Hate crime inquiry as bomb explodes outside mosque

COUNTER-terrorism officers are investigating the discovery of a home-made explosive device which went off outside a mosque.

Foresenic officers by the mosque in Rutter Street in Walsall following the discovery of a suspicious item

Police confirmed last night that a suspicious package found 
outside the building was an explosive.

Officers say that a loud bang heard by residents close to the building in Walsall on Friday night appears to have been the device going off.

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However, West Midlands Police were not alerted to it until the following evening when it was discovered by a member of the public who took it into the building.

This triggered the evacuation of more than 40 homes as bomb disposal experts investigated the device. Nobody was injured and police say there was only “minimal damage” around the device, which had been in an alleyway.

The incident is being treated as a hate crime by West Midlands Police who say the motive for placing it near a mosque remain unclear.

Assistant Chief Constable Sharon Rowe said: “The force is taking this attack against the mosque very seriously and we have a major investigation underway.

“To that end, I have called in support from all over the force, including the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit, which has a number of experts supporting the inquiry. Specialist investigators have been working all day and continue to ensure that we maximise every opportunity from the crime scene.

“At this stage we are keeping an open mind on a motive, but have recorded it as a hate crime. A hate crime is any criminal act committed against a person or property that is motivated by the offender’s hatred of people because of their gender, race, religion, disability or sexual orientation.

“The investigation is being supported by officers from the neighbourhood policing team, who have local knowledge and relationships. If there is anyone who heard the bang on Friday evening, or saw suspicious activity on Friday or Saturday, who could help the investigation, I would urge them to come forward as soon as possible.”

Zia-Ul Haq, spokesman for the Ashia Mosque said: “First of all can I thank the police force and the local council for really supporting us on this occasion?

“We didn’t think this item was serious, but called the police.

“We would like to thank the police for taking this seriously and for investigating this thoroughly.

“We have beautiful relationships with the local community and we’ve never had any trouble at all at our mosque. We are not too worried about this and we have every confidence in the police.”

Councillor Zahid Ali, Walsall Council’s portfolio holder for public health and protection, said: “We stand shoulder to shoulder together as a community in support of the police.

“We’ve worked very hard with the community and shown that we were there for them when the evacuated residents needed shelter.

“Walsall has really shown its mettle in coming together and responding with calm determination.”

West Midlands Police said they believed the home made explosive was an isolated incident but had increased patrols in the area to “reassure people who may be worried”.

The majority of residents had already returned to their home by yesterday evening and the remainder would be allowed back by the end of the day, police said last night.

Some residents living near the mosque in Rutter Street said they heard a loud bang similar to the sound of a firework in the area late on Friday.

It is understood that no one living in the area contacted police on Friday evening.

Mir Saeed, who lives around 50 yards away from the mosque, said: “I heard a big bang but I didn’t think it was anything serious.

“It sounded like hitting metal with a piece of rock or something.”

The father-of-four, who was forced to leave his home at 6am yesterday, added: “It is shocking for everybody when the police come and tell you to leave – it is a peaceful neighbourhood.”

Labour MP Valerie Vaz, who represents Walsall South, said: “I think we need to wait and see what the police come up with following their investigations.

“But I am pleased to see that the majority of my constituents who were evacuated in the early hours of Sunday morning are now back in their homes.”

The evacuation of homes in the “immediate vicinity” of the mosque had been ordered by army bomb disposal experts at the scene.

People who were unable to go elsewhere were taken to Walsall Town Hall.