Northern Ireland

Arson attack in south Belfast follows campaign of racist intimidation

The fire occurred at a business premises on the Donegall Road in Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann
The fire occurred at a business premises on the Donegall Road in Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann The fire occurred at a business premises on the Donegall Road in Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann

AN arson attack in south Belfast which forced residents to flee for their safety has followed a campaign of racist intimidation, police have said.

A police spokesperson said the fire was reported at a business premises on the Donegall Road at 9.25pm on Sunday.

“Residents from two flats, located above the business, had to be evacuated at the time and thankfully were not injured and we are extremely grateful for the quick actions of our officers and response from the Fire Service,” they said.

“Our colleagues from the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service have since confirmed that the fire was started deliberately and as such we are treating this as arson with intent to endanger life.”

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Police say this is now the fourth incident at the premises in a fortnight after shutters to the business had been spray-painted with racist graffiti, which is being treated as a race-motivated hate crime.

The targeted business was a grocery shop run by Ahmad Alkhamran who moved to Northern Ireland from Syria seven years ago.

He told the BBC he had opened the shop after saving money while working as a taxi driver, but after four attacks within a fortnight he would be forced to move.

"It's disappointing but we will keep going and hope to open the business somewhere else, but not here," he said.

"I believe love will win, not racists."

The shop had been due to open next week after four months of preparation.

"I have saved for seven years - in just a few minutes it was all gone,” he said.

After closing the shop on Sunday night around 8.30pm, he was called by his landlord to say the shop had been attacked again.

Mr Alkhamran said the previous attacks included a fire started at the front of the shop which damaged the shutters and cracked a window.

The next attack saw graffiti sprayed on the shutters, stating: “Local houses (and) shops only.”

Now looking for a safer location for his business, Mr Alkhamran said the attacks were in contrast to the welcome he had received from most people in Northern Ireland.

The PSNI spokesperson added: “Our investigation is underway and we are appealing to anyone who was in the area at the time the attack took place or may have captured dashcam or mobile phone footage to contact us on 101 quoting reference number 1623 of September 17.”

Information can also be passed on anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.