Wembley murder: Syrian president Bashar Assad has bigger issues to focus on than Abdul Hadi Arwani, think-tank claim

Abdul Hadi Arwani was shot dead in Wembley yesterday morning (Pic credit: Twitter)

Abdul Hadi Arwani was shot dead in Wembley yesterday morning (Pic credit: Twitter) - Credit: Archant

Syrian president Bashar Assad has bigger issues to focus on than ordering the murder of an imam in Wembley, an anti-extremist think-tank has claimed.

The murder scene is still cordoned off today

The murder scene is still cordoned off today - Credit: Archant

Abdul Hadi Arwani, a critic of the Assad regime, was discovered shot in a parked car in Greenhill, at the junction with The Paddocks, on Tuesday morning.

After it was revealed that the investigation was being conducted by counter-terrorism officers, reports began to emerge that the father-of-six might have been killed for speaking out against the Syrian leader.

But Haras Rafiq, managing director of anti-extremist think-tank the Quilliam Foundation, said it was too early to start speculating about why Mr Arwani was killed.

He said: “He was definitely anti-Assad, he was very vocal and we all know that. But he wasn’t necessarily Assad’s biggest enemy here in the UK. I am just thinking ‘Why him?’ and not other people that we know are more vocal and more active.

“Something that is significant is that SO15 (counter-terrorism command) are investigating. They would probably be investigating because there is some form of international dimension.

“Arwani himself wasn’t actually extremist. He wasn’t on my radar as somebody who himself held extreme hatred-based views. However, the centre that he was involved in was quite controversial.”

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Mr Rafiq said that cleric Mr Arwani had previously been a director of the An-Noor Trust Cultural and Islamic Centre in Acton, west London, which came under the spotlight after a male terror suspect dressed in a burka escaped authorities.

He said he left the organisation for unknown reasons in 2012, with some reporting he had left because of his opposition to extremist preachers at the centre.

Mr Rafiq concluded: “It is just too early to say, and reports that he was killed for being a critic of Assad are just speculation.

“They have got other problems, more serious problems in Syria. If the murder was carried out on behalf of Assad, then that would suggest that they are looking at people abroad, but it is not something that I have come across.”

Mr Arwani’s family were also keen to dispel rumours that he had connections with extremism, saying that he was “actively involved in the fight against extremism” and was a “British citizen who loved the people of this country”.

In a statement posted on social media, they added: “He spoke up and out against the crime of terror and oppression wherever he found it.”

Speaking outside his home in East Acton, Mr Arwani’s son Morhaf, 20, said they were “at a loss” to understand what had happened.

Officers from the homicide and major crime command were initially in charge of the inquiry.

The Metropolitan Police said the investigation was in its “very early stages” and officers remained “open-minded” about the motive for the shooting.

A post-mortem examination is due to take place today.

Police are appealing to anyone who saw the dark coloured Volkswagen Passat Mr Arwani in the area after 10am to come forward.

Any witnesses or anyone with information should call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.