Rioters killed three young Asian men in Birmingham early Wednesday in the most serious incident so far over five days of anarchy and lawlessness in Britain, prompting fears of potential racial strife between blacks and Asians.
The three men were mowed down by a car as they stood protecting their businesses in Winson Green, an Asian majority area of Birmingham, about 200km from London. Eyewitnesses said men of African-Caribbean origin were in the car. A 32-year-old man has been arrested.
The police chief of West Midlands, under which Birmingham falls, said the car was “deliberately driven” into the three men. “My concern is that that single incident doesn't lead to a much wider level of distrust and violence between different communities.”
The bishop of the nearby area of Aston, Rev Anthony Watson, who attended a committee meeting at the local mosque, warned of events taking on a “potentially ugly race dimension”.
The killings came after a fourth day's violence in Britain, sparked off when police shot dead a crime suspect in the London suburb of Tottenham last week.
With up to 16,000 police flooding the streets of London on Tuesday, coordinated violence erupted in other cities and towns, including Birmingham, Manchester, Salford, West Bromwich, Wolverhampton, Gloucester, Nottingham, Reading, Oxford, Milton Keynes and Slough.
As large crowds of angry Asians came out on streets, political leaders and police chiefs appealed for calm in a city that saw widespread looting and arson on Tuesday night.
More than 160 rioters were arrested in Birmingham on Tuesday, adding to the 750 in London since August 6.
Prime Minister David Cameron said “the police are working round the clock to get to the bottom of what happened (in Birmingham) and bring the perpetrator to justice”. Cameron also said police would be allowed to use water cannons and rubber bullets to fight rioters.
As on every night since Saturday, large groups of youths — some as young as 13 — rampaged through city centres, trashing shops, looting goods and setting fire to cars.
In Salford, up to 1,000 youths were attacking the police at the height of the disturbance.