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London's Finsbury Park -- a closer look

Monday June 19, 2017

The area of London where a vehicle hit pedestrians early Monday local time is ethnically diverse and home to a large Muslim community.

Finsbury Park is part of the Islington borough of north London, where around 10% (19,500) of the borough's total population are Muslim. According to the 2011 Census, half the population in the borough aged under 25 are from nonwhite ethnic backgrounds.

Eyewitness Cynthia Vanzella said it was a mixed community, with people from many different countries and cultures. "We all live perfectly fine," she said.

"I never saw anything nowhere close to this happen at all. We have a church in one road, an evangelic church in another and a mosque across the road as well. And everybody ... lives fine. We never had any problem at all in here."
Another witness, Ratib Al-Sulaman, told CNN there was a Muslim majority in the local area.

"There's a lots of people from Nigeria, from Tunisia from Morocco, from the Arab countries. Lots of people as well from like Somalia. It's a very strong Muslim community in this area and what's happening today is I think the people must be extremely, extremely sad," Al-Sulaman said.
Islington's Seven Sisters Road area -- the scene of the attack -- is home to at least four mosques, and would have likely been filled with worshipers leaving late-night taraweeh prayers -- special prayers during the holy month of Ramadan -- and heading back towards the Finsbury Park Underground station.

Arsenal Football Club's Emirates Stadium is located close by, while further up Seven Sisters Road is the green space of Finsbury Park, which opened in 1869 and gives the area its name.

But Finsbury Park Mosque, an unassuming five-story redbrick building opposite the station, which opened in 1994, has been the area's most famous venue in recent years.

Finsbury Park Mosque

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The mosque, which today operates largely as a community center, rose to international notoriety in the early 2000s, due to its links with Egyptian-born radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri.

Al-Masri, who was the mosque's imam from 1997 to 2003, was later extradited to the United States, where he was convicted of supporting al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists, and sentenced to life in prison in 2015.

Among those known to have worshipped at the mosque during al-Masri's time at the mosque were alleged shoe-bomber Richard Reid, and Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called "20th hijacker" of September 11.

Since al-Masri's time it has come under new management and CNN correspondent Phil Black says over the past 10 years it has "worked very hard at becoming a healthy, active member of the community."

Hate mail

However, he says British media have carried reports of mosque members being the victims of hate mail and threats and being targeted by extreme far-right protest groups and anti-Islam groups.

"There has been this concern within the community, this concern within the mosque itself particularly over the years as it has worked to try and reshape its reputation to try and shed that reputation for extremism, for contributing to extremist thought, ideology and indeed perhaps violent acts."

The Muslim Council of Britain, an advocacy group for the country's Muslim community, said in a Monday tweet that the incident took place near the Muslim Welfare House -- on the opposite side of the road -- not outside the Finsbury Park Mosque itself.

Islington's northern part is represented in Parliament by Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party.
Corbyn expressed sympathy in the wake of the vehicle collision.

"I'm totally shocked at the incident at Finsbury Park tonight. I've been in touch with the mosques, police and Islington council regarding the incident. My thoughts are with those and the community affected by this awful event," he said on Twitter.

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