A series of acid attacks in East London has renewed concerns among the Muslim community in Tower Hamlets over their safety and the spread of Islamaphobia
Fears have been heightened by the horrific incident on in Newham last month when an attacker tossed acid through a car window leaving 21-year-old model Resham Khan and her cousin Jameel Muhktar, 37, with shocking injuries.
While police initially stated there was no evidence suggesting the Newham attack was racially or religiously motivated, they later classified it as a hate crime. Police are still searching for 24-year-old John Tomlin in connection with the attack, who allegedly supported the far-right in posts found on Facebook.
Tensions were increased in Tower Hamlets when a toxic substance was squirted onto an Asian man in a car in Commercial Road on Thursday last week. The victim’s car was stolen after he exited the vehicle to seek help.
The victim felt a burning sensation on his skin but did not require further treatment. Police believe the substance may be a type of bleach as it discoloured his shirt, but they are treating the incident as a robbery rather than a hate crime and stress there is no connection with the Newham attack.
In another incident on Tuesday, two people were also seriously injured after a noxious liquid was thrown over them in Mile End. A woman, in her 30s, and a man, in his early 20s, were attacked on the street by three youths. The victims were taken to the hospital and their injuries are considered non-life threatening. Police stressed the attack was not being treated as a hate crime and that the victims and attackers knew each other.
However, despite the fact that Tower Hamlets Council and police have taken steps to reassure residents, insisting none of the incidents in the borough have been classified as a hate crime, some have taken to social media to express their growing concern that Muslim and Asian-looking residents are being targeted.
How are you reassuring us, we can’t even walk around safely in our own streets, what have you implemented
— Muslim Girl (@MuslimBibi) June 30, 2017
These attacks seems to be targeting south Asians or “Muslim looking people” keep your windows rolled up at lights
— Bad Bhai (@DerrKaiser) June 29, 2017
Tower Hamlets Borough Commander Sue Williams said: “I am aware of understandable public concern regarding a number of incidents referred to as acid attacks in recent weeks and months in east London, including Tower Hamlets borough. I understand a significant part of this concern was whether the local crimes are motivated by race or hate or linked to the horrific recent attack in Beckton, Newham.
“I have received a briefing from investigators who assure me the Beckton incident is not linked to the robbery in Commercial Road last Thursday evening. There is no evidence to suggest at this time that this is a race or hate crime. Similarly, we are aware of other incidents of this type which have been investigated, none of which bear the hall marks of a hate crime.”
Mayor John Biggs held a community meeting on Sunday evening amidst the public’s fears. Biggs said: “We know some of our residents are very concerned about this attack. The police have confirmed the incident was not like the terrible attack involving acid that recently took place in Newham. We will continue to work closely with the police to do everything we can to keep our residents safe. The police are continuing investigations into this robbery.”
Tower Hamlets had 84 reported acid attacks between 2011 and 2016, the third highest in London.