Counter-terrorism police are investigating an apparent transatlantic anti-Muslim campaign after hate mail and suspicious packages were sent from a location near Sheffield to mosques in London, South Yorkshire and the US.
Handwritten notes were received by three mosques and other addresses across London in July. They all bore a Sheffield postmark, as did hate mail received by at least four US mosques earlier this year, and by three UK mosques in July last year.
Pictures of the letters seen by the Guardian showed many of them featured the same pseudonym or initials. Three of the letters received by US mosques were sent at the same time, with the postmarks reading 5.14pm or 5.15pm on 22 February. “There were two second-class stamps on all the letters sent to the US, which is interesting,” said Steve Rose, who is responsible for content at Faith Matters, a community action group working to counter extremism.
There were also similarities in handwriting and imagery in the letters seen by the Guardian. “There are similarities in the shape of the numbers,” Rose said. “It could be one person sending them, it could be several people.”
Forest Gate mosque, Coventry Cross mosque in Bromley-by-Bow, and Shackwell Lane mosque in Dalston all received letters last month saying the sender would be visiting the mosques.
In July 2016 packages containing white powder were sent to the parliamentary office of Lord Nazir Ahmed, an independent peer, and three mosques in Leyton, Finsbury Park and Tottenham, as well as the Bank of England. “In 2016 this person targets three mosques in London, in 2017 also three mosques,” Rose said.
The letters contained offensive language directed towards Pakistani Muslims. The Sunday Times reported that some of the packages came from the Sheffield area because counter-terrorism police were called after suspicious packages were found in a sorting office.
A letter sent to a New Jersey mosque threatened to kill Muslims and featured an offensive cartoon. According to TellMama, a reporting service for cases of anti-Muslim abuse, similar letters targeted mosques in New York, Georgia, and Kentucky this spring.
The Guardian has seen letters with the same pseudonym received by mosques in Washington DC, New Jersey and Alabama, all sent in February, with the latest letter received by the Islam Center in South Dakota in mid-June. “Maybe other mosques got them but didn’t report it,” Rose said.
On 28 February, the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia, received a letter that contained threats of violence and offensive cartoons. It was sent with two first-class UK stamps.
Corey Saylor, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said: “All the letters I have seen have similar drawings, handwriting and originated from Sheffield.
“Whoever is behind these letters feels empowered to make people on the opposite side of the Atlantic feel afraid to go to their places of worship. Such religious intimidation is wrong in any context and I hope British authorities act to expose and bring appropriate legal charges against the sender.”
In a statement about the recent letters received by mosques, the North East Counter Terrorism Unit, which is coordinating the investigation, said: “Police received a number of reports of malicious communications and packages which have been received in recent days across London.
“Specialist officers have attended the addresses and the contents of the packages were examined. In all cases, the substances were found not to be noxious or harmful.”
The police were exploring the possibility that the letters were linked to the earlier suspicious packages and letters reported in London, South Yorkshire and the US.
Rose said the police reaction to the latest letters was reassuring. “It’s encouraging that within a day they’d gone to mosques and the counterterrorism unit was involved. Police are taking their time with it … and it’s very hard to trace. But it’s good they are taking it seriously.”
Rose urged people attending mosques to remain vigilant and report any threats to the police. “We need the mosques to report, and check their mail regularly. They should make sure they have hate mail policy in place for hateful mail – if you’re worried, contact 101. ”