LONDON (Reuters) - Strapping his baby into a car seat, Abu Khaled said it was unfortunate that a British soldier was hacked to death in an apparent Islamist attack a day earlier in London, but it was not the only misfortune on his mind.
“A 75-year-old man was stabbed to death earlier this month on his way back from the mosque in Birmingham. You didn’t hear about that, did you?” said the bearded 36-year-old personal trainer, speaking near East London Mosque, one of the capital’s oldest and largest.
“Eleven children died in Afghanistan in a U.S. drone attack about the time of the Boston bombings. You didn’t hear about that either, did you?” he said.
The overwhelming reaction from Muslim communities to the brutal killing on Wednesday has been one of horror, compounded by fears of a backlash.
“These men have insulted Allah (God) and dishonoured our faith ... There will no doubt be a lot of soul-searching about why these individuals do what they do,” Farooq Murad, head of the Muslim Council of Britain, said in a news conference.
Abu Khaled said it was probably Western treatment of Muslim life as “collateral damage” in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq that triggered Wednesday’s crazed attack in Woolwich, southeast London.
In a video of the killing, one of the two suspects, named by local media as Londoner Michael Adebolajo, 28, said he did it because “Muslims are dying every day” and that the soldier’s death was a “tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye”.
For east London housewife Muna Hussein, 35, nothing could justify such an act.
“That man was slaughtered like a goat. I was shocked. I couldn’t sleep. I was afraid to leave the house in case people attacked me for wearing a headscarf,” she said.
Abu Khaled’s chief concern now is for his extended family, who live in the east London district of Barking, a bastion of the English Defence League, a far-right group that opposes what it sees as the spread of Islamic extremism in Britain, which on Wednesday took to the streets in protest.
“The terrible events in Woolwich today were a reminder of something very few are willing to accept: we are at war ... in defence of our culture, our rights, our freedom and our country,” the group said on its website.
The East London Mosque’s Facebook page is now littered with threats and xenophobic comments, and two other mosques have been attacked. The East London Mosque also houses a Muslim centre, and is involved in combating extremist teaching.
“The mosque and centre is between a rock and a hard place ... We’re trying to fight off two kind of extremist groups - the far right, and we’re trying to fight off these extremist groups within our own community,” spokesman Salman Farsi said, adding that fear had spread through British Muslim communities.
The centre said state support had been lacking since David Cameron’s coalition government came to power in 2010, embarking on a tough austerity drive to fix a big budget deficit.
In recent years party leaders have also toughened their rhetoric on immigration.
“The coalition has just cut connections with the Muslim community. It’s almost like they don’t want to engage. Money’s gone to think-tanks over grass roots and frontline work. And that’s one of the reasons you see trouble on the streets,” said Shaynul Khan, another mosque spokesman.
Farsi said his centre was battling against figures such as Anjem Choudary, the head of a banned British radical Islamist group, who told Reuters he knew Adebolajo and declined to condemn his attack, blaming it on “British foreign policy”.
One of Choudary’s fellow preachers Abu Abdullah Al-Britani, who gives sermons calling for the end of western democracy and for the introduction of sharia law, said the killing was a natural reaction to what Britain was doing overseas.
“Nobody wants to see this; we want to live in peace, in harmony, but we can’t do that if the British are going to be going around butting their noses into other people’s business,” he told Reuters.
Choudary and al-Britani appear to have some sympathisers.
“Police always pull me aside at airports and ask me whether I know any terrorists. I say I do, and their eyes go wide,” Abu Khaled said.
“I say George Bush and Tony Blair,” he said, referring to the former U.S. and British leaders behind the 2003 Iraq war.
Additional reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Will Waterman