Local Muslims express shock at Woolwich killing

Public lay hundreds of bouquets in memory of murdered soldier Lee Rigby

Worshippers leave the Plumstead Mosque in Woolwich, London, after prayers yesterday. Photograph: Luke MacGregor/Reuters

Worshippers leave the Plumstead Mosque in Woolwich, London, after prayers yesterday. Photograph: Luke MacGregor/Reuters

 

The Plumstead Mosque adjoining Woolwich is formally known as the Greenwich Islamic Centre, and serves a surrounding community of 15,000 Muslims. Yesterday, as heavy rain descended, those arriving to attend Friday Prayers paused to read the open letter taped to the mosque’s front door.

Headed ‘Statement of Condemnation’, the letter addressed Wednesday’s “barbaric murder”. It urged that “both of these men should be severely punished as CRIMINAL and NOT as so called ‘Muslims’ for the crime they have committed”.

The letter acknowledged “this moment of confusion, uncertainty and naturally highly charged emotions”. It ended, “Let the response of our nation be mature and thoughtful. This is a moment of prayer, unity and not of hasty reaction.”

“When does murder become terrorism?” was the rhetorical question of the 25-year-old recent covert to Islam. He was notable for being the only Caucasian male visiting the mosque whom this reporter saw over a two-hour period. “I’ve lived in London all my life. I converted last year from Christianity. I have found my heart here in the mosque. I wanted to be part of the peace and respect that these brothers have for each other, and the way they look out for each other.”

‘Deeply shocked’
“What I saw on Wednesday blew my mind,” admitted a Ugandan student (27). “It seemed like madness. I am deeply shocked.”

“It’s crazy. It’s unacceptable,” declared an Algerian man. “It is not part of any religion, that kind of killing.”

“It’s very bad. Every Muslim now is the enemy of the non- Muslim,” a man from Niger stated. “But most of the Muslim people who come to live here love this country.”

“We have been coming to this mosque all our lives and we have seen a lot more people converting to Islam at this mosque in the last three, four years,” said one of three teenage A-Level students, who all attend the same school nearby. Two of the three friends were of Pakistani origin, and the third was Iranian. “That murder wasn’t done by a normal person.”

“I thought the violence was extreme,” commented a Somalian man. “To kill like that is not the way I was brought up in the Muslim faith.”

Only a few women attended the mosque yesterday. The majority were men. Police officers hovered nearby, and police vans regularly drove past slowly, stopping alongside the building every now and then.

Police presence
At nearby Woolwich, the roads that had been closed since Wednesday were reopened, but the police presence there remained highly visible.

The public had marked the intersection of Artillery Place and John Wilson Street as their unofficial site of tributes to Drummer Lee Rigby. Close on 1,000 bouquets of flowers were attached to the railings that curved round the road, with police handing out plastic ties. Despite the rain, people kept arriving to lay flowers.

Among them were Jessica Hurst, and her father Mike. They were both wearing ‘Help for Heroes’ sweatshirts, and Jessica was crying. “It’s the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” she said. “He didn’t deserve to die like that.”

Mike Hurst, a former member of the parachute regiment, served 28 years in the British Army, and was stationed for a time in Belfast.

“You do this job to try and make the world a better, safer place for people,” he said. “In Belfast, I sometimes had to pick pieces of bodies up after bombs. To think that in the streets of London two days ago, people had to cope with that soldier’s body,” he said, shaking his head.

‘So angry’
“I’m disgusted. I’m outraged. I’m so angry!” Teresa Cheshire said loudly, as she put down her red carnations. “Those two men were known to the police. But the police did nothing about it.”

“Myself and my partner wanted to come here today with flowers and a card to show people that when something like this happens, people in this country genuinely do care about it,” explained Hayley Chiverton.

“Hero” was a word repeated on many cards. “To a brave hero soldier, whose life was taken by cowards,” read one. “Thank you for defending us for as long as you did. So sorry we could not defend you,” read another. And there was one card neatly written in capitals that said: “If our soldiers offend, please feel free to move to another country.”