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FACES masked with scarves and balaclavas, a gang of men march menacingly down a high street as ­religious ­tensions boil over in an English city.

Cries of “Jai Shri Ram” fill the air as an army of around 300 men chant a Hindu greeting which has become a rallying cry for extremists.

These were the shocking scenes played out in Leicester last weekend — blamed on an ­India vs Pakistan cricket match on August 28 - but we can reveal tensions have been simmering for many monthsCredit: Leicester Media Online
A Muslim gang of men led by activist Mohammed Hijab take a selfie on a Leicester street and post on social mediaCredit: INSTAGRAM
A mob of Hindu men gather on the city's Green Lane as locals talk about attacks fuelled by fake news spread on social mediaCredit: SWNS

Hours later the mob clash with a Muslim gang, both sides hurling ­bottles, smashing up cars and throwing punches as police battle to keep them apart on a main road.

These were the shocking scenes played out in Leicester last weekend — blamed on an ­India vs Pakistan cricket match on August 28, which India won.

But today we can reveal that ­tensions have been simmering between Muslims and Hindus in the city for months.

And the fear is they will spread to other parts of Britain as hardliners from both sides draw battle lines on social media. 

Police say false online posts are also fuelling the hatred.

 Police chief Rob Nixon said locals were being provoked by “fake news” about assaults and attacks on ­religious buildings.

Two people have already been ­sentenced for carrying weapons at marches last weekend.

Leicester man Adam Yusuf, 21, was given a year in jail, suspended for 18 months, for possessing a knife.

A court heard Yusuf told probation staff he had been “influenced by social media”.

Another local, Amos Noronha, 20, was jailed for ten months after ­pleading guilty to possessing an offensive weapon.

The city’s mayor Sir Peter Soulsby has said subcontinental politics has played a part in the trouble.

‘All being whipped up’

 He told BBC Radio 4’s Today ­programme: “There are people with other battles to fight who are coming to Leicester to fight them. I have talked to many people across the communities since this trouble began, and they are utterly baffled.

“It does not represent anything that is simmering in Leicester.”

Sir Peter added there was “no ­obvious local cause” for such clashes in “an otherwise very peaceful city”.

The violent attacks have already escalated 50 miles to Smethwick, outside Birmingham, where around 150 Muslim youths hurled bottles at a Hindu temple on Tuesday night.

As community leaders and police call for calm, we tell how politics 4,700 miles away in India is playing out on the streets in the UK.

Residents from both communities are living in fear as marauding squads “defend” the streets.

One woman told us: “This is a ­normally peaceful city. People have lived side by side for years without problems but it’s all being whipped up by social media and extremists.

“People are scared to take their kids out on the streets, women hide behind their curtains as gangs of men go past.

“It’s only a matter of time before someone gets seriously hurt or killed.”

Muslims now have patrols on the streets, some led by the notorious activist Mohammed Hijab — who ­travelled from London to Leicester this week.

Almost half of the 18 men arrested in clashes last ­Saturday night were from ­places outside the city, including Birmingham, Luton and Hounslow in West London.

Since the end of August, 47 people have been arrested.

In a video posted to his ­YouTube channel, Hijab issues a threat to ­Hindus while standing in front of dozens of young Muslims in the city.

He calls them “pathetic, weak and cowardly” and warns: “I’m saying this directly to all the Hindutva wannabe gangsters. Don’t ever come out like that again, you understand?”

Hindutva refers to the Hindu nationalist ideology promoted by India’s ruling Bharatiya ­Janata Party, or BJP, which has been accused of stoking hate crimes against Muslims.

At its heart is a movement called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS — an all-male paramilitary ­organisation.

Locals say fear of the RSS is ­driving violence amid an influx of new immigrants from Daman and Diu, an area of north-west India, last year. 

False allegations of sexual assaults, gang attacks and even child ­abduction have fuelled fear within the community.

One resident told us: “This was once a very mixed Hindu-Muslim area but the arrival of new families has upset the ­delicate balance.”

Green Lane Road, in the suburb of North Evington — which Hindu men marched along last weekend — is a mix of shops owned by ­predominantly Muslim and Hindu ­businessmen.

Crates of fruit and fragrant herbs sit outside shop windows which advertise cheap phone calls to India and Pakistan. 

Women pop in and out of small stores that sell colourful hijabs and elegant abaya robes.

 But families on this multi-cultural street say trouble was sparked last summer when a building was turned into a hosiery “factory”.

They showed us pictures of a flag associated with the RSS fluttering from a top window of the building in early August.

One 49-year-old mum, who spoke anonymously, said: “There were young girls of 17, 18 going in and out the place all hours — the lights were blazing all night and rolls of fabric were being ­constantly ­delivered.

"The guys who rented the place would play music into the early hours, park their BMWs and Audis on the pavement and wave Indian flags. It was really intimidating.

“Then, early in August, they put out the flag which has been used by the RSS in the past and people started worrying. I called the police ­constantly over the late-night noise and the flags.

"Then the men ­disappeared virtually overnight after the clashes over the cricket.”

Where the unrest has taken place across Leicester

But pressure was already building in the city’s Belgrave area, which has an Asian population of around 200,000. The total population of the greater Leicester area is 836,484.

 Trouble started in May when a young Muslim man was allegedly beaten by a group of 30 Hindus. Police are still investigating. 

Mum-of-four Sabila Hussain, 38, told of an attack on a female student in early August. She said: “She was walking home from ­college when a young man grabbed her and asked if she was Muslim and tried to take her headscarf off.

"A couple of ­Muslim males got involved in ­protecting her and it caused a lot of issues. We’ve lived here as brothers and sisters for years and I don’t understand why there are suddenly so many ­problems.”

Severe bruising

Hours after India won the cricket match on August 28, men armed with poles fought each other across a main road in Belgrave, known as the Golden Mile for its jewellery shops and high-end restaurants.

The following night, just over a mile away in Bridge Street, off Green Lane Road, a 20-year-old Muslim man was attacked in a children’s play park near his home.

 The victim, who suffered a ­broken hand and severe bruising, said: “I stepped out for a cigarette and looked up to see about 20 men coming at me. They were armed with batons and knives. I’ve never been so scared. Five stood at the entrance to the park and the others started to attack me from all sides.

“I ended up in hospital and needed an operation on my hand. I’m lucky to be alive.”

Six days later a Hindu family had eggs thrown at them during a religious ­celebration. Religious ­leaders claim ­Hindus were targeted for three nights by Muslim yobs who vandalised ­gardens and threw bottles ­outside their homes.

One said: “They were so afraid they didn’t send their children to school for almost a week. Local Hindus have removed symbols from their doors so their homes cannot be identified.”

On September 12, a Muslim woman claimed three Hindu men tried to kidnap her daughter off the street. Police later said the story was false.

Elsewhere angry ­residents say police “stood and watched” the Hindu march down the main street last weekend.

A source said it caught local cops off guard, with many officers in ­London for the Queen’s funeral.

Temporary Chief Constable Rob Nixon said there was no intelligence relating to the ­incident and the eight officers did “the best they could” until more police arrived.

In an open letter to the ­community he wrote: “The vast majority of people want our city to be peaceful, tolerant and safe. A small number have tried to cause division, have committed crimes and seek disorder. Local people have been afraid. My officers have taken robust action in recent weeks to deal with those ­people. That work continues.”

Leaders of the city’s Muslim and Hindu communities this week issued a plea for peace. They met outside a mosque to stress the ­historic bonds between the two faiths. A joint statement read: “We arrived in this city together.

“We faced the same challenges together, we fought off racist haters together and collectively made this city a beacon of diversity and community ­cohesion.”

As relations break down, ordinary Hindus and Muslims — all rightly proud of Leicester’s multicultural reputation — are desperate for life to go back to normal.

Hindu shopkeeper Ravi Ira, 35, said: “It’s become a tit-for-tat situation between young lads who have nothing else better going on.

“I’m not sure half of them even know what they are ­fighting over.”

Leaders of the city’s Muslim and Hindu communities this week issued a plea for peace
Tensions rise as Hindu men are pictured with a flag on the city's Green Lane as unrest continuesCredit: SWNS


A STATUE of peacemaker Mahatma Gandhi stands testament to the Hindu influence in Leicester.

There were initially calls to take down the statue, erected in 2009, over controversy that Gandhi was racist but local residents formed a “ring of steel” around the statue to stop it being vandalised or toppled.

Yet despite the rumblings, there was never any violence between the Hindu and Muslim communities who have lived in harmony in the city for decades.

Leicester’s journey to becoming one of the most multicultural ­places in Britain began post-war when the British Nationality Act of 1948 gave every Commonwealth citizen the right to move to the UK.

A demand for workers led ­Indians and Pakistanis to move to the city, attracted by affordable housing in the Spinney Hill and ­Belgrave areas. Leicester saw another huge influx of migrants in 1972 when despot Idi Amin of Uganda began to expel the ­country’s Asian ­population.

Between 1968 and 1978, the city received more than 20,000 ­displaced East African Asians – more than anywhere else in the UK.