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Men jailed over killing of Syrian-born imam after dispute over mosque

A prominent Muslim is likely to die in jail for murdering a Syrian-born imam who was executed in "cold blood" following a legal wrangle over a mosque, it can now be reported.

Abdul Hadi Arwani, 48, from Acton, west London, was sprayed with bullets from a MAC-10 sub-machine gun by Iraq war veteran Leslie Cooper on the orders of "evil and calculating" Khalid Rashad.

Jamaica-born Cooper, 38, was doing the "dirty work" for Muslim convert Rashad, 63, who had a long-running dispute with married father-of-six Mr Arwani over the ownership of the An Noor Cultural and Community Centre in Acton.

Rashad, of Monks Park Road, Wembley, and Cooper, of Nightingale Road, Harlesden, north-west London, were found guilty of murder at Kingston Crown Court earlier this year and sentenced to life with a minimum term of 32 years.

Their convictions can only now be reported after Rashad was found guilty at the Old Bailey of hoarding a stick of plastic explosives and ammunition in his back garden, near Wembley Stadium, at the time of his arrest.

As part of his defence, Rashad told jurors that MI5 was "unhappy" that he had twice refused to act as a "secret agent" for them, spying on the Muslim community in west London, in 2012.

The Jamaican builder, who converted to Islam in 1993, told jurors there had been cultural "tensions" at the Islamic centre.

He claimed someone had planted 8oz (226g) of explosives, a 9mm cartridge and five 8mm rounds in his garage without his knowledge.

Judge Gerald Gordon sentenced Rashad to 10 years for the explosives charge and three and four years for the ammunition, all to run concurrently with his life term which would see him aged 94 before being eligible for parole.

Alphege Bell, mitigating for Rashad, said: "The defendant asked me to make clear to the court - and there is not really any suggestion - the defendant is not a supporter of Isis, al Qaida or any other variant."

The mosque in Acton hit the headlines in 2013 after 27-year-old terror suspect Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed gave police the slip by donning a burka.

The murder trial had heard how Mr Arwani, who also owned a successful builders, had been lured to his death after a meeting was set up with a potential customer, "John", who was identified later as Cooper.

Just after 10.30am on April 7 last year, a mother and daughter were walking along a road called Greenhill to a doctor's appointment.

They noticed the victim slumped in the driver's seat of a black VW Passat with its engine running.

At first, they thought Mr Arwani was sleeping but when they returned, they noticed he had not moved.

Prosecutor Jonathan Rees QC had told jurors that the dispute over the Islamic centre had led to legal proceedings which were due to come to court in July last year, but by then, one of the parties was shot dead.

When he was arrested days after the killing, Cooper denied having anything to do with it.

But a search of his home uncovered the MAC-10 with ammunition and silencer hidden inside a Marks & Spencer shopping bag in his wardrobe.

Rashad denied knowledge of the murder or speaking to his co-accused about his dispute with the victim.

Mr Arwani was well-known and respected in his local community, having previously been an imam at the An Noor Cultural and Community Centre.

His family said in a statement: "Abdul Hadi Arwani was a loving husband, father and friend to the community. He was motivated by the desire to help others, no matter their race, religion or status. He was an inspiration to all and without a doubt one of the kindest people you could ever hope to know.

"When we were told of Abdul's death last year, we were absolutely devastated and time has done nothing to reduce the sheer pain of losing him in such a brutal and calculated way.

"To this day, we cannot comprehend why anyone would wish harm to such a peaceful, well-loved person."

Commander Mak Chishty, head of engagement with the Metropolitan Police, said: "We have lost a member of the community who was well loved and respected. His family are never going to get over that. Thirty-two years is a fitting sentence.

"You can see how evil the defendant was where he took extreme measures to kill a person over a property dispute.

"To kill anybody, especially over a dispute like that, beggars belief.

"The murder was brutal, it was callous and it's robbed a community and the family of a decent man."


From Belfast Telegraph