The Muslim community in west Belfast has been left “intimidated” by Nazi flags placed near a mosque in the Dunmurry area, the area’s imam said.
Flags bearing the SS and swastika symbols were pictured outside the Iqraa mosque on Wednesday morning.
They were seemingly put there overnight and reported to police by people arriving at the mosque and community centre just after 8am.
The mosque’s chairman and imam Jamal Iweida said members of the religious building have been working outside in recent days “and that might have brought some attention to us”.
He said: “But of course we don’t feel very good about that… a bit intimidated.”
Mr Iweida said there are often children around the mosque, with some seeing the flags before they were taken down.
“We have been working here the last few days, maintaining the building from outside and there are children here and they saw these flags – just very scary and very worrying for them, you know, of course,” he said.
“It’s a place where we have children most of the time, at this community centre, mosque and community centre, with social programmes and educational programmes. So actually, the lady who reported this, she was bringing her children in the morning for a class and she discovered that and she phoned the police, you know, so you can imagine that it would be worrying for the parents.”
Mr Iweida blamed the flag on a minority trying to offend and said most people in the area are supportive of the Islamic community.
“We have no doubt it’s a small minority but the problem (is) sometimes minorities can be aggressive,” he said.
“This is a problem but we are sure that the overwhelming majority of the people are supportive and good to us.”
He added: “The local community is very supportive. Very, very nice. People were disgusted here and they showed great support to us and the neighbours actually also in the morning saw it and came out in support.”
Local politicians have condemned the flags.
SDLP west Belfast councillor Paul Doherty said: “It’s absolutely disgraceful that these flags, a symbol of hate all over the world, have been erected outside a mosque in the Dunmurry area of west Belfast.
“It is truly staggering to see flags of this nature erected in west Belfast. This is an area that strongly rejects fascism and I cannot understand why anyone would target a place of worship in this way.
“I’d urge anyone with any information about these flags to come forward to police. These flags must be removed immediately and the people behind this held responsible for peddling hate in our community.”
People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll said: “This despicable and racially motivated action is clearly designed to intimidate members of a minority community.
“Fascism has no place in our community. I send full solidarity to the members of Iqraa Mosque and to all affected by this horrendous and racist act.”
A PSNI spokesperson said: “Our enquiries are at an early stage, however at this time, we are treating this report as a racially motivated hate crime.
“We are appealing to anyone who may have any information which may assist us with our enquiries to call 101, and quote reference number 360 of 23/08/23.”