• Internet footage shows Islamic holy book on fire
• Warning 'provocation' will increase risk for UK troops
A security expert warned yesterday that the alleged burning of two Qur'ans in northern England risked making Britain more of a terrorist target and endangering British troops.
Police have arrested six men over the apparent burning of the Muslim holy book behind a pub in Gateshead on the anniversary of the 11 September attacks on the United States.
Police refused to say whether those arrested were connected to the far right English Defence League (EDL). A witness said the pub had been the subject of police attention because some customers were alleged to have links to the EDL.
A threat by an American pastor to burn the Qur'an in the United States on 11 September led to warnings from US military chiefs that such an act would endanger troops fighting in Afghanistan, and to an intervention by president Barack Obama. Eventually the pastor called off his planned burning.
Video of the Gateshead incident, posted on YouTube, shows two men with headscarves covering their faces, wearing tracksuits and trainers, and dousing what appears to be the Qur'an with petrol before setting light to it as several others look on. They utter verbal abuse and others are heard to shout, "This is for the boys in Afghanistan; September 11 international burn a Qur'an day", before another book is thrown onto the small fire. At one stage the burning book is kicked.
Police say that a tip-off from a member of the public alerted them to footage of the video, which was posted on the internet.
Rachel Briggs, a senior research fellow with the Royal United Services Institute, said the posting of videos showing the Islamic holy book being burnt in Britain risked further endangering UK troops. "The people who would put our boys in danger are looking very carefully [at] what happens in the UK," she said. "This sort of provocation will have an effect. It plays into their narrative of Jihadist grievance. Whether it's in the UK or US, it's significant because it is happening in the west."
The burning took place in the car park of The Bugle pub on Leam Lane in Gateshead. A barman, who refused to give his name, said it had been targeted by police in the past because some customers had links to the EDL, and that officers' inquiries led them to the pub last Wednesday. The barman said: "The police came to the pub and searched it. We were closed for hours. They took my mobile phones, some empty boxes the phones had been in, some CDs and DVDs, and all the tea towels. They arrested me and another man and took us to the station. They were asking questions about who had been burning the book."
The EDL claims to be a peaceful organisation opposed only to Islamic extremism. However, many of its protests have involved incidents of racism, violence and Islamophobia by some of its supporters.
On its website the EDL says it "does not condone the burning of any religious books … "
The six men were arrested on suspicion of stirring racial hatred, police said, which is outlawed under the 1986 public order act. They were not arrested for the actual attack on, and burning of, the Qur'an, but in connection with the posting of the video.
Section 21 of the 1986 act reads: "A person who distributes, or shows or plays, a recording of visual images or sounds which are threatening, abusive or insulting is guilty of an offence if he intends thereby to stir up racial hatred, or … racial hatred is likely to be stirred up."