The English Defence League, a right-wing group that has a history of anti-Muslim campaigns, blamed Islam for the attack on the soldier.
About 100 individuals belonging to the English Defence League clashed with London police hours after two men violently attacked and killed a British soldier with knives and machetes. The right-wing group, which has a history of anti-Muslim campaigns, blamed Islam for the attack on the soldier.
“Islam is not a religion of peace. Islam is fascist and it’s violent and we’ve had enough!” shouted Tommy Robinson, a leader in the league’s street demonstration in a video captured by the Guardian. “It’s not just today, we support our troops. Enough is enough.”
The incident that sparked the riots took place on Wednesday in front of the Royal Artillery Barracks in the London district of Woolwich. Authorities are treating the episode as a terrorist attack. According to witnesses, the two men hit the soldier with a car before using machetes and knives to kill him as eyewitnesses looked on.
The retaliation brought around 100 English Defence League supporters to the street, throwing bottles at police and chanting anti-Muslim slogans. Two separate incidents at nearby mosques have been reported, but police have not said whether they were carried out by the league.
In one incident, a 43-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of attempted arson after reportedly walking into a mosque with a knife in Braintree, Essex. The secretary of the mosque, Sikander Saleemy, told Channel 4 News he felt it was a “revenge attack.”
Meanwhile, the Guardian newspaper reports that police in Kent responded to reports of criminal damage at a mosque. A man was in custody on suspicion of “racially aggravated criminal damage,” the newspaper reported.
Many Muslims in Britain have denounced the the knife attack that set off the demonstrations.
“We absolutely condemn what happened in Woolwich, but it had nothing to do with us,” said Saleemy. “It was an appalling act of terror – but it wasn’t Islamic in any way. I wish it wasn’t described like that, because sadly people will now start to blame Muslims.”
The English Defence League describes itself as an organization “peacefully protesting militant Islam.” Although there are no official membership statistics, the league’s leadership estimates that it has 100,000 members. An independent 2011 survey published in the Guardian newspaper put the number of active supporters at 25,000-35,000.
The group has previously carried out campaigns to expose what leaders call “rape jihad” after nine Muslim men were arrested on rape charges May 2012. The men, all immigrants from South Asia, were jailed for abusing girls as young as 13 in Rochdale, England.
Some see the English Defence League as a xenophobic organization. HOPE Not Hate, a campaign mobilizing people opposed to “politics of hate,” labeled the league a “racist organization” that is the “largest right-wing threat in the United Kingdom today.”