The group were photographed near the town's Islamic Centre.
Police treating group dressed as KKK in Northern Ireland as a ‘hate incident’
Police in Northern Ireland are seeking a group of people who dressed as Ku Klux Klan members and posed for photos outside an Islamic Centre on Saturday evening.
Photos surfaced on social media Sunday morning showing a group dressed in the white hood and gown characteristic of the US-based white supremacist group in the street near the Bangladesh Islamic Centre in the town of Newtownards in County Down.
The group was reportedly able to tour bars in the local area dressed in the outfits and did not face any challenge for their appearance.
Their actions were reported to police at 5pm on Sunday and the investigation is ongoing. Northern Ireland Police Service Inspector Richard Murray confirmed the incident is being treated as a hate crime.
“Hate crime, in all its forms, is totally unacceptable. It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to ensure that we live in a society where diversity is respected,” he said.
Local representatives also weighed in on the photos, which show the group making fascist hand signs and holding white crosses.
"Everyone knows exactly what the KKK stands for. The KKK represents a brand of hatred not wanted or welcome in the area,” said Alliance party Member of the Legislative Assembly for Strangford, Kellie Armstrong.
“This group did not simply dress up for Halloween, rather they deliberately posed outside the prayer house in Newtownards. This is a clear demonstration of aggression and bullying towards one particular religion and that is a hate crime. These people were then photographed brazenly walking around Newtownards," she said.
“Seeing hooded men re-enact a KKK cross burning activity outside an Islamic centre in Northern Ireland, is something that shows that there are some in Northern Ireland who see Muslims and pluralism as being a problem," said a spokesperson for Tell MAMA, a UK project to record and measure anti-Muslim incidents in the United Kingdom.
"Hate against black and minority ethnic communities and Muslims is nothing new but there have been a range of incidents over the last 5 years that have meant to intimidate whole communities. Standing outside a mosque with KKK hoods sends a message that Muslims are not only unwelcome, but that they should be beware. The police need to find these individuals and haul them into court to send a message that such hate will not be accepted”.
The incident is just one of a handful of recent acts seemingly designed to intimidate and upset the town’s Muslim community. Last year, a pig’s head was left on the doorstep of the same Islamic centre. It was then daubed with Islamophobic graffiti. Another extremist group, Britain First, also staged protests and recorded videos in the town. At one point it drew ridicule for mistaking the town hall for a mosque.
Newtownards does not have a mosque - Muslims in the area use the Bangladesh Islamic Centre.