London landmark, The London Eye is illuminated in black, yellow and red lights, resembling the colours of the Belgian national flag on March 23, 2016, as Britons express their solidarity following a spate of coordinated attacks in Brussels on March 22. (Photo: AFP)
A British man who sparked outrage on Twitter with a message about confronting a Muslim woman over the Brussels attacks has been arrested on suspicion of inciting racial hatred, police said Thursday.
"I confronted a Muslim woman yesterday in Croydon. I asked her to explain Brussels. She said 'Nothing to do with me'. A mealy mouthed reply," the man, named by British media as PR executive Matthew Doyle, said in the original tweet posted on Wednesday.
The message went viral, prompting angry reactions as well as mocking messages parodying his tweet.
Doyle defended himself in several subsequent tweets saying he had been "angry and emotive", as well as apparently lashing out in a message saying: "Who cares if I insulted some towelhead??"
In another tweet on his account @MatthewDoyle31, he wrote: "Britain is for Britain's and those who accept our currency of decent behaviour and an intolerance of the Islamic threat to our nation."
A police spokeswoman said a 46-year-old man was arrested at his home in Croydon, south London, on Wednesday "on suspicion of inciting racial hatred on social media" and was taken into police custody.
Police later said he was taken to hospital on Thursday "after expressing concerns about his health" but that once out of hospital, he will be back in custody.
Doyle, 46, detailed the incident in an interview with The Daily Telegraph newspaper saying the woman he described in his tweet was white and British and wearing a hijab.
"I just said: 'Excuse me, can I ask what you thought about the incident in Brussels?'" he explained.
"I'm not some far-right merchant, I'm not a mouthpiece for any kind of racism or radicalism.
"If I was xenophobic I wouldn't live in London," he added.
Among the flood of reactions prompted by the man's original message, one tweeter wrote: "What has a Muslim woman in Croydon got to do with the horrific events in Belgium, you simpleton?"
Another said: "Did anyone accost you on the streets of Croydon after the Breivik shooting in Norway?"
There were more light-hearted responses too.
"I confronted an Irish woman yesterday in Camden. I asked her to explain Bono. She said "Nothing to do with me". A mealy mouthed reply," @robmanuel wrote.
Tweeter @beaubodor said: "I confronted a woman eating breakfast yesterday in Croydon. I asked her to explain porridge. She said "mlumabmnhnmm". A mealy mouthed reply."