News / Europe

Killing of British Soldier Stirs Tension in Poor Corner of London

People heckle the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, not pictured, as he leave the scene of a terror attack in Woolwich, southeast London, May 23, 2013.People heckle the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, not pictured, as he leave the scene of a terror attack in Woolwich, southeast London, May 23, 2013.
x
People heckle the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, not pictured, as he leave the scene of a terror attack in Woolwich, southeast London, May 23, 2013.
People heckle the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, not pictured, as he leave the scene of a terror attack in Woolwich, southeast London, May 23, 2013.
Reuters
— The gory killing of a British soldier at the hands of two suspected Islamist militants has shone a spotlight on Woolwich, the London district where it happened, stirring racial tensions in one of the most ethnically diverse parts of Britain.
 
Tucked away inside a bend of the River Thames to the southeast of central London, Woolwich has changed as quickly as the British capital itself in the last 20 years as successive waves of immigrants attracted by the area's cheaper housing have made it their home.
 
“We have worshippers from Africa and Asia, Somalia and Nigeria, you name it,” Saeed Omer, a Somali-born trustee at the local mosque, told Reuters.
 
Woolwich's local mosque, a red-brick structure crowned by a golden dome on a busy road near the river, has found itself under uncomfortable scrutiny since the murder after one of the two assailants was filmed professing Islamist ideology.
 
“How could this happen here?” a white woman in her 30s with a tattoo on her neck wearing a tracksuit shouted as she walked past the mosque. “How could Muslims cut the head off a British soldier in broad daylight?”
 
Jabbing her finger at the mosque and at Omer, she added: “This place is part of it.”
 
The woman then used an expletive to denounce Muslims and shouted a slogan in support of the far-right nationalist English Defense League (EDL).
 
More than 100 EDL activists converged on Woolwich on Wednesday night after the murder to protest against what they said was growing Islamization, stoking government fears the killing could trigger revenge attacks against the local Muslim community.
 
Omer said he was “100 percent” sure that the two suspects, whose faces have been widely shown on TV, had not worshipped at his mosque and that they were not from the neighborhood.
 
“This is what we're up against,” he said of the woman's outburst. “Islam teaches peace ... but all this is creating tension between communities. We saw the same after 7/7 and 9/11,” he added, referring to Islamist attacks on London and New York in July 2005 and September 2001.
 
Omer said there had been problems with extremists at the mosque though. In 2006, he said he and others had launched a court case against followers of radical cleric Omar Bakri, who is banned from Britain and has praised the 9/11 attack.
 
“They were coming here showing our children pictures of beheadings,” he said. “We took out an injunction and banned them. Radicalization is one of our most serious problems.”
 
Bakri's banned group al-Muhajiroun was later led by Anjem Choudary, who told Reuters one of the attackers attended his meetings although he had not seen him for about two years.
 
During its heyday, Woolwich was a flourishing military industrial complex. Sprawling factories produced bullets and shells for the army of the British Empire, while its docks were home to a thriving ship-building industry.
 
But the area and its industry declined precipitously in the second half of the twentieth century with the last arms-making plant shutting its doors in 1994.
 
Pockets of the area are so bleak that Stanley Kubrick used them to film his 1971 film A Clockwork Orange, a movie about violent delinquents in a dystopian future Britain.
 
Ranked among the most deprived in England, according to the local authorities, the district is home to people speaking nearly 200 different languages. A quarter of residents were born overseas.
 
Scarred by high levels of unemployment and social deprivation, locals say the area's character has undergone a transformation in recent years.
 
“I've got an eight-year-old. At six years old, I was out playing on the street myself. He doesn't go out on the street,” said Gary Craig, an unemployed 44-year-old who lives close to the scene of the murder.
 
Like many local whites, he blames the arrival of outsiders: “The influx of foreigners into this area in the last five years is totally ridiculous.”
 
Woolwich, home to a military barracks for units which have fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, has been targeted before by Irish Republican militants.
 
In 1974, the IRA planted a bomb in a local pub near the barracks, killing two people, including one soldier. And in 1983, it blew up a guards room in the barracks, injuring five.
 
In 2011, Woolwich was hit hard by city-wide riots when shops, a pub, and a police car were set on fire as an estimated 300 rioters looted the town center.
 
Today, Woolwich town center is dominated by pawnbrokers, betting shops, small kiosks to send money abroad, and specialized African and Asian food suppliers, including several Halal butchers.
 
Change of another kind is coming. On the other side of the road from the mosque, cranes are working on a new rail link that will radically improve access to central London.
 
A giant Tesco supermarket, one of the biggest in Britain, opened last year, and parts of the Royal Arsenal - the disused riverside arms-making complex - are being turned into upscale flats.
 
Opposite Tesco's gleaming facade, Qudeer Ahmed, a 32-year-old Halal fishmonger, said he hoped people wouldn't think all Muslims were like the two murder suspects.
 
“Not everybody is like them,” he said. “I don't know why they do things like this. Muslims are a peaceful people.”

You May Like

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid