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Members of an Islamic centre which suffered a suspected overnight arson attempt have said they are very saddened" by what appears to be an anti-Muslim attack.
Police believe the incident at Harlow Islamic Centre in Paringdon Road, Harlow, took place between 10.30pm on Sunday and 4am on Monday.
There had been a "concerted effort" to start the blaze by sealing entrances with foam so the fire would take hold, a member of the mosque said.
Zia Rehman, the Islamic Centre's vice-chairman, said that, although police still have to determine the motives behind the apparent attack, he suspects it may have been due to anti-Muslim prejudice.
Britain has seen a spike of hate crimes against Muslims in recent months following the death of Fusilier Lee Rigby outside Woolwich Barracks in south east London in May.
"We have been working very hard within the local community, building bridges, and we were hoping we wouldn't have this kind of problem, but in the current climate there are elements within society that are not happy and there are issues,'' Mr Rehman said.
"It's unfortunate and we are very saddened."
Harlow MP Robert Halfon said: “There are some people who live in the undergrowth and behave as vermin and they come out at night and do this kind of terrible thing.
“I have no other words to describe them but as scum of the earth."
No-one was hurt in the attack and a scene guard has been set up as the investigation continues.
Mr Rehman said members of the mosque found the damage when they came in to pray at 4am.
The centre suffered limited damage and was hoping to re-open in time for people to attend prayers at 1.30pm.
Councillor Rod Truan, Deputy Leader of Harlow Council, said: "This is a extremely concerning incident.
"If this is in fact an arson attack I know Harlow and all its faiths will stand together to deplore an act of this nature."
The mosque was set up 18 years ago when the Muslim community in Harlow grew in numbers and now serves a 2,000-strong community, according to the centre's website.
Anyone with information is asked to contact detectives at Harlow on 101.