A man suspected of attempted murder is being questioned in the English midlands after an elderly Muslim was attacked while walking home from his local mosque, just weeks after a similar assault in London.
Video of the incident, which took place on Monday evening in the city of Birmingham, was shared widely on social media.
In the clip, a younger man is seen arguing with the elderly victim, who is in his 70s, on Shenstone Road. Later, the victim’s jacket is set alight and he is heard screaming in pain.
“He spoke to [the victim] briefly before spraying with an unknown substance and then his jacket was set alight, causing burns to his face,” West Midlands Police said in a statement.
The victim was taken to hospital with serious injuries and is expected to survive.
West Midlands Police told Al Jazeera an update on the case is expected later on Wednesday.
Tayyab Riaz, the victim’s nephew, told the BBC: “For 35 years he’s been going to that mosque to pray and there’s never been a problem … Suddenly this happens. His hair, beard and eyebrows are badly burnt. We’re praying he’s OK.”
Chief Superintendent Richard North, commander at Birmingham police, said investigators were “keeping an open mind to the motive of the attacker” as he warned against speculation.
UK police are searching for a suspect who set a Muslim man on fire as he walked home from a mosque in Birmingham.
Police said the man suffered serious but non-life-threatening burns to his face ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/s2qzepASAQ
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) March 21, 2023
The assault near Dudley Road mosque has shaken Britain’s Muslim minority, which is preparing to observe the holy month of Ramadan.
Zarah Sultana, an MP with the opposition Labour Party, said she was “horrified”.
Amir Khan, a doctor and author, tweeted: “This makes me feel sick, an elderly man set on fire as he walked home from his place of worship … I’m lost for words.”
Counterterrorism police are understood to be involved in investigations amid fears of a worrying pattern of crime.
On February 27, a man approached an 82-year-old as they both left the West London Islamic Centre in Ealing.
They spoke for about five minutes then the suspect doused the victim in a liquid, believed to be petrol, before setting him alight using a lighter, London’s Metropolitan Police said.
“He then walked away,” the Met said, as the force launched an appeal to find the suspect and published a photo of him on its website.
In that case, the victim received treatment for severe burns to his face and arms.
“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.”
#BREAKING | A man has now been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder.
Follow the link below for the full story. https://t.co/vKH7Ondq4R
— West Midlands Police (@WMPolice) March 21, 2023