Two alleged anti-Muslim attacks in the space of a week have led a city mosque to ramp up safety precautions amid rising tensions.

A petrol can scrawled with the letters ‘IDF’ – the initials of the Israeli Defence Forces – was thrown over a wall at the Central Oxford Mosque in Manzil Way.

While the petrol can was empty and no one was hurt, police described the incident, at 10.30am on Saturday, as a hate crime and appealed for witnesses. The force said the writing on the can “may be related to the ongoing conflict in Israel and Gaza.”

A spokesperson said the offender threw the red petrol can over the wall into the car park before cycling towards Cowley Road.

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It came a week after a man was arrested on suspicion of a racially aggravated attack in East Oxford involving an axe. 

The incidents come amid tension in Palestine and Israel as bloody attacks on Israeli civilians have been followed by bombardment of Gaza and a military blockade.

DI James Holden-White said: “We are working with the mosque and local community to reassure them of their safety following this unacceptable incident, as well as conducting further patrols in the area. We take all reports of hate crime seriously as we know that they have a devastating impact on individual victims and targeted communities.

“Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and all other racial and faith-based discrimination will not be tolerated in any form.”

A statement from the mosque said: “We believe this attack was due to us showing our unwavering support for the innocent people of Palestine by displaying Palestine flags around our mosque. This attempt to scare us will not work. 

“We will continue to exercise our democratic right and show solidarity with the innocent Palestinians being massacred indiscriminately and illegally.”

Mosque trustee, Faisal Aziz, said: “Whenever there has been an attack on groups who aren’t Muslim, the spotlight is always on us to apologise. Now that innocent people are being slaughtered in Gaza we are automatically in the firing line of Islamophobia.

“We opened during Covid for the whole community as a vaccine centre, we allow NHS staff at the local centre to park for free, and we run a weekly food bank. So it saddens us that we try to give back to the community with open hearts and this has happened.”

He said mosques should be able to openly support Palestinians.

In a joint statement, Oxford East MP Anneliese Dodds and Susan Brown, leader of Oxford City Council, said they were “shocked and saddened” by the incident.

“We stand with the Muslim community in Oxford in condemning this cowardly attack and urging people to be vigilant,” they said.

MP for Oxford West and Abingdon Layla Moran said: “I strongly condemn this attack.

"Islamophobia or any hate crime has no place in our society. I am pleased that TVP has taken this seriously and I hope the full force of the law is applied to the perpetrators when they are hopefully caught.”

Oxford University Islamic Society president Riaz Rahman said: “We have received an unsettling number of reports from students of Islamophobic attacks in and around Oxford. These include derogatory insults with discriminatory language, spitting, shoving and more.”

He added: “We condemn the perpetrators of all hate crimes in Oxford and beyond, and appreciate those who have shown support and solidarity as well as disapproval of those seeking to sow discord in our community.”

Oxford Mail: Moznu Miah at Oxford Mosque Society in Bath Street Oxford
Picture by Ed Nix

Chairman of Oxford’s oldest Mosque on Bath Street, Moznu Mia called for calm. He said: “As a community we don’t have an issue with any other community and we just like to live in peace and harmony. What happened is quite a one-off.

“We live in peace fully together with no problem at all.”

A 23-year-old Muslim student at the University of Oxford, who did not wish to be named, said she had been abused on a bus by a woman who was supported by other passengers.

She said: “I feel unsafe and a lot of other Muslims have said they feel the same.”

Police said anyone with information should call 101, make a report on its website, quoting reference number 43230484992 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or via its website.