In Brief

NI police investigate ‘KKK rally’ outside Islamic centre

Around a dozen people posed in white robes and hoods in Newtownards, near Belfast

Police in Northern Ireland say they are treating an incident in which a group of people dressed up in Ku Klux Klan-style outfits near a Muslim prayer house as a hate crime.

Around a dozen people took part in the “rally” in the town centre of Newtownards, County Down, on Saturday night.

Photos showed the group wearing the white gowns and pointed hoods associated with the US white supremacist organisation as they posed a few doors down from the Bangladesh Islamic Centre, which serves the town’s small Muslim community.

Some of the attendees carried crosses, in reference to the KKK’s practice of lighting wooden crosses at their rallies and planting them outside the homes of their targets.

A local resident who did not wish to be identified told the BBC that he had seen the group go into a nearby pub dressed in the haunting regalia.

“At about 2am they came out of the bar, so they had been allowed into it in their costumes,” he said, adding that he was “disgusted” and “saddened” by the incident.

Police said they received a complaint on Sunday afternoon.

Inspector Richard Murray said enquiries are ongoing, and that officers are “treating this as a hate incident at this time”.

“Hate crime, in all its forms, is totally unacceptable,” he added. “It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to ensure that we live in a society where diversity is respected.”

Peter Weir, DUP representative for the area in Northern Ireland’s devolved government, said the KKK was a “deeply repugnant” organisation and “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,” he added.

It is not the first time that Newtownards’ Muslim community has been a target for hatred. In August 2017, “a pig's head was left at the Islamic Centre’s door and graffiti painted on the building”, the Belfast Telegraph reports.

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