SECURITY at the Herts and Essex Mosque in Bishop's Stortford is being stepped up after vandals went on the rampage.

An unknown number of people broke into the premises in The Causeway, after smashing a glass panel in a door.

Fire extinguishers were let off and food thrown around the kitchen. Cash was stolen from a telephone cash box and computers and books were damaged.

Mosque chairman Dilwar Ahmed originally thought the attack in the early hours of Saturday, May 5 was probably a spur of the moment act by "hooligans".

But now after talking to police he fears it may have been the work of racists.

He said: "They cannot tolerate us here but we are now back to normal."

Mr Ahmed said the bill for repairing the damage had been about £500. Cleaning the carpet, which members sit on to pray, cost £200.

But the restaurant owner from Sawbridgeworth vowed that he and the 100 or so worshippers who use the mosque every week would not be forced out.

He said: "We will fight to the last breath and we will do our best to stand on our own two feet."

Police Inspector Bob Radwell said: "This is a disgusting act of deliberate vandalism and one that we're taking extremely seriously. We will not tolerate crime like this and will be doing everything we can to identify those responsible.

"To cause the amount of damage they did, the offenders would have had to have been in the mosque for a fair amount of time."

The mosque has been targeted in the past, but for around 18 months it has been trouble free. Following this latest incident a burglar alarm is to be installed on police advice, but Mr Ahmed is disappointed that this has been made necessary.

He said: "We thought 'this is a religious place and who would harass us here?'"

Anyone who was in the area and saw anything suspicious, or who has information regarding the identity of those involved, should ring East Herts CID on 01992 533064 or the Crime Desk on 01992 533000.