More than 187,000 people joined a Facebook group Monday to oppose a planned Islamic march through a British town famous for honoring the war dead, including those killed in Afghanistan.
Controversial British Islamist preacher Anjem Choudary announced Saturday that his extremist group Islam4UK will march through the town of Wootton Bassett, about 140 km west of London, in the coming weeks.
He said 500 of his followers will carry empty “symbolic coffins” through the streets in memory of Muslim civilians “murdered” in the name of freedom in Afghanistan.
The small market town is famous for honoring British soldiers who are killed abroad – residents faithfully line its main thoroughfare as hearses pass through in sombre procession after being flown home to the nearby air force base at Lyneham.
More than 187,000 people have signed up to a Facebook group that asks its members to email MPs and call the local police to protest the provocative march, saying: “The highway for heroes and wonderful people of Wootton Bassett do not deserve this march to happen.”
Town authorities as well as moderate Muslim groups have also pleaded with the police and politicians to stop the protest in fear of a backlash against British Muslims by far-right groups.
Shahid Murasaleen, from the London-based Minhaj-ul-Quran International UK, said: “These kind of extremists do not represent British Muslims. This march will achieve nothing other than to incite hate crime against innocent law-abiding British Muslims.”
Ex-mayor and councillor Chris Wannell added: “We don't do what we do at Wootton Bassett for any political reason at all, but to pay our respects to those who have given their lives for our freedom… If this man has any decency about him he will not hold a march through Wootton Bassett.”
The latest British casualty in Afghanistan came Sunday when a soldier from the 1st Battalion of the Royal Anglian Regiment, died in a blast while on foot patrol in the Nad-e-Ali area of Helmand Province.
He was the 246th British victim since the war started in 2001 — as many as 108 of them falling in 2009 alone.
A small protest by Islamic extremists at an army home-coming parade in the town of Luton in March 2009 led to violent demonstrations by far-right groups.