Pastor James McConnell visits victims of race hate attacks

Muhammad Asif Khattak cleans up the damage to his home. Hours later his he was attacked again.
Muhammad Asif Khattak cleans up the damage to his home. Hours later his he was attacked again.

An evangelical preacher who triggered controversy in Northern Ireland when he claimed he did not trust Muslims has visited the home of two Pakistani victims of race hate attacks.

Pastor James McConnell has found himself at the centre of a political storm after branding Islam as “satanic and heathen” during a fiery sermon last month.

Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson’s subsequent remarks in defence of the preacher led to him apologising to Muslim representatives in private last week.

The Democratic Unionist leader is now facing mounting pressure to issue a public apology for his claim that while he would not trust Muslims for spiritual guidance, or those who followed Sharia law to the letter or who engaged in terrorism, he would trust them to “go down the shops” for him.

His critics characterised the shops reference as condescending and insulting.

Mr Robinson has insisted his comments have been misinterpreted.

The episode has played out at a time when Northern Ireland has witnessed an upsurge in race hate crimes. Both Mr Robinson and Mr McConnell have condemned all such attacks.

Mr McConnell, who has stood by the contents of his sermon at his church in north Belfast, has visited the home of two men who were targeted by racists twice in a matter of hours over the weekend.

The Pakistani men, aged 24 and 28, were assaulted in their Parkmount Street home in north Belfast on Sunday afternoon. The night before a bottle was thrown through their front window.

One of the men accused the First Minister of starting a “fire in the jungle and now it’s spreading”.

Speaking to the Stephen Nolan show as he lay on the floor of his bathroom on Sunday after being beaten by a gang, the victim said Mr Robinson had made a mistake in his comments on not trusting Muslims, adding that it had created “more hatred against us”.

The victim’s friend, who had been cleaning up the broken glass outside the house after an attack earlier that day, said those involved in the attack had called the pair “dirty Arabs” and “Paki b******s”, before adding that they hadn’t been visited by any politicians in that 24-hour period.

An 18-year-old woman has since been charged with disorderly behaviour in connection with the incident.

A 57-year-old man has been released on bail pending further police inquiries.

A statement from Mr McConnell’s Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle said he had visited the two victims.

“The pastor, who has been embroiled in a storm regarding recent comments about Islam, has told the men that he is appalled by the incident and explained that there is ‘no justification for such an attack on any individual or their home whatever their religion’,” it stated.

The church said the pastor had offered to help pay for the damage caused to the house.