A 28-year-man has been charged with two counts of attempted murder, suspected of attacking elderly men leaving mosques in separate crimes that were weeks apart – and in different English cities.
West Midlands Police said on Thursday that Mohammed Abbkr was alleged to have sprayed a substance on an 82-year-old in west London on February 27 and on a 70-year-old in Birmingham, central England, on March 20.
In the first incident, the octogenarian was engaged in conversation with a man as they left the West London Islamic Centre before he was doused in a liquid and set alight. Police said the injured man suffered burns to his face and arms.
The second man was walking home from a mosque in the Edgbaston area of Birmingham on Monday evening when he was sprayed with a substance and his jacket was set alight.
The victim suffered severe injuries but is expected to survive.
Earlier this week, British counterterrorism officers were called to assist in the investigation.
“This was a joint investigation between West Midlands Police, Counter Terrorism Policing and the Metropolitan Police,” West Midlands Police said in a statement.
Video of the second assault near Dudley Road mosque was shared widely on social media. The incident shook Britain’s Muslim minority, which is now observing the holy month of Ramadan – a period when worshippers increasingly visit mosques.
Zarah Sultana, an MP with the opposition Labour Party, said she was “horrified”.
“The two recent deeply troubling incidents where two elderly Muslims have been set on fire as they left mosques are shocking,” Iman Atta, head of Tell Mama, a hate crime monitor, told Al Jazeera.
“We ask all communities to remain alert and vigilant whether at a mosque or in a public area. This is especially the case because Ramadan is just around the corner and the safety and security of our communities remains a key priority.”
Abbkr is expected to appear in court later on Thursday.