KKK incident in NI treated as hate crime

Police have launched an investigation after images emerged of people dressed as Ku Klux Klan members in Co Down.

The images circulating on social media were reportedly taken outside an Islamic prayer house in Newtownards on Saturday night.

Reports that a group of people dressed as Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members posed outside an Islamic prayer house are being investigated as a hate incident, police said.

Reports that a group of people dressed as Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members posed outside an Islamic prayer house are being investigated as a hate incident, police said.

Last year a pig’s head was placed outside the same centre on Greenwell Street in the town.

Police have said they are treating this weekend’s incident as a hate crime and are appealing for information.

DUP MLA Peter Weir said the KKK is “a deeply repugnant racist organisation”, adding: “Anyone happy to associate themselves with such a vile body is clearly a moron.

“That such a large group of people took the time and the effort to get their costumes completely correct, and above all the fact that they chose to pose outside the Islamic Prayer Centre in Newtownards, takes this episode of stupidity to a more sinister connotation.”

Alliance Strangford MLA, Kellie Armstrong has branded those responsible “disgusting” and said it was a “clear demonstration of aggression and bullying towards one particular religion”.

She called on the PSNI to review CCTV footage from bars which the group visited in a bid to identify them.

“The KKK represents a brand of hatred not wanted or welcome in the area. This group did not simply dress up for Halloween, rather they deliberately posed outside the prayer house in Newtownards,” she added.

Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt said he believed the KKK incident was an “act of terrorism,” adding: ““People will speculate whether it was people trying to have some sort of a sick laugh or was it serious. The point is that the intent is not the issue, the impact is the issue.”

A PSNI spokesperson said hate crime, in all its forms, is “totally unacceptable”.

It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to ensure that we live in a society where diversity is respected,” police added.

One of Northern Ireland’s top Muslim figures, Dr Raied Al-Wazzan of Belfast Islamic Centre said the incident had raised tensions in the community, adding that Muslims living in the area were “afraid to go out”.

Dr Al-Wazzan has courted controversy himself in the past, after he praised jihadist group Islamic State’s (ISIS) rule in Iraq.

Back in January 2015, he said the Iraqi city of Mozul had become “the most peaceful city in the world” after it was overrun by the radical Islamist group, whose tactics include mass killings and abductions of minorities.

Dr Al-Wazzan withdrew the remarks two days later and apologised for the offence he had caused.

Speaking on the Nolan Show this morning, he said: “It was taken out of context and I used the wrong word at that time. I come from Mozel and when ISIS took over in Mozul my family was there, being held hostage by ISIS.

“I had to talk to the media and keep my family safe at the same time. I used the wrong words. I definitely do not support them.”