Four teens were arrested yesterday evening in relation to a fire that broke out at an Islamic boarding school late Saturday evening in the southeast London suburb of Chislehurst. The fire was the latest in a series of attacks targeting Britain’s Muslim community following the murder of soldier Lee Rigby.
Though no major damage was done to the Darul Uloom School, 128 students and staff members were evacuated due to the fire, while two students were treated for smoke inhalation, reports CNN. Students were allowed to return to school Sunday.
The suspects, a group of 17- and 18-year-olds, are being held at a police station in south London.
The incident comes on the heels of another fire at an Islamic center in the north London municipality of Muswell Hill. According to the Guardian, graffiti was found at the scene that linked the incident to the English Defense League (EDL), an ultra-right anti-Muslim group. The EDL, however, has denied any connections to the fire.
The two fires appear to be part of a Britainwide flare-up in anti-Muslim sentiments following Mr. Rigby's murder on May 22 in Woolwich, another London suburb.
"These are difficult times for London's communities. The Met is now investigating suspicious fires at two locations within the Islamic community which have happened in the past few days,” said Bernard Hogan-Howe, London’s police commissioner, in a statement to the press.
"We should not allow the murder of Lee Rigby to come between Londoners. The unified response we have seen to his death across all communities will triumph over those who seek to divide us."
Rigby, a military drummer, was killed by two men wielding a cleaver and a machete. The men claimed that they attacked Rigby because he had served in Afghanistan.
According to Bloomberg, the frequency of anti-Muslim incidents in Britain has multiplied at an alarming rate since Rigby’s death, jumping from an average of four to six to as high as 26 per day. In that time, 12 mosques have been attacked.
And the Rigby murder appears to have given new life to Britain's right-wing groups, which had previously been in decline. The British National Party (BNP), long-standing far-right party, failed to find support outside the political fringes and has been mired by inner turmoil for several years now. The EDL, which has focused on street activism rather than fielding political candidates, was also on the decline.
But as The Christian Science Monitor wrote last week, the Woolwich incident has reinvigorated anti-Muslim sentiment and brought new attention to the EDL:
The [EDL] – a street protest movement which has drawn its support from the ranks of veteran far right activists, football hooligans, and others – has held protests around the country, including one that descended into clashes with riot police on the night of the May 22 killing of Drummer Lee Rigby, as well as a demonstration that mustered more than 1,000 close to the gates of Downing Street the following week.
Ghe EDL's recent surge in support, however, appears unlikely to last. Though the group claims to have 34,000 members on its website, it has not been able to mobilize the number of supporters as it could at the peak of its popularity. As Daniel Trilling, an expert on the British far-right, told The Christian Science Monitor:
“[The EDL’s] strength – a narrow focus on Islam, loose organizing via football hooligan networks and social media, which allows it to assemble numbers at short notice – is also its weakness. The various political tendencies – neo-Nazis, hardcore racists, conspiracy theorists, angry young men and women – frequently fall out and fight with one another.”
Still, the recent attacks have prompted pleas for people to push back against such violence.
“We are part of the British community and are deeply saddened by the events that have taken place and urge the community to stay firm and united in bringing the people responsible to justice,” Saiyed Mahmood, an adviser to the Darul Uloom School, told the Guardian. “The community at large have to come together for a safe a[nd] peaceful life in Britain."