Two men from Brent who murdered Syrian Imam in Acton mosque dispute are jailed for life
PUBLISHED: 13:45 19 October 2016 | UPDATED: 17:23 19 October 2016
A prominent Muslim from Wembley who claims he has links to MI5 murdered a Syrian cleric over a dispute with a mosque, it can now be revealed.
Abdul Hadi Arwani, was sprayed with bullets from a MAC-10 sub-machine gun by Iraq war veteran Leslie Cooper on the orders of Muslim convert Khalid Rashad on April 7 last year.
The 48-year-old’s body was found in his Volkswagen Passat in Greenhill, at the junction with The Paddocks in Wembley on April 5 last year.
Jamaica-born Cooper, 38, of Nightingale Road, Harlesden, was doing the “dirty work” for Rashad, 63, who had a long-running dispute with the married father-of-six over the running of the An Noor Cultural and Community Centre in Acton.
Rashad, of Monks Park, Wembley, and Cooper 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 today at the Old Bailey of hoarding a stick of plastic explosives and ammunition in his back garden, 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.
A statement from Mr Arwani’s family
“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.
“While Abdul is no longer with us, we will never forget his smile, his positive outlook or the fantastic things that he did for us and the community. He will remain in our hearts, inspiring us to embrace others in the way that he did so wonderfully.”
The Jamaican builder, who converted to Islam in 1993 and is the brother of Boney M singer Liz Mitchell, 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 charges and three and four years for the ammunition.
The sentences should run concurrently as it was not in the public interest to increase his minimum term, which would see him aged 94 before being eligible for parole, the judge said.
On the explosives, he said that no-one would have it without contemplating its use.
He said he bore in mind the lengths he had gone to to “eliminate” opposition in the form of Mr Arwani, co-owner of the Islamic centre.
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.
“I make that clear for the record and it’s something that the defendant is very concern about in terms of how the court might approach him, and others outside court.”
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 building company, had been lured to his death after a meeting was set up with a potential customer, “John”, who was identified later as Cooper.
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 born in Syria and became a UK citizen in May 2002.
He was well-known and respected in his local community, having previously been an Imam at the An Noor Cultural and Community Centre.
Cooper served in the British Army between 2002 and 2007 in the First Battalion, Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment.
His platoon was involved in several fire fights during his tour of Iraq in 2004.
The jury in Rashad’s explosives trial was told that the security services neither confirm nor deny claims of involvement with individuals.
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