Counter-terrorism officers are investigating whether a fire which destroyed an Islamic community centre was started deliberately in a hate attack.
Police confirmed they are treating the fire in Muswell Hill, north London, as supicious and promised a “vigorous and thorough investigation”.
They also revealed the letters ‘EDL’ – the initials of the English Defence League – were found scrawled on the outside of the Bravanese Centre, which was being used as a mosque.
However, Tommy Robinson, the leader of the EDL, denied one of the group’s supporters was behind the blaze.
He said members have always been told not to attack mosques or places of worship and claimed there was a “nationwide campaign” to blacken the name of the group.
Chief Superintendent Adrian Usher, of the Metropolitan Police, said: “At this stage, we don’t want to rule anything out. We have several lines of inquiry and we will pursue those and until we can determine whether a crime has been committed.
“We will then pursue any offenders and bring them to justice.”
Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, said that if the fire is confirmed as an attack attack, it should be condemned as “cowardly, pathetic and utterly pointless”.
Local MP Theresa Villiers said it would be “not just an attack on the Muslim community (but) an attack on all of us and our values.”
“This looks very much like a hate crime,” she said. “We’re very proud in Barnet, the constituency I represent, of our diverse community and our cohesion, so I utterly condemn what looks to be a disgraceful attack.”
Most of the roof of the two-storey building in Coppetts Road collapsed in the fire, which broke out at around 3.15am.
A spokesman for London Fire Brigade said it took 35 firefighters nearly an hour and a half to bring the blaze under control.
Daniel McInanny, who lives near the centre, described hearing a loud bang shortly after 3am.
“At first I thought it was the bin men collecting the rubbish but when I looked out of the window, I saw an inferno,” he said. “The whole building was alight.”
Although there is no evidence the fire is linked to the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich last month, there has been a significant increase in reports of attacks against Muslims since his death.
Faith Matters, an organisation that works to reduce extremism, said 11 mosques were targeted in the days after the killing, despite an appeal from the soldier’s family for calm.
Fiyaz Mughal, a spokesman for the group, said: “Bearing in mind this is close to Woolwich, bearing in mind that it houses Islamic activities, bearing in mind that they have found alleged EDL graffiti, there’s a strong likelihood that this could be an anti-Muslim incident.
“We know that, online, there is a huge amount of anti-Muslim hate. When it moves into the physical world, it is extremely concerning.”
Ch Supt Usher said: “I have spoken to community leaders and assured them that a thorough investigation is being conducted.
“The safety of our communities is always our priority and we are consulting widely, offering our support and reassurance.
“All communities can be confident that they have our support and I can be contacted personally to answer their concerns.”
No one was injured in the fire, although a woman living next door to the centre was treated for shock by paramedics.
Two neighbouring properties were evacuated.