London: A mosque in Manchester has been gutted by fire after the third suspected arson attack in three years.
Detectives have launched an investigation into the suspicious blaze that tore through the Nasfat Islamic Centre, in south Manchester, at 11.40pm on Sunday.
Thirty firefighters were called to tackle the fire, the third to hit the building since 2014, according to a mosque spokesman. Monsurat Adebanjo-Aremu, the mosque secretary, said it had previously been targeted by vandals who threw two pigs’ heads inside and urinated outside the building in the past year.
The suspected arson attack is expected to be treated as a possible hate crime by Greater Manchester police, which says it is taking a zero-tolerance approach following a huge spike in Islamophobic incidents since the Manchester Arena attack.
The number of race hate crimes is thought to have fallen back to normal levels following a 500 per cent surge in the month after the suicide bombing on May 22, police revealed last month. Shamusideen Oladimeji, a spokesman for the mosque, said Sunday night’s blaze was the centre’s the most serious yet and that it made him fear for the safety of fellow worshippers.
The main prayer hall and three classrooms had been gutted in the fire, which ripped through the roof of the building in Newton Heath.
Oladimeji said: “We were called last night to say the mosque had been attacked. When we got there fire services had been there to put the fire out. “They were lucky to be able to put it out but the damage had been done. Based on what we saw yesterday [Sunday] it’s bad. Very, very bad.” He said the first attack on the mosque was in 2014 after “what happened in London with Lee Rigby”.
The mosque was attacked again two years ago, Oladimeji said, but it was not serious. He said the latest attack made him concerned for the safety of the mosque and fellow worshippers.
“We were there yesterday to do our normal prayers so if someone had done this in the morning we would be saying another thing. We are happy that no one was in the mosque when the incident happened,” he said. “I don’t know why it’s happening because we’ve been good to the neighbours and the neighbours know us very well. Forensics officers from Greater Manchester fire service were seen entering the mosque on Monday morning as an investigation got under way. The mosque secretary, Monsurat Adebanjo-Aremu, said the centre had grown strong ties with the local community in recent years and that the latest incident was a setback.
“We’ve been trying to work with the community to make this thing work. We are part of the community but the mosque was set ablaze today and almost everything that we have is completely gone, it was burnt to ashes,” she told the Manchester Evening News.
“All the classrooms we have for the children have been set ablaze. It’s quite unfortunate that we are part of the community and someone’s still trying to do this to us. “We hope somebody’s going to look into this for us and get back to us and try to make sure that this does not happen again.”