Police treating mosque bomb scare as hate crime
A suspicious item found near a mosque is being treated as a hate crime, police said.
Almost 40 homes close to the place of worship in Rutter Street, Walsall, were evacuated after bomb disposal experts were called to the scene.
West Midlands Police said they were alerted after the item was found last night by a member of the public before it was taken inside the building.
The evacuation, which involved around 150 people, was taken as a "precautionary and temporary" measure, a police spokesman added.
Superintendent Keith Fraser, the head of crime and operations for Walsall Police, said the incident was being treated as hate crime but the motive for placing the item near a mosque remained unclear.
Speaking at the scene, he said: "At around 10.15pm on Saturday, police were called to Aisha mosque in relation to a suspicious item that had been found.
"The force are taking this extremely seriously.
"We have launched a full investigation into the suspicious item that has been found, and what's going to be the key to this is the public's help in relation to helping us to understand why that suspicious item was in the area."
He added: "Officers are continuing to work hard to establish what the item is and how it got there but the incident is being treated as a hate crime, although the motive for placing the item near to the mosque remains unclear."
Mr Fraser, who confirmed that the suspicious item is now safe and is being examined by trained experts, also appealed for the media not to speculate about what had been found.
He continued: "Obviously there are going to be a number of hypotheses around this suspicious item, what I would ask is that we work with what we know at the moment.
"The investigation is at a very, very early stage.
"Hypotheses which raise people's concern about what may or may not have happened would not be helpful at this stage.
"I would ask that we keep things in perspective."
Police said that officers have increased patrols in the area and around all places of worship, although the incident is believed to be isolated.
A 40-metre section of Rutter Street, in the Caldmore area of Walsall, remained cordoned off earlier and two uniformed Army personnel were at the scene.
Police investigators were also still outside the Aisha Mosque and Islamic Centre, including one officer wearing a blue full-length forensic suit, who could be seen taking photographs of areas of interest near the building.
Ali Mahmood, the chair of the local traders' association, said local people had been given no details of the nature of the suspicious item.
"It's a very big shock for the local community," he told reporters. "To see the road cordoned off like this is shocking."
About 80 people evacuated overnight were given shelter by Walsall Council, while 70 residents made arrangements with friends or family.
Viyja Kainth, the vice-chairman of Palfrey and Caldmore Neighbourhood Watch and residents' group, praised the work of the local authority in helping to provide accommodation to those forced to leave their homes.
Mr Kainth, who also thanked members of the St John Ambulance for their help, said: "We were told by the police that there was an incident of a serious nature.
"The residents were evacuated in the early hours of the morning when the council put in place its procedures.
"I must say that the council did a good job in getting their resources and staff together to provide that service.".