A one-hour delay to traditional Friday prayers saved hundreds of people from a nail bomb blast at a Black Country mosque.
A terrorism investigation is under way after the explosion near a Tipton mosque that sent nails and debris flying into buildings.
Counter terrorism police, the army and bomb disposal teams swooped after residents heard a loud bang near the Kanz-ul-Iman Muslim Welfare Association Central Jamia Mosque in Binfield Street.
Officers are reportedly concentrating on a disused rail track near the mosque.
Witnesses said windows were smashed and cars damaged by the blast but no one was injured. Police sealed off a large part of the town with hundreds of residents evacuated while they conducted a huge search, discovering nails scattered over a large area.
The explosion happened at 1pm when there should have hundreds of people inside the mosque – but the first Friday prayers of Ramadan had been put back by an hour so there were just three people there.
West Bromwich West MP Adrian Bailey said: “Fortunately, they had delayed the prayers by an hour but there’s no doubt by the level of damage done that people would have been injured had they been at prayer.”
He added: “I think that was done by an outsider in an attempt to stir up tensions in the community, but I am very confident that the community will resist those attempts.”
Asked whether he thought a planned demonstration by the English Defence League in Birmingham next week should go ahead he replied: “My view is that it shouldn’t, but we have all sorts of issues with democracy.”
Mosque chairman Mushtaq Hussain said: “The blast happened just after 1pm which on a Friday is the busiest time of the day for our mosque usually.
“If it wasn’t Ramadan there would be at least 200 people here but thankfully at the time there were only a handful of people and everybody escaped without injury.”
West Midlands Police Assistant Chief Constable Gary Cann said: “Someone who did this looked to cause serious harm or serious damage to property. It is not a single factor as to why this is being treated as a terror incident, it is a combination.
“There was a loud bang reported, smoke was reported, it was at the back of a mosque and it was during prayer time.
“Officers started to discover some debris including nails which had been scattered over a wide area, and as a result of that they evacuated the area and made it safe. No one has been injured as a result of this incident, we think there has been some minor damage to the window of one house.”
Imam Ghulam Rasool condemned the incident and vowed that the community would “stand united together”.
He added: “We are deeply shocked and dismayed at what’s happened...on behalf of the local community we condemn this senseless act.
“It’s important everyone remains calm and not let this incident cause disharmony. We have worked hard to build good community relations in Tipton and will not allow this to divide us or undermine cohesion in the borough.
“We are working closely with the police to support their investigation and efforts to track down the perpetrators as soon as possible.”
Rai Khan, aged 30, was also inside the mosque. There was me, the caretaker and one man was just pulling in to the car park at the time,” he said.
“A few of the windows were smashed and a couple of cars damaged. It could have been so much worse.”
Police sealed off roads and evacuated families, many being sent to Coneygre Community Centre, off Sedgley Road West.
Residents in Tipton believed the attack had also been timed to coincide with the day of the funeral of Drummer Rigby in Bury.
Today, a smaller cordon remained in place with forensic officers carrying out a finger-tip search thoughout the night.
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