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Terror probe into preacher murder

Published 08/04/2015

The body of a man found shot dead is believed to be that of an anti-Assad former imam
The body of a man found shot dead is believed to be that of an anti-Assad former imam

Counter terrorism detectives are now leading the investigation into the death of a Muslim preacher who was shot dead in London, Scotland Yard has said.

Abdul-Hadi Arwani, an outspoken critic of the Assad regime in Syria, was found in a parked car in Wembley on Tuesday morning.

Confirming his identity for the first time, the Metropolitan Police said detectives from its counter terrorism command are carrying out the inquiry " because of their expertise in the management of investigations with international dimensions and an established liaison network abroad".

Officers from the Homicide and Major Crime Command were initially in charge of the investigation.

The Met said that the probe remains in its "very early stages" and officers remain "open-minded" about the motive for the shooting.

Specially trained family liaison officers are supporting Syrian-born Mr Arwani's family "at this very difficult time", the force added.

A post-mortem examination will take place tomorrow.

Earlier Mr Arwani's son said the family are "at a loss to understand" what took place.

Speaking outside his home in East Acton, Morhaf Arwani, 20, said: "We are at a loss to understand what is behind this. At the moment we know as much as you do."

Mr Arwani, 48 - reported to have six children - was a preacher at the An Noor mosque in Acton, west London, from 2005 to 2011.

Visitors to the mosque today spoke of their shock and said that the cleric did not hold radical views.

One visitor said: "He was a beloved man, he used to give lectures, and teach. He was well loved in the community around here. And he wasn't radical or anything, you know, that wasn't him. "

Another said: "He was a very good man, he was a nice man. He didn't have any enemies in this community."

A statement posted on the wall of the centre read: "We have with great sadness heard of the unfortunate death of Shaykh Abdulhadi Arwani who was the former Iman of the An Noor Cultural and Community Centre who served from 2005 to 2011. He will be sadly missed."

Mr Arwani, who is thought to have fled Syria as a teenager after surviving the Hama massacre in 1982, has been described as an outspoken critic of President Bashar Assad's regime.

He is believed to have attended protests against the regime outside the Syrian embassy in London in 2012.

Tributes to him were paid on social media.

One Facebook message said: "Our beloved sheikh Abdul Hadi was murdered this morning in Wembley whilst sitting in his parked car. Bullets found in him. This is no ordinary murder. We ask Allah to shed his mercy upon the sheikh."

Police were called to reports of a man with gunshot injuries to his chest at 11.15am on Tuesday.

They found a man in his late 40s sitting in a dark coloured Volkswagen Passat in Greenhill, at the junction with The Paddocks. He was pronounced dead at the scene around half an hour later.

The Greenhill junction where Mr Arwani's body was discovered was cordoned off by police today.

In a statement issued on behalf of the family, posted on social media, Mr Arwani's son Murhaf said they were "in a state of shock" at the "heinous crime", describing his father as " the most peaceful man you could ever wish to meet".

It said: "My family and I have been in a state of shock ever since we learned of this terrible news. We have not slept and our minds are a blur as to what happened and why.

"The police are currently investigating this brutal murder. As an individual, a family and a community, we are helping the police to solve this heinous crime."

Pleading for anyone with information to come forward, he said his father was "a very well loved figure in West London".

He added: "He was the most peaceful man you could ever wish to meet. He just loved to help people. He did not care what your background, race or status was.

"He did not care if you were rich or poor. He just wanted to help people in need.

"He was an old fashioned man who thought love and understanding could cure all of the world's ills. He was always smiling and joking with everyone he met.

"He showed so much love to his congregation and to his community as an imam and a loving father to us,his six children. I don't know how we will cope without him."

The statement said Mr Arwani was a "peaceful man" who was "actively involved in the fight against extremism".

"He spoke up and out against the crime of terror and oppression wherever he found it," it said, adding that Mr Arwani was "a British citizen who loved the people of this country".

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