Rotherham Muslims launch ‘guardian’ group after far-right threats

More than 100 volunteer for community protection after Britain First targets mosques

Members of the Muslim community in Rotherham are launching a neighbourhood protection group with more than 100 volunteers after three mosques were targeted by the far-right.

The new body, which will be styled on the Shomrim group in Jewish communities, said it would aim to provide reassurance and possibly self-defence training for imams in light of the security concerns.

The far-right group Britain First has carried out what it described as a “major operation” in the South Yorkshire town over the past week, distributing leaflets and visiting mosques, taxi ranks and hotels to warn about grooming of young girls for sex.

The attempt to inflame tensions followed a newspaper report this month about a police watchdog investigation into an unidentified officer who apparently told a grooming victim’s father that the police could do nothing about the abuse “because of racial tensions” if it became public.

A damning report in 2014 found that failures in political and police leadership had contributed to the abuse of more than 1,400 children, largely by men of Pakistani heritage, over a 16-year period.

Similar patterns of abuse – and failures in civic leadership – have since emerged in towns and cities across England but the issue remains particularly sensitive in Rotherham. There were 14 far-right demonstrations and an 81-year-old Muslim man was killed in a racially motivated attack in the year after the report.

Muhbeen Hussain, the Rotherham-born founder of British Muslim Youth who is setting up the new group, with the Rotherham Muslim Community Forum, said members of the Muslim community were fearful that Britain First could reignite tensions with its latest campaign.

He said more than 100 people had already volunteered for the new body, which will be called Muhafiz (“guardian”), and that its first priority would be coordinating between mosques and South Yorkshire police.

Britain First “were able to visit three mosques and nobody was aware, there was no coordination”, he said.

He said one man had been approached and threatened outside a taxi rank last week and was told: “Britain First are here now – you better get ready and watch what we do to you.” South Yorkshire police said they had received no reports of offences having taken place but had been carrying out extra patrols around the mosques this week.

“After what happened in New Zealand people were saying: ‘Thank God nothing serious happened,’” said Hussain, referring to the terror attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, last year that left 51 people dead and dozens more injured.

Contributor

Josh Halliday North of England correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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