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

UN Fears Rights Violations in China-backed Projects

UNHCHR investigates link between financing development and ignoring safeguards for human rights More

Boko Haram Violence Tests Nigerians’ Faith in Buhari

New president has promised to stem insurgency; he’s scheduled to meet with President Obama at White House July 20 More

Social Media Network Wants Privacy in User’s Hands

Encryption's popularity in messaging is exploding; now it's the foundation of a new social network More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs