Islamic community that have occurred in recent days, he said.

In the latest incident, 128 pupils and staff at the Darul Uloom School, in Chislehurst, southeast of London, were evacuated late on Saturday, June 8. Two boys were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation, school adviser Saiyed Mahmood said in a televised statement yesterday. The fire had been started by “intruders,” he said.

The U.K. has experienced an jump in incidents targeting Muslims following the murder of Lee Rigby, a 25-year-old military drummer, on a busy street in Woolwich, southeast London, on May 22. Since the killing, anti-Muslim incidents have averaged more than 26 a day in Britain, compared with a previous average of four to six, according to Faith Matters, a non-profit group that seeks to improve interfaith relations.

According to Tell MAMA, a U.K. government-funded monitoring project that records anti-Muslim attacks, about 12 mosques have been targeted since Rigby’s murder. They include an incident in Grimsby in which three petrol bombs were thrown, while police are investigating whether an arson attack last week on a Somali community center in Muswell Hill, north London, was in response to Rigby’s death.

‘Unified Response’

“We should not allow the murder of Lee Rigby to come between Londoners,” Hogan-Howe said. “The unified response we have seen since his death across all communities will triumph over whose who seek to divide us.”

The police are using a “full range” of tactics to protect sites that might be vulnerable, Hogan-Howe said. “There is an increased police presence around locations that might be at risk,” he said, including round-the-clock staffing at sites regarded as being at greatest risk.

The Darul Uloom school, which was established in 1988, said yesterday it was dealing with concerned parents, and spokesman Mahmood asked for the local community to “stay firm and united.”

“We are part of the British community and saddened” by the fire, Mahmood said.

The school’s website says it “helps children to explore and develop their Islamic identity as a natural part of their mental, emotional and personal development.”

The 10-acre site comprises 130 boarding rooms as well as classrooms, a dining hall, an assembly hall, a prayer hall, gym, playing fields and car parking, according to the website.

“We would ask members of the public to remain calm and not to speculate as to the cause of the fire,” Detective Chief Superintendent Steph Roberts, the local borough police commander, said yesterday. “A full police investigation is ongoing.”

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