Ballymena woman Margaret Ibrahim, whose family’s home was petrol bombed earlier this week, says she hopes no-one else will be targetted in such a way.
Speaking at Wednesday night’s meeting in public of Mid & East Antrim Police and Community Safety Partnership in Ballymena, she thanked “the whole community of Ballymena” for their support following the attack on their home in the early hours of Tuesday and she said she hoped “something good will come out of this”.
Mrs Ibrahim believes those who carried out the attack, which is being treated by police as “a religious hate crime”, did so because her husband, Amin, is a Muslim.
In an emotional address to the packed PCSP meeting, she said she had been “saddened” since the incident to have read some comments in newspaper articles labelling muslims as “bigots” and “refugees”.
“It is true to say there are two sides to every story,” said Mrs Ibrahim, who said she wanted people “to see the other side of the Muslim community”.
She added: “The Muslim community are not bigots and we are not refugees. We were born and brought up here.”
She thanked the people of Ballymena “for everything you are doing and trying to do for us“, adding: “It really is so heartbreaking for my family”.
Mrs Ibrahim, who also expressed the hope that no others would be targeted in such a way, was applauded by the meeting.
PCSP Chair Gregg McKeen responded: “There is a minority who are mindset in causing trouble and so blinkered that they can’t see the greater good.
“The vast majority of people in the area are in support of your family and do strongly condemn any acts of violence in our society,”
Earlier, Jonathan Leakey of the local church group, Together Without Walls, had asked the District Commander, Superintendent Ryan Henderson “what steps local community groups and churches should be taking to help “represent a truer picture” of Ballymena.
The local police chief replied that people needed to be “supportive and warm hearted” against what he described as “toxic hatred”.
“Church groups and the voluntary sector are so important because they can reach into places that myself and other public services cannot. They can find the gaps and try and give these people the support and time and warm heartedness and make people feel safe in our town,” Supt Henderson said.
Independent PCSP member and community worker, Marian Maguire assured the meeting: “If there is anything that community groups can do we can come in and help in any way”.
PCSP member, Cllr Patrice Hardy said she had been “angered and outraged” by the attack on the Ibrahims which, she stated, “does not represent the views of the good people of Ballymena and Mid & East Antrim”, adding that persons carrying out such attacks “are not welcome here in the town”.
Ivy Goddard of Ballymena Inter-Ethnic Forum told the meeting in The Braid that there had been a huge wave of support from the community in the wake of the attack not just from members of the public but also from the police, PCSP and church leaders.
She said: “Thank-you to everyone who has been so supportive to us all during this very difficult time when there has been a lot of fear in the community of attacks.
“People that we don’t even know have been walking in with flowers for the Ibrahims,” she said.
“The larger community are very very welcoming and that is the message we want to give here,” Mrs Goddard added.
Chief Inspector Stephen McCauley said he had received many calls from within the Ballykeel area and wider Ballymena community which, he said, were all totally supportive of the Ibrahim family and in total condemnation of the attack on their home.