Muslim stereotypes were once again reinforced on Tuesday 10th May during a counter-terrorism exercise at the Trafford Centre in Manchester where an ‘unnecessary’ link was made between terrorist style attacks and Islam.
The event, which had been organised carefully since December in a training exercise, was designed to test British response to a Paris- or Brussels-style attack.
Eight hundred volunteers took part in the overnight drill to make it as realistic as possible with fire and ambulance service personnel and the North West Counter Terrorism Unit took part, making up the number of volunteers to around 800.
A volunteer posing as a ‘terrorist’ shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ before detonating a device which caused uproar on social media and prompted a public apology from the Police. “A Greater Manchester Police spokesperson confirmed that the terrorism exercise was scripted.”
The exercise has been criticised for using a fake “Muslim terrorist” to test the response of emergency services.
Volunteers were also wearing ear defenders and safety glasses for their part in the devised scenario where a suicide bomber shouted the religious Islamic phrase.
Assistant Chief Constable Gary Shewan said on a statement released on Greater Manchester Police’s Twitter: “It is a necessity for agencies including the police to train and prepare using exercises such as this so that we would be in the best possible position to respond in the event that the unthinkable happened and attack took place.
“The scenario for this exercise is based on a suicide attack by an extremist Daesh-style organisation and the scenario writers have centred the circumstances around previous similar attacks of these nature, mirroring details of past events to make the situation as real life as possible for all of those involved.
“However, on reflection we acknowledge that it was unacceptable to use this religious phrase immediately before the mock suicide bombing, which so vocally linked this exercise with Islam.
“We recognise and apologise for the offence that this has caused.”
Some people on social media defended the police force, saying that the drill was devised to be as ‘realistic as possible’ and given the nature of the recent attacks in Paris and Brussels.
Armed officers drilled their counter-terror tactics during the simulated attack at the entrance to the Orient food court.
It started at midnight when a man dressed all in black walked in shouting.
An explosion then rocked the food hall and volunteers – wearing ear defenders and safety glasses – who dropped to the floor. Many were made up to look as if they had sustained horrific injuries and others screamed out as if in pain.
Smoke filled the entrance to the food court and some of the volunteers ran from restaurants, as if they were trying to dash to safety.
GMP said the simulation – codenamed Winchester Accord – was to “test the emergency response to a major terrorist incident”.
Greater Manchester’s police and crime commissioner Tony Lloyd, said: “It is frustrating the operation has been marred by the ill-judged, unnecessary and unacceptable decision by organisers to have those playing the parts of terrorists to shout ‘Allahu Akbar’ before setting off their fake bombs.
“It didn’t add anything to the event, but has the potential to undermine the great community relations we have in Greater Manchester.”