Leaders of a Muslim sect fear they have been targeted by rival factions after a chemical powder was blasted through the letterbox of their Warwickshire headquarters.
Specialists were called in yesterday after a thick layer of yellow powder was discovered throughout the ground and first floors of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community centre.
The area around the property in Regent Grove, Leamington Spa, was sealed off by the emergency services and 15 people, including five children, were decontaminated and quarantined.
Rashid Savage, secretary of the 200-member association, discovered the powder just before midday yesterday.
He said he opened up the well-frequented town centre building at 11am before language lessons being held for local girls.
He said: “I was the first one to find the powder, with my wife and five children she was going to teach. It was a yellowy colour and it didn’t look like it was dust from someone doing some work or a fire extinguisher being let off.
“I think it was blown in through the letterbox with some force because I discovered the ground floor, the staircase leading to the first floor, and the first floor itself all covered in a thick layer of very fine powder.”
Speaking to The Birmingham Post from a quarantined area set up by the emergency services, Mr Savage, a 55-year-old administration manager at the BBC, added:
“I think we have probably been singled out because none of the other premises around us appear to have been affected.
“We are an Islamic teaching centre so, in the current climate, it could well have been deliberate.
“We are a sect that is not recognised by other Muslims and it is possible another group has decided to target us.”
At about 6 last night, Mr Savage was allowed home and advised it would be 24 to 48 hours before the results of tests on the substance were made known.
He said he thought the decision to let people who had come in contact with the powder go home meant the substance could not have been highly dangerous.
More than 20 firefighters in full chemical protection suits attended the incident.
Ahmadi Muslims are an evangelistic sect numbering, they claim, about 100 million worldwide, who believe the last prophet was not Muhammad but their 19th Century founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.
This is disputed by the rest of the Muslim world and their beliefs have led to persecution in Pakistan and other countries.
There are about 15,000 Ahmadi Muslims in Britain and about 1,500 in the West Midlands.
A spokesman for Warwickshire Police said the substance was being transported to an unnamed location for analysis and officers would remain at the site until its identity was confirmed.
The spokesman said: “The indications are that it is not harmful, but we need to get that checked out before we can leave the premises and get everything cleaned up.
We will keep someone there as long as it takes to confirm what the substance is.”