Australian Police Step Up Security around Mosques, Islamic Schools
Authorities have intensified security around mosques and Islamic schools in Australia after a suspected arson attack destroyed a Muslim place of worship at the weekend, police said Sunday.
The gutting of the mosque in the state capital of Queensland, Brisbane, early Saturday, triggered immediate fears among Australia's Muslim population that they had become a focal point of public anger in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
With Australia pledging troops and arms to Washington's "war on terrorism", backed by 80 percent of the public according to opinion polls published Sunday, many Muslims fear the worst.
"We are totally outraged because it is like the World Trade Center to us, it is exactly the same," the chairman of the Islamic Council of Queensland, Sultan Deen, told reporters.
"Someone put a plane into the World Trade Center and this is in the same category -- just on a smaller scale."
The airborne attacks in the US killed almost 7,000 people and triggered a massive military build-up as an international coalition prepares to join Washington in retaliatory strikes against Saudi-born Osama bin Laden -- the man accused of masterminding the strikes.
As thousands of commuters headed to work on September 11, three out of four hijacked commercial jets ploughed into New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington. The fourth crashed before hitting its target.
"I can practice my religion without fear of intimidation -- the Islamic community has to be in the same position," Queensland police commissioner Bob Atkinson told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Last week, Prime Minister John Howard said he could not rule out the presence of bin Laden supporters here, and warned that Australia could also become a target for enemies of the United States.
"If it is an attack of vandalism or vilification I condemn it unreservedly," Howard said at the weekend.
"We must not allow our natural anger at the extremes of Islam, which have been manifested in the attack on the World Trade Center ... to spill over to Islamic people generally."
Queensland's Anti-Discrimination Commission has also received reports of a bus ferrying Islamic students becoming a target for stone-throwers after the US attacks.
Saturday's suspected fire-bombing of a mosque was the second such incident in a week, police said.
"It's heightened the concern of the community in all respects when we were thinking that perhaps things would have subsided now," said the chief executive of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Amjad Mehboob.
Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Karen Walters said the number of reported incidents appeared to be rising.
"We've had anecdotal reports from students and indeed staff from educational institutions of being fearful to wear their headdress and being fearful of walking alone," Walters said.
"I ... remind Queenslanders that one of the pillars of our democratic institutions is respect for diversity and freedom of religion” -- SYDNEY (AFP)
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