(CNN)Eight individuals dressed in Ku Klux Klan uniforms posed for photographs outside an Islamic center in Northern Ireland on Sunday evening, sparking condemnation from politicians and Muslim leaders.
Ku Klux Klan robes in Northern Ireland spark hate crime probe
The incident took place outside the Bangladesh Islamic Community Center in Newtownards, County Down, 10 miles east of Belfast.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is treating the event as a hate crime after images of the group spread across social media.
"We received a report around 5pm Sunday about a group of people dressed as Ku Klux Klan members in the vicinity of Greenwell Street in the town on Saturday night," Inspector Richard Murray said in a statement.
"We are also aware of images that are circulating that show people dressed as Ku Klux Klan members. Our inquiries are ongoing, and we are treating this as a hate incident at this time."
"Hate crime, in all its forms, is totally unacceptable," he added. "It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to ensure that we live in a society where diversity is respected."
The incident also drew sharp criticism from Northern Irish politicians, with Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong describing the action as a "clear demonstration of aggression."
DUP MLA Peter Weir added on Twitter that the photos showed "malevolent intent" and were "totally unacceptable."
Raied al-Wazzan, executive treasurer of the Belfast Islamic Center, said that the incident had left the small Muslim community in the town "afraid."
He noted that this was not the first incident to target the community after a pig's head was left on the doorstep of the center in August 2017.
Racist graffiti was also sprayed on nearby walls saying, "Muslim rapists out."
"They could have gone anywhere in Newtownards, anywhere in Northern Ireland, but to go in front of an Islamic prayer room, it's totally making people afraid," al-Wazzan told the BBC. "They are afraid to come out or even go there."