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The New Zealand mosque attack that left dozens of Muslim worshippers dead “absolutely could happen” in the UK, the security minister has warned.
Ben Wallace said the government was considering increasing funds for security at mosques and Muslim community hubs, amid growing far-right extremism in Britain.
Recent days have seen a spate of incidents in which Muslims have been targeted, including an alleged hammer attack outside a London mosque, abuse of a taxi driver in Rochdale and online threats related to the Christchurch shooting.
A stabbing in the Surrey town of Stanwell on Saturday is being treated as a far-right terror attack after a man was allegedly seen shouting racist comments while carrying a baseball bat and knife.
The Muslim Council of Britain has asked the government for a long-term commitment to security funding.
In a letter to the prime minister, secretary general Harun Khan said there was a “palpable sense of fear” over potential copycat attacks.
“Open seven days a week, especially on Fridays, mosques across the UK are places servicing well-attended congregations,” he added.
“This makes the risk of copycat attacks here in the UK a real possibility, especially in a climate where we are now fully appreciating the growth in the far right.”
The council said there was a “real concern” that the way mosques are open to all visitors may need to change, and that the Jewish Community Security Trust may provide a model.
Spokesperson Miqdaad Versi told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme some Muslim institutions had been turned down for security funding.
“Unfortunately, until today, the government doesn’t seem to be engaging with many Muslim institutions, including the Muslim Council of Britain,” he said.
“What we need is equivalent support for all different communities whatever their faith background, whatever their positioning. At the moment £14m goes to the Community Security Trust for Jewish synagogues and schools, and £2.4m towards all other faiths over the last three years. I think there needs to be some work on that.”
Mr Wallace, the security minister, said that funding changes with intelligence on threat levels and that counterterrorism specialist advisers were engaging with mosques.
“In response to increased threat, we will increase and seek to change the funding around that and that is why we do have the Places of Worship scheme,” he added. “We will absolutely be looking at seeing whether that needs to be increased over the short and longer term.”
Discussing the attack that killed 50 at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, Mr Wallace said: “It absolutely could happen here.
“That’s why the government has been concerned about the growing group of people crossing into the extremist mindset on the far-right and the neo-Nazis. It is why 18 months ago, we proscribed a neo-Nazi group, National Action.”
Research indicates far-right extremism is growing in the UK. A recent study found white British people are more likely to sympathise with extremism than people of Pakistani descent.
Polling last year found that almost a third of British people believe the myth of “no-go zones” where non-Muslims cannot enter. A 2018 YouGov survey also found that attitudes towards Muslims had been hardening in the wake of Isis-inspired terror attacks and grooming scandals.
Mr Wallace said the government was investing in tracking down far-right terrorists and in the Prevent counter-extremism programme, which has seen increased referrals over suspected far-right extremism
“The big concern is what comes next,” he added. “When you get a significant pool of people who think it is OK to indulge in violent extremism, to believe that someone is lesser than them, that is the pool of people that terrorists recruit from.
“In the 21st century, people can join up in a virtual community on the internet. They can reinforce their own ignorance and extremism, they can plan how to hurt and kill people and then they can literally step outside their front door, fuel themselves with drink or bizarre, twisted ambition and in a matter of minutes wreak havoc and hurt people and kill people.
“You can imagine the challenge that is for our police and our intelligence services.”
Police are hunting three suspects who shouted Islamophobic abuse before attacking a man with a hammer outside a London mosque on Friday.
In Manchester, police have three people in custody over offences relating to comments on the New Zealand terrorist attack.
A man and woman were arrested after allegedly racially abusing and threatening a taxi driver in Rochdale on Saturday night.
Greater Manchester Police separately arrested a 38-year-old woman from Rochdale and 24-year-old man from Oldham over online comments on the New Zealand attack.