(Transcript from World News Radio)
Operators of the Canberra Islamic Centre and National Islamic Library are still cleaning up and assessing the damage caused by vandals who broke in on the weekend.
Police say the motive of the vandals remains unclear, but the centre is convinced they were anti-Muslim.
It was the second break-in at the Centre this month – but this time the damage was far more extensive.
Peggy Giakoumelos has the details.
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The attack on the largest Islamic library in Australia has been described as a malicious hate crime.
The damage to the Canberra Islamic Centre was discovered last Sunday, when members turned up for prayers to find swear words spray-painted on walls, paintings ripped off the walls, and the kitchen and dining hall strewn with flour, sauces and cutlery.
President of the centre Azra khan believes the same group of people who broke into the centre on April the 4th, may be responsible for this latest attack.
“This time they really had bigger plans in mind. They would’ve spent a few hours there, basically going from room to room smashing and destroying everything, in front of them. They clearly were there to cause damage and they were successful on that occasion. We obviously called the police on the fourth of April and the forensic team and basically took some additional security measures to make sure that everything was locked down as much as possible. They actually had bolt cutters and they cut the fencing around the building.”
Azra Khan says robbery does not appear to have been the motive.
Glass doors and cabinets in most of the Centre’s rooms were smashed, and the power system was damaged.
She says the extent of damage leads her to believe the attack is a hate crime.
“We’re struggling to understand what the motivation could be other than a hate crime clearly. The sort of anger that’s been shown by the level of damage, and destruction, even a cyclone could not have done that sort of damage internally. So clearly these people are driven by some form of hate of the Islamic community and the Islamic Centre.”
But Canberra police say forensic examinations to date have found nothing to suggest the attack was racially or religiously motivated.
In a statement, the police describe the attack as extensive, opportunistic and mindless, urging the friends and family of whoever was involved to come forward.
The Chair of the Community Relations Commission in New South Wales, Vic Alhadeff, is among those to condemn the attack.
“Attacks on any cultural institution, on any religious institution anywhere are to be vigorously condemned. There is no place in our country for these sorts of attacks. There is no place in our society for this bigotry. We absolutely condemn this attack and anything which it represents.”
Keysar Trad is a spokesman for Muslims Australia.
He thinks the vandalism at the Canberra centre is the result of bigotry against Muslims, and he’s concerned that potential changes to the Racial Discrimination Act might encourage more such attacks.
“People don’t randomly go attacking libraries, certainly not in Australia. A country that values education and language and learning and reading. I don’t believe that this is something random. I believe that this something that is the product of bigotry. And it is very unfortunate that these types of attacks have been happening in Australia as we have the Attorney General saying that people have the right to be bigoted and make bigoted comments, bigoted comments lead to bigoted attacks, and they make society very unsafe, this is one example, an attack on property. I hope that this bigotry does not lead to attacks on human beings.”
Canberra’s Catholic Archbishop Christopher Prowse says members of his church stand in solidarity with the Islamic community, following the attack.
Azra Kahn says centre is still assessing the final cost of the damage.