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Terror police investigate fire at London Islamic center

Luke MacGregor / Reuters

English Defence League demonstrators protest near a government building after the recent killing of British soldier Lee Rigby in London, May 27.

LONDON -- Counterterrorism specialists are investigating whether a fire at a London community center used by Islamic groups was linked to anti-Muslim protesters, police said Wednesday - two weeks after the murder of a soldier.

The letters “EDL” – the initials of far-right organization, English Defence League – were found daubed on the burned building, police said. The blaze is being treated as "suspicious" by detectives.

The EDL, which describes itself as a “struggle against Islamic intolerance,” staged a number of public demonstrations in the wake of the death of Lee Rigby, 25, who was slain as he walked near a military barracks in Woolwich, southeast London.

The May 22 killing is being treated as a terror attack because eyewitness accounts and video evidence suggest it was carried out in protest of Western military involvement in Muslim countries.

Masked EDL members were involved in clashes with police on the night of Rigby’s killing.

The community center, which was being used by groups including the Somali Bravanese Welfare Association, was extensively damaged by the blaze in the early hours of Wednesday.

One woman was treated for injuries, police said.

Abubakar Ali, spokesman for one of the Somali community groups that used the center, said: “The Somali community is living in fear. We are appalled and deeply saddened by this foolish and horrific act against a peaceful community. 

“We urge everyone to remain calm and let the police and firefighters do their job.

"We condemn all violence, just as we condemned the murder of Lee Rigby. We sent our condolences to the soldier’s family.”

London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, described the fire as “cowardly.”

“There is no place in an open, tolerant and diverse city like London for hate, for prejudice, for violence,” he said, according to ITV News.

"London is a city built on the strength of its communities. Londoners will see this for what it is -- cowardly, pathetic and utterly pointless."

Officers searched the surrounding area for forensic clues Wednesday, ITV News reported.

“Police have started consulting and will work closely with the Somali and Islamic communities to provide support and reassurance,” London’s Metropolitan Police Service said in a statement.

“Specialist officers from the Met’s Counter-Terrorism Command are leading the investigation,” it said.

Added Johnson: "I would urge people to give the police the time and space to investigate this incident fully. I have no doubt the Met will bring those responsible to justice."

Tommy Robinson, leader of the EDL, did not comment on any link to the fire but posted on Twitter that he was “skeptical.” He also told the U.K.’s Sky News that previous attacks linked to the EDL had later been found to be carried out by others.

 

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