Birmingham city centre will be locked down by more than a thousand police officers in a huge operation to stop major disorder at a rally by the English Defence League on Saturday.
The demonstration comes a week after a nail bomb exploded outside the Central Jamia Mosque in Tipton and three weeks after a pipe bomb was discovered at the Aisha Mosque in Walsall.
EDL supporters are expected to attend a static demonstration and West Midlands Police have called in officers from neighbouring counties of Staffordshire, Warwickshire and West Mercia to help control the protest.
A spokeswoman for West Midlands Police said the force was aware of the EDL march planned for July 20 and was in discussions with the group.
West Midland Police’s Assistant Chief Constable Sharon Rowe said: “We do appreciate that our communities are feeling vulnerable, especially in light of what happened at the weekend at Tipton mosque. Anyone who comes to our city with the aim of committing violence will be dealt with swiftly and robustly by our officers.”
The force has also boosted police presence at mosques across the region since the attack last Friday, which came at a time when hundreds would normally have been inside the mosque for prayers.
But ACC Rowe said her officers had no powers to ban the march, and said powers of arrest would be used in a “fair and impartial” way.
Local community members are advised to consult with local Solicitors in Birmingham if they are thinking of attending the rally – as the legality of attending such an event may infringe upon the orders set out by the Police.
At a specially convened press conference yesterday Mohammed Saleem Akhtar, chairman of the Central Jamia Mosque read out a statement on behalf of the Sunni Confederation of Mosques, a body of more than 105 mosques and Muslim organisations in the West Midlands.
He said: “The recent attacks on mosques in Walsall and Tipton are examples of what happens when hate speech is given freedom to spread. These mindless acts are designed to spread fear and anxiety across communities. Whilst we support the right for free speech, we do not support initiatives that are designed to spread fear and messages of hate.
“With planned protests in Birmingham this weekend we call upon the authorities to do whatever they can to ensure messages of hate are not given the time or space to foster in our city.”
Mr Akhtar called on police to ensure the safety of religious buildings and communities, and urged the community “not to respond to mindless provocation”. He further added: “We need tighter laws to stop these sort of protests. The lawmakers have to decide what to do.”
Muslims have called on Parliament to consider new laws to ban demonstrations such as the one planned by the EDL, fearing they could lead to violence.
Home Secretary Theresa May currently has powers to outlaw marches by extremist groups but not static protests.
In response to the EDL rally, campaigners from the Birmingham branch of Unite Against Fascism (UAF) will hold a counter protest in nearby Chamberlain Square.
Call for “calm”
Meanwhile, a letter signed by local political and religious leaders calling for “calm” ahead of the protests was circulated by the regional newspapers.
The letter said: “With protests planned for the city centre this weekend, we, the undersigned wish to make it clear that Birmingham is not a city that tolerates extremism in any shape or form. Together we are committed to a progressive, safe and inclusive city, free from discrimination and all forms of extremism.
“This is a city of many communities, nationalities and creeds – all harmoniously living and working side by side. Any attempt to disrupt that harmony will not succeed and will merely have a detrimental effect on the city economy, damaging shops and businesses as people opt to stay away. We support and defend everyone’s right to free speech. But to any individual or organisation promoting messages of hate and intolerance, our collective response as a city is very clear: You will not create divisions and you will not destroy our unity.
“There is no place in our city for messages of hate. There is no place for intolerance and there is no place for violence or extremism of any kind.”
Sir Albert Bore – Leader of Birmingham City Council (BCC)
Coun Mike Whitby – Leader, Conservative Party, BCC
Coun Paul Tilsley – Leader, Liberal Democrats, BCC
Right Reverend David Urquhart – Bishop of Birmingham
The Most Rev Bernard Longley – Archbishop of Birmingham
Rabbi Yossi Jacobs – Singers Hill Synagogue
Mr Abdul Rashid – Treasurer, Birmingham Central Mosque
Rabbi Dr Margaret Jacobi – Birmingham Progressive Synagogue
Major Samuel Edgar – West Midlands Commander, Salvation Army
Bhai Sahib Bhai Dr Mohinder Singh – Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha
Mr Sewa Singh Mandla – Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha
Bob Jones – Police and Crime Commissioner, West Midlands Office for Policing and Crime