Syrian Imam Critical of Assad Gunned Down on London Street

shot at member of the public
AP Photo/Sang Tan

Imam Abdul Hadi Arwani, described by the UK Daily Mail as “a Syrian preacher at a fundamentalist mosque,” was gunned down on the streets of London on Tuesday, possibly because he was an outspoken critic of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.

Arwani, a father of six whose youngest daughter is only a year old, was found in his Volkswagen Passat with gunshot wounds to the chest at 11:15 AM local time. The car engine was running when he was found, so this would seem to qualify as the “broad daylight in the middle of the street” variety of blatant assassination.

A source in the police department told the Daily Mail it “had all the hallmarks of a state-sponsored assassination,” although the slain imam’s family disputes that characterization, insisting his political views are so common among Syrian expatriates that it did not make sense for the Assad regime or its allies to target him.

Counter-terrorism experts referenced by the UK Standard “played down fears that the Mr. Arwani was a significant target, suggesting instead he may have been the victim of local dispute.”  They described Arwani as influential, but not a “big fish” in the anti-Assad movement. On the other hand, at least one regular worshipper from Arwani’s London mosque has been killed in Syria while fighting against the Assad regime, so maybe they did pop up as a target on Assad’s radar screen.

Evidently, his mosque was popular with criminals who converted to Islam, “raising the prospect that Mr. Arwani’s killing could be part of a gangland feud,” as the Daily Mail put it.

It should be noted that while many headlines, including the Daily Mail’s, refer to a “hit squad” taking Arwani out, there does not appear to be any eyewitness testimony to the crime yet, so nothing conclusive is known about how many people were involved in the murder, or who they were.

Arwani was not one of the “moderate Syrian rebel” types Western politicians have spent years searching the scorched earth around Damascus for. He participated in violent demonstrations outside the Syrian embassy in London; he was recently asked to step down from his mosque after some incidents with terrorism suspects and jihad supporters; and one of his long-standing criticism of the Syrian government is that it didn’t embrace fundamentalist Islam vigorously enough. “He talked highly of martyrdom and Allah granted it to him,” said one of the tributes to the imam posted on Facebook.