Muslims' deaths in UK riots widen ethnic rifts

Tariq Jahan, father of one of the men killed by a vehicle in the Dudley Road neighborhood of Birmingham, England, talks with reporters outside his home Aug. 11, 2011. Getty Images

BIRMINGHAM, England - With police nowhere to be seen, the Muslims of Dudley Road armed themselves with bricks and stones, clubs and cricket bats to fend off carloads of marauding gangs.

Their vigilante stand in Birmingham's west end saved a humble row of family-run shops and a red-brick mosque from the looters' grasp — but at a terrible cost.

A carload of rioters sped into a fleeing crowd of shop defenders, witnesses said, hurling three young men into the air and killing amateur boxer Haroon Jahan, 21, and brothers Shazzad Ali, 30, and Abdul Musavir, 31.

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"We all had stones in our hands. But we had no defense to stop a car. They revved their engines and drove right at us as fast as they could," Mohammed Ibrahim, 23, told The Associated Press. "These black men deliberately tried to kill us all."

Wednesday's 1 a.m. slaughter has laid bare racial tensions underlying this week's riots in Birmingham, Britain's second-largest city and its most ethnically diverse. A fifth of the city's 1 million "Brummies" are Muslims, most commonly of Pakistani origin. About 7 percent are black, mostly Caribbean, in background.

Tariq Jahan, Haroon Jahan's father, told reporters Wednesday after his son's death that the rioting has gone too far.

"Why are we doing this?" asked Jahan. "I lost my son. Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Otherwise, calm down and go home."

CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips reports that some looters converged on the riots for just one reason.

(At left, watch Phillips' report where some looters appear on camera)

"Anger because the police nick you for stupid things," one looter, who spoke through a T-shirt pulled up to cover his face, told CBS News. "Now this is our payback because they can't do nothing to us today. The police can't do nothing."

While the riots that have swept England this week have involved looters of every creed and hue, the street anarchy also sometimes has exposed the racial fault lines that run beneath the poorest urban quarters.

Resident after resident of Dudley Road and its surrounding Winson Green district commented pointedly to The AP that the attackers were black and accused them of targeting Muslim shops.

The passions echo streetfights from previous years, such as in 2005, when a neighboring Birmingham district suffered two nights of violence between Caribbean and Asian gangs over unsubstantiated rumors that a gang of Pakistani men had raped a 14-year-old Jamaican girl. Two men were stabbed to death, firefighters faced machete-wielding mobs, and Muslim graves were desecrated during those clashes. The west side also suffered riots in 1981, 1985 and 1991 fueled by minority hatred of white police and black resentment of the Asians' dominant position as shopkeepers.

"We'll hunt down these black men, cut off their heads and feed them to our dogs," said Amir Hawid, 20, who lives just a hundred yards from the killing scene and heard the screams of the crowd at the moment of impact.

As forensics specialists combed the bloodied, rock-strewn pavement for clues, hundreds of local Muslims and Sikhs — some wearing ceremonial daggers at their waists — packed into a community hall Wednesday to confront three white police commanders who had come seeking to calm tensions. Twice as many Muslims, many in robes and kufi caps, stood outside.

Speaker after speaker complained that they had pleaded by phone for police protection the previous night, when black gangs raided local markets and chased bar staff onto the roof of one pub, yet police failed to respond. Some argued that the police had warned them not to attempt to defend their own streets, yet had offered no alternative.

The three dead men "did nothing wrong! They died because they were doing the job of protecting our community. The job that you lot should have been doing!" one speaker shouted, jabbing an accusatory finger at the police panel.

Detective Superintendent Richard Baker, commander of the 60-strong police team hunting the killers, said they already had arrested the suspected driver and 11 others potentially linked to the shop attacks on Dudley Road. He pleaded for locals to overcome their antipathy to the police, give eyewitness statements and hand over amateur camera footage.

"I will deploy whatever it takes to get justice for this community," Baker said above a din of muttered heckles and shouted accusations, dozens of men trying to speak at once.

Baker and the local commander, Superintendent Sean Russell, defended their force's response to the killings — which Russell admitted he could see from the police control center on a closed-circuit surveillance camera — because gangs were attacking shops in the city center. That triggered angry cries that police cared more for protecting downtown shopping centers than Muslim communities.

Russell said it took officers 10 minutes to arrive; locals insisted it was a half-hour and the officers arrived in riot gear thinking the Muslim crowd might pose a threat. The officers said they had to be cautious.

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