Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Boney M singer's Muslim convert brother is jailed for life for hiring a hitman to kill Syrian preacher in a row over a controversial London mosque

  • Syrian preacher was found dead in north London in April last year
  • Detectives believe the killing was due to a row over a London mosque
  • Muslim convert who is the brother and 1970s popstar has been jailed
  • He hired an Iraq war veteran to carry out the 'cold-blooded' murder
A Syrian-born preacher was shot dead by a former soldier in a contract killing ordered by the brother of a Boney M singer.

Iraqi war veteran Leslie Cooper, 37, executed Abdul Hadi Arwani, 48, with a MAC-10 machine gun as he sat in his Volkswagen Passat in Wembley, northwest London.

The hit was ordered by mosque 'ruler' Khalid Rashad, 62, the brother of singer Liz Mitchell, who fronted the 1970s chart-topping disco band.

Rashad had been locked in a legal battle with Mr Arwani as he tried to oust him from the An-Noor Cultural and Community Centre in Church Road, Acton.

Cooper and Rashad - both Jamaican-born Muslim converts - were jailed for at least 32 years each for the murder earlier this year after a trial.

Khalid Rashad, the brother of Boney M singer Liz Mitchell has been jailed for life for the murder of Syrian preacher Abdul Hadi Arwani (pictured)Khalid Rashad has been jailed for ordering the murder of Syrian preacher

The case could not be reported while Rashad awaited trial for possessing plastic explosives and ammunition in the garage of his suburban home near Wembley Stadium.

Rashad converted to Islam in 1993 and changed his name from Brunel Mitchel. 

Mr Arwani discovered his belongings had been removed from the building and the locks to his office had been changed in 2011.

He left the centre and in June 2012 began legal proceedings seeking an order of the court to reinstate him as a member and director of ANT.

It was the dispute between Mr Rashad and Mr Arwani regarding the control and ownership of the mosque that provided the motive for the shooting, and was the reason Khalid Rashad recruited his friend, Leslie Cooper, to carry out his dirty work,' said prosecutor Jonathan Rees QC.

Mr Arwani was found, slumped in the driver's seat of his VW Passat in a street in Wembley, North London with the engine still running and a bullet wound in his chest in April last year. 

There was speculation that the preacher could have been murdered by a Syrian hitman when it emerged that he had been a vocal opponent of the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

But police identified the killer as Cooper, a former soldier from Harlesden, North West London, who was born in Jamaica and had served with the Princess of Wales Regiment in Iraq.

Detectives were able to track down Cooper because he had topped up an unregistered phone in a shop in Harlesden High Street and then walked to a nearby shop to top up a British Gas card, which had his name on.

When officers searched his house, DC Matthew Rogers found a Mac-10 sub-machinegun, with its magazine and the silencer still attached, in a Marks and Spencer bag in a wicker picnic basket in the bedroom wardrobe.

'On any reading, this was a serous bit of kit,' Jonathan Rees QC, prosecuting told Kingston Crown Court.

Leslie Cooper was also handed a life term
Leslie Cooper was also handed a life term
It emerged that Cooper had been hired by Rashad who had been involved in running the An Noor Cultural Centre in Acton, West London, for 20 years. 

The mosque has been investigated by MI5 after a series of incidents including a male terrorist suspect escaping from the premises dressed in a burqa and another who was killed in Syria.
The mosque had also hosted a number of controversial speakers, including one of the sons of radical imam Abu Hamza.

The case can finally be reported at the end of a second trial in which Rashad was convicted of possessing military-grade plastic explosives and rounds of ammunition at his home, yards from Wembley Stadium. 

Although there was no evidence that Rashad was involved in terrorism, detectives say they are concerned that the machinegun or explosives could easily have fallen into the wrong hands.

Investigators believe the fight was not just about control of the mosque and that money also played a part because the premises had quadrupled in value in a decade in the London property boom and were said to be worth £3-£4million.

Sentencing Rashad and Cooper to life in jail with a minimum of 32 years, Mr Justice Singh said the murder had been planned over a 'significant period of time.'

'On any view this was a shocking killing of a man in cold blood on the streets of London during the daytime,' he added.

Speaking after the hearing, Mr Arwani's family said: '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.'

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