Far-right groups in the UK have been accused of cynically exploiting the death of Lee Rigby to provoke racially motivated unrest as reports increase of anti-Muslim incidents since his murder.
A wave of arrests took place around the country as complaints flooded in to police over racist comments being posted on social media sites. There were reports of graffiti and one gasoline bomb attack on mosques. A march by the English Defence League (EDL) in Newcastle, planned before the Woolwich murder, attracted three times the 500 protesters that had been expected, outnumbering an anti-fascist march organized in response.
Riot police were among about 1,000 officers on duty in the city center and some shops closed as a precaution.
Attacks on Muslims have also increased sharply since the murder.
Faith Matters, an organization that works to reduce extremism, said more than 160 incidents had been reported to its helpline since Wednesday’s murder, compared with the average of four to eight cases a day before the attack.
Fiyaz Mughal from Faith Matters said there had been “a substantial spike” in reports of Islamophobia, from “general abuse [at] visible Muslims on the street to graffiti at mosques, through to a firebomb at a mosque.”
Another group, TellMamaUK, which supports victims of Islamophobia, reported a tenfold increase in reports of incidents over the past few days.
Social media sites were hosting dozens of offensive exchanges about “dirty muzzies” by, among others, EDL supporters and people claiming to be “English patriots.”
Two men have been arrested in Northumbria for allegedly making offensive comments on Twitter, while in Bristol a 23-year-old and a 22-year-old were held under the Public Order Act on suspicion of inciting racial or religious hatred.
A 22-year-old man was due to appear before magistrates in Lincoln charged with making malicious comments on Facebook. A second man received a police warning. Another arrest was made in Hastings, and in Woolwich unemployed 28-year-old Adam Rogers has been charged with sending an offensive message on Facebook.
Michaela Turner, 23, of Southsea, has also been charged with sending a “grossly offensive” message on Facebook.
Meanwhile, the British National Party (BNP) announced it would be holding a demonstration in Woolwich. Friday’s visit to the site of the murder by party leader Nick Griffin was criticized as provocative by Akbar Khan, chairman of the anti-racist and community organization Building Bridges.
However, BNP organiser Adam Walker said that a “line has been drawn in the sand and it signals the beginning of the civil war we have predicted for years.”
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said: “Anyone who seeks to divide our communities is doing the work of the extremists they say they oppose. Some people are trying to use the vile attack in Woolwich as an excuse for more hatred ... The clear message from the overwhelming majority of British people is: ‘not in my name.’ We stand together against violent extremism, intolerance and hatred — whether from Islamists, the EDL, the BNP, or extremists of any kind.”