By Tom Whitehead
A major atrocity was narrowly averted yesterday after a large nail bomb exploded outside a mosque just two hours after the funeral of terror victim Lee Rigby. A West Midlands Police spokesperson confirmed counter-terrorism officers had been dispatched to the scene…
The homemade device exploded near the Kanz Ul Iman Masjid mosque in Tipton, West Midlands, shortly after 1pm – when up to 200 worshippers would normally have been in the area for Friday prayers.
However, the prayers had been moved back an hour because of Ramadan and no one was injured in the blast.
The bomb, which was left on a disused railway line behind the mosque, showered the area with nails and other debris.
Police were last night treating the explosion as a terrorist incident and were investigating whether there are any links to a small explosion near a mosque in nearby Walsall last month.
Officers were also examining whether there is any connection to right wing extremists.
It was being treated as a suspected terror attack because of the size of the explosion, the fact nails were included and it appeared to have been timed to coincide with the Friday prayers.
One police source said such factors “appear to indicate at this stage intent to cause serious injury or damage”.
Residents in Tipton believed the attack had also been timed to coincide with the day of the funeral of Drummer Rigby in Bury.
The soldier died in an alleged Islamic terror attack in Woolwich, east London, in May.
Police in Tipton cordoned off an area of up to half a mile around Binfield Street while forensic experts, bomb specialists and counter-terrorism officers examined the scene.
Residents reported finding nails in gardens several hundred yards away.
Adrian Bailey, the local MP, said: “Given that it is Drummer Lee Rigby’s funeral today, and previous attacks at mosques across the country, it certainly seems that this may have been connected in some way.
“A nail bomb had exploded shortly after 1pm, when the mosque is usually at full capacity, but fortunately, as it is Ramadan, prayer times have changed and the devastation and potential loss of life that may have been suffered was avoided.
“At the early stages, everything points towards this being a premeditated attack.”
The attack came just two weeks after police arrested a 75-year-old man in connection with another explosion outside a mosque in nearby Walsall.
Mushtaq Hussain, chairman of the Kanzul Iman Mosque was inside the building at the time of the explosion.
He said: “There was huge disruption and somebody told me that there had been an explosion.
“We immediately investigated and alerted police. We tried to remain calm as we weren’t sure what was going on.
“It happened just after one o’clock which on a Friday is the busiest time of the day for our mosque usually.
“If it wasn’t Ramadan there would be at least 200 people here but thankfully at the time there were only a handful of people and everybody escaped without injury.
“If what I’m hearing is correct and it was a targeted attack you can’t help but feel unsafe, worried for your friends, family and your own life.”
Ahmadul Haque, councillor for Tipton, said: “I think it may be a retaliation to Lee Rigby’s funeral today. It seems like it was planned to go off at the busiest time of the day and if that’s the case, we can only be thankful that the timings were wrong.”
Razmullah Khan, 27, a local resident who lives next to the mosque, said: “It’s terrifying to be around, this is a place of worship not a war zone and with what happened in Walsall things are becoming terrifying people are starting to not feel safe about walking down the streets.”
Hartahn Hussain, 23, who prays up to five times a day at the mosque added: “This is a multicultural and cohesive community, there is never any trouble here.
“What’s happened today is completely out of the blue and it’s taken us all by surprise.
“We’re all completely shocked and each time I’ll be going to pray in future I’ll be worried and looking over my shoulder.”
In a joint statement, the board of trustees and management committee of the Kanz Ul Iman Masjid mosque said: “We express our deep shock and utter dismay regarding the incident that has occurred this afternoon. We jointly on behalf of the local community condemn this senseless and mindless act. It’s a blessing from God that thankfully no one was injured in the blast.
Speaking at a press conference, Assistant Chief Constable Gareth Cann said: “Just after 1pm today a member of the public phoned 999 and reported a loud bang close to the mosque.
“As a result of this, officers initiated a search of the area, and people started to report finding debris and nails in the area.
“People were evacuated and a cordon was put in place while officers worked with the army bomb disposal experts and specialist officers.
“There was minor damage to a nearby home, and the army are still searching the area and I believe that it is ready to be declared safe soon, and we can get people to return home.
“It’s likely that this is an attack given the factors and evidence found already. This includes the loud bang, reports of smoke, the finding of nails and the location of a mosque. From this, we can draw the most likely conclusion that there was a serious explosion and that somebody sought to create a devastating amount of damage.
“We are treating this as a terror attack, but we are still working to establish if this is connected to any other incidents that have occurred.”
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