LONDON: Muslim women, especially those wearing 'hijabs' or headscarves, were far more likely to fall victim to hate crimes amid alarming rise in Islamophobic attacks, according to monitoring groups.
"We realised that at a street-level Muslim women who were visible, and wore the Hijab or the headscarf, were suffering more targeted abuse," said Fiyaz Mughal, director of UK-based Tell Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks (MAMA), that monitors Islamophobic attacks.
"We also realised quite early on that women who wear Niqab, the face veil, suffered more aggressive incidents -- there was something about the face veil that in a way brought out the worst in the perpetrator," he added.
Attacks on Muslim women may range from verbal abuse to violent assaults, including assailants tearing off 'niqabs' or veils, or threatening to burn them with lighter fluid.
As many as 60 per cent of Islamophobia victims were women, the organisation claimed.
The news comes after a shocking video surfaced of an unprovoked violent attack on a hijab-wearing UK teenager, in which the victim was seen being punched in broad daylight while walking down the street.
This also comes as latest Scotland Yard figures show that Islamophobic crimes against Muslims in London have gone up by 70 per cent over the past year.
Reported incidents ranged from cyber-bullying and assaults to extreme violence.
Mughal pointed to the beheadings by ISIS in Iraq and Syria as well as the refugee crisis in Europe as being linked to the rise in Islamophobic attacks.
"Women suffer more incidents, and more aggressive incidents of hate," he told Al Arabiya News.
One reason behind this is the visibility of those women who chose to cover their heads and faces, Mughal said. For those perpetrating the attacks, face coverings "visualise 'the other' very clearly," he said.
But while women are more likely to attract the "hate and the venom" of racist attackers, they are far less likely to come forward and report incidents, said Mussurut Zia, general secretary of the Muslim Women's Network UK.
She said there are an increasing number of such hate crimes happening across the country – not just in London.
"I know of people who have had their hijabs pulled, who have been kicked, who have had their niqabs (veils) pulled off, people who have been assaulted, pushed and shoved and threatened with lighter fluid," she said.
The Metropolitan Police define 'Islamophobic' crime as any offence intended to affect those known or perceived to be Muslim.