Leeds Imam slams “senseless” murder in Nice

Imam Dr Qari Asim.  Picture Bruce Rollinson
Imam Dr Qari Asim. Picture Bruce Rollinson
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British Muslim leaders have condemned the “senseless murder of innocence” as the quest for answers into the Bastille Day massacre continues.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack that left at least 84 dead and scores more injured, saying the lorry driver in Nice was “a soldier” who responded to calls to target its enemies in the West.

Inquiries are continuing into whether 31-year-old Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel acted alone or had accomplices before driving into crowds, before being fatally wounded in a shoot-out with police.

Qari Asim, senior imam at Leeds Makkah Mosque, the attack demonstrated “the savagery and brutality of a twisted ideology.”

He said: “We pray for the victims and their families following the attack in Nice, the same as we did for those in Orlando, Dallas, Medina, Baghdad, Istanbul, Dhaka and all the other places around the world terrorists have struck in recent weeks.

“Yet again we condemn the barbaric acts of an individual determined to spread hate and prejudice across the world.

“The senseless murder of innocence is always deplorable yet this attack is just another, in a long line of examples, that demonstrates the savagery and brutality of a twisted ideology.

“This a time when people of all faiths and none must come together, we must not let terrorists and extremists win in creating the divisions they viciously seek to sow.”

It comes as a party of British school children were left stranded at Istanbul Ataturk Airport because of flight disruption.

Some 41 students and seven members of staff from the Arthur Terry School in Sutton Coldfield have been stuck at the airport since their connecting flight to South Africa was grounded. They left Birmingham on Friday evening.

A school spokesman said: “The students are safe and well and they are accompanied by seven outstanding and experienced members of staff and a member of the British embassy.

“The headteacher has been in constant communication with the British Consulate, parents and the assistant headteacher, who is accompanying the students.

“We would like to reassure parents and our community that we are working with the authorities and will update you further.”

Sara Khan, director of counter-extremism group Inspire, described the incident in Nice as “appalling”.

She said: “This attack, along with all the other recent atrocities, are part of a strategy by terrorists to strike out against what they call the ‘grey zone’ of co-existence, and to create a more polarised society in Europe.

“Terrorists aim to provoke division and propagate a binary world view. With each mass murder they deliberately seek to foster hatred and suspicion - with the hope that our societies restrict the very values and freedom that define our democracy.

“We must not give in to the aims of terrorists and instead remain even more vigilant about the preservation of our ideals and principles. We must realise that integration and human rights are the twin enemies of extremism, and are our strongest weapons in defending our shared humanity.”

It came as a neighbour of Bouhlel’s said he did not believe he was involved with Islamic State.

Speaking outside the high-rise block of flats on Boulevard Henri Sappia, where the suspect had previously lived with his family, Samiq, who did not want to give his surname, said the 31-year-old was not a devout Muslim.

The 19-year-old, who used to play football with Bouhlel, said: “I never saw him going to the Mosque. He was not a Muslim. During Ramadan I saw him smoking.”

Asked if he thought his neighbour, who he said had moved three years ago but returned often to visit his family, carried out the attack on behalf of the extremist group, he said: “I never heard him speak about extremism, I cannot believe that he was a member of Islamic State.”

He said people thought Bouhlel had psychological problems.

“He was a little bit crazy,” he said, but the teenager added that he was shocked by what had happened.

Another neighbour, who did not want to be named, said she knew Bouhlel’s wife and described her as a “really lovely woman, who doesn’t deserve all this”.

She added: “She was quiet, she stayed at home with her children. She was a bit naive, she never went out.”

The waterfront promenade in Nice was due to re-open at midday on Saturday for the first time since Thursday’s attack.