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

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid