Malaysia seeks deeper ties with Saudi Arabia after Hajj minister’s visit

Malaysia seeks deeper ties with Saudi Arabia after Hajj minister’s visit
Malaysia seeks deeper ties with Saudi Arabia after Hajj minister’s visit

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - LONDON: A local mosque has been scapegoated by authorities over allegations of extremism in the wake of the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing, the chairman of its board of trustees has claimed.

Didsbury Mosque was visited by Salman Abedi, who carried out the bombing that killed 22 people at an Ariana Grande concert, and members of his family prior to the attack on numerous occasions to worship.

At an inquiry into the bombing, one lawyer representing families of several victims claimed the mosque had “failed to confront extremism in the run-up to 2017” and “continues to do so to this day.”

Fawzi Haffar, the board chair, denied the allegations ahead of the publication of the inquiry’s findings, saying the mosque had “no room” for religious radicalism.

“How can people say we have radicalized or are radicalizing people?” Haffar told the BBC. “My children could have been at the arena. There were Muslim children at the arena.

“What Salman Abedi did was evil and he definitely did not become radicalized by listening to a 10-minute sermon here or joining forces with other so-called terrorists or other radicalized people at this center.

“If we had known that Salman Abedi was a radical, if we were told by the security services or warned by the police to ‘please watch out for this person,’ I would have done anything to prevent what happened. Anything.”

John Cooper KC, representing the bereaved families, told the inquiry that the Didsbury Mosque had “turned a blind eye” to religious extremism and “adopted a passive attitude” toward the radicalization of some of its congregation.

Haffar, though, said neither he nor any other senior figures at the mosque had been made aware of any individuals suspected of radicalism by the authorities.

“If we are not aware of these radical people who are coming into this center to pray, I cannot help the police,” he told the BBC.

The inquiry heard that Abedi attended occasional Friday prayers at Didsbury Mosque, while his brother Ismail taught at the center and his father Ramadan sometimes made the adhan, or call to prayer.

There were also allegations that the mosque hosted meetings of between 30-40 people at a time who broached topics including support for radical groups fighting in Libya, where the Abedi family originated from and where several are now thought to be living. 

Haffar told the BBC: “I can definitely say there is no way he was radicalized at the center here in Manchester.”

He added: “We want to really put all this behind us but, again, I cannot put all of what’s happened behind me.

“Twenty-two victims have gone. I cannot forget about them. But I would say to their families, we should work together.”

Salim Al-Astewani, an imam at the mosque, told the BBC: “Obviously you can’t control every individual, but the main thing is that there is a proper management system in place and every sermon, every activity, is well-designed, well-prepared.

“We have received training. And what we do now is address subjects in our sermon related to the local community. I am absolutely sure — clear in my mind — that the way forward is all positive and for the benefit of the wider society as well as the community.”

The mosque has subsequently been targeted over the perception that it played some role in the attack.

Tracey Pook, a community engagement officer, told the BBC: “We’ve had letters, we had some far-right activists who came. We had an arson attack.

“We had one group who thankfully got stopped by the police who were coming to smash the mosque up, so we’ve had to deal with all these threats as well, and far-right threats. It’s been so unpleasant because the congregation of the people who come here and the community (don’t) deserve this.

“I know it’s nothing compared to the (victims’) families. All I can say to them is we support you. We feel the pain as a community.”

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