THE Ministry of Defence (MoD) started to dismantle models of mosques built on an Army firing range last night after being accused of helping to radicalise young Muslims.
North-East Islamic groups had condemned the seven cutouts erected on military ranges on Bellerby Moor, near Leyburn, North Yorkshire.
Workmen last night removed the green domes from the structures, after the MoD issued an apology for any offence caused.
Turki Aba-Alala, president of Newcastle Islamic Society, said: “This suggests the Army is targeting mosques rather than terrorists. It makes the Muslim students coming to this country, and Muslims from the UK more scared.
“Things like this just increase the insecurity of young Muslims and can help to radicalise them.”
Ali Luft, from the Muslim Federation Cleveland, also criticised the decision to build the models.
He said: “It just doesn’t look right. It’s disturbing people when they hear about it.
“They should be training soldiers in streets, mountains or caves where these people hide – not mosques.” The firing range is used by troops from Europe’s biggest Army base at nearby Catterick Garrison.
Some of the mosques had single domes and others had double domes. The structures, which are visible from a public road, were first brought to the attention of the Bradford Council for Mosques (BMC) by a passer-by.
BMC members, who have visited the range to inspect the models, said yesterday that the mosques were being used as a symbol of danger and served to reinforce negative stereotypes of Muslims.
Mohammed Saleem Khan, chief executive of the council, said the shape and colour of the structures – a green dome – symbolised an Islamic place of worship.
“It is so obvious,” he said.
“Even a non-Muslim recognised the significance. The first person who raised the issue with us was a non-Muslim.”
In response, the Army said it was vital soldiers trained in an environment which replicated where they were deployed.
Officials said the facilities at Bellerby Moor had been upgraded recently following feedback from troops in Afghanistan.
A spokesman said the structures were meant to be generic Eastern buildings rather than mosques, and were not used as target practice.
He added: “We apologise for any offence that we may have caused. It was never our intention for these generic structures to look like or replicate mosques, only to provide a setting similar to operational environments in which our personnel could train.
“We are seeking a meeting with representatives from the Muslim community to hear their concerns in order to discuss the way forward. We are in the process of removing the offending structures.”