Police in London are treating a fire that badly damaged an Islamic community centre as suspicious amid continuing fears of reprisals following the Woolwich murder.
Scotland Yard said: "The cause of the fire is currently under investigation and is being treated as suspicious at this stage."
Six fire engines and about 35 firefighters were sent to put out the blaze in a building in Muswell Hill, north London, early on Wednesday.
The building houses the al-Rahma Islamic Centre and the Bravanese Centre used by members of the local residents with links to Somalia. It took more than an hour to bring the fire under control. Two neighbouring properties were evacuated.
London fire brigade said the entire building was damaged, and there had been a “partial structural collapse”. A woman from a neighbouring property was treated for shock at the scene by ambulance crews.
One report suggested fire crews had seen the letters EDL scrawled on the side of the building. EDL may stand for English Defence League, a far-right group.
The building was cordoned off as specialist police teams investigated. There have been no arrests. Chief Superintendent Adrian Usher said. "I have spoken to community leaders and assured them that a thorough investigation is being conducted.
“The safety of our communities is always our priority and we are consulting widely, offering our support and reassurance. All communities can be confident that they have our support and I can be contacted personally to answer their concerns.”
One witness, who wanted only to be known as Nurein, told the London Evening Standard: “I was woken up by loud noises and then soon I could smell the fire. I went outside and it was really bad. There were huge flames and lots of smoke. There were several fire engines and I think even a helicopter. It was terrible. This will really shake the community up.”
Mohamed Ali, of the Somali charity BritSom, believed the incident was linked to the Woolwich attack in south-east London. "The place has been absolutely destroyed. The community is shocked and very distressed because they have been here in peace for the past 20 years.
“We are a peaceful community so I do not know what has brought this on. The building is a centre for the community, it is used as a mosque, a gathering place for Somalis to meet up and as a school for young children to learn Arabic.
“This is shocking but it will not break the community as a whole. I would appeal to the people who did this to come and sit down with us and have a dialogue. That is the only way forward.”
According to Faith Matters, a group which monitors anti-Muslim hatred, there had been 10 attacks on mosques since Drummer Lee Rigby was killed in Woolwich two weeks ago. The most serious so far has been the attempted fire bombing of the Grimsby Islamic Cultural Centre while people were inside.
The GBP6m Bomber Command memorial in Green Park, London, unveiled last summer, has also been defaced for a second time in just over a week. The RAF Benevolent Association (RAFBF) responsible for the upkeep of the structure which was funded by philanthropists and a public appeal would not confirm reports that the graffiti demanded the killers of Rigby should be hanged.
RAFBF said: “We are extremely disappointed and saddened that the Bomber Command memorial has once again been subjected to vandalism. “The RAF Benevolent Fund exists to provide welfare for past and present RAF personnel and their dependants who are in need; this latest attack will once again divert much needed resources away from our primary purpose.”