KKK costume wearers in Newtownards urged to 'identify themselves'
A GROUP facing a PSNI probe after being pictured wearing Ku Klux Klan costumes near an Islamic centre in Newtownards have been urged to "identify themselves".
Images began circulating on social media at the weekend showing people dressed as members of the racist far-right group.
Police have launched an investigation and are treating the matter as a hate crime.
One photo appears to show the group a few doors away from the Co Down town's Bangladesh Islamic Centre.
In August last year, a pig's head was left on the doorstep of the centre.
PSNI inspector Richard Murray said: "Hate crime, in all its forms, is totally unacceptable.
"It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to ensure that we live in a society where diversity is respected."
He said police received a report around 5pm on Sunday about a group of people dressed as KKK members in the Greenwell Street area on Saturday night.
"We are also aware of images that are circulating that show people dressed as Ku Klux Klan members," he added saying enquiries were ongoing.
Footage also surfaced showing men dressed in KKK outfits in a JD Wetherspoon pub in the town.
A JD Wetherspoon spokesman said the group was "refused entry by door staff, but pushed past them into the pub".
"They were told by bar staff that they would not be served. They remained in the pub for five minutes, unserved, and then left," he told the BBC.
The KKK was a group based in the southern United States which was responsible for lynchings and mob attacks on black people.
Dr Raied Al-Wazzan, treasurer of the Belfast Islamic Centre, said the small Muslim community in Newtownards had been left shaken by the incident.
"They could have gone to anywhere in Newtownards, anywhere in Northern Ireland dressing in any uniform, but to go in front of an Islamic prayer room, it's totally making people afraid," he told the BBC.
"They are afraid to come out or even to go there."
He acknowledged it could have been a Halloween prank, but urged those involved to come forward.
"If they keep it quiet for the next 24 hours, that means it was a deliberate act," he said.
"If this is just a joke, these people should come forward and identify themselves.
"To go there specifically wearing that costume in front of the Islamic centre is not acceptable. It's similar to somebody wearing a Nazi uniform and going in front of a Jewish synagogue."
The incident was met with cross-party condemnation.
Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong branded it a "clear demonstration of aggression and bullying towards one particular religion", while Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt said he was "disgusted".
DUP MLA Peter Weir described it as "boorish and malevolent behaviour", and Sinn Féin MLA Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said that "society is appalled by these actions".