London mosque director convicted of hiring hitman to execute rival

Khalid Rashad. Pic: Channel 4

The founder of a mosque in Acton has been jailed for life after hiring a hitman to execute his rival in cold blood following a bitter dispute over control of the mosque.

Khalid Rashad, 63, was convicted after two trials, the second of which found him guilty of possessing military-grade plastic explosives and rounds of ammunition at his home in Wembley.

In the first case, Abdul Hadi Arwani, 48, was found slumped in the driver’s seat of his car in a street in Wembley with the engine still running and bullet wounds in his chest in April last year.

Police identified the killer as Leslie Cooper, 38, a former soldier from Harlesden. When officers searched Cooper’s house they found a Mac-10 submachine gun, with its magazine and the silencer still attached, in a bag in a picnic basket in the bedroom wardrobe.

“On any reading, this was a serious bit of kit,” Jonathan Rees QC, prosecuting, told Kingston crown court.

It emerged that Cooper had been hired by Rashad, formerly known as Burnell Mitchell, who had been involved in running the An Noor Cultural Centre in Acton for 20 years.

Imam Abdul Hadi Arwani
Imam Abdul Hadi Arwani

Arwani worked in the construction business with Rashad and the pair had set up the mosque together, with Arwani acting as imam.

However, the pair had fallen out and Rashad had changed the locks, causing Arwani to retaliate by suing Rashad for ownership of the building.

Investigators believe that money played a part because the premises had quadrupled in value in a decade and were said to be worth £3m-£4m.

Rashad knew Cooper from the building trade and the pair met up at Rashad’s home in Wembley on 2 February 2015 when the plot is said to have been hatched.

Three days later, Rashad messaged Cooper: “Hi bra mi want that ting del with.” Cooper replied: “Yeah mon, mi a go mek it happen.”

They met up at 2pm on 13 February near the mosque and an hour and a half later Cooper sent four images of a Mac-10 submachine gun on his Blackberry to a girlfriend in Jamaica.

Cooper posed as “John” to hire Arwani for a building job and turned up in gloves and a woolly Manchester United hat, although it was a hot day.

But when Arwani turned up with his son, who was going to help him with the quote, Cooper called the hit off and made an excuse about not having the right keys.

He tried again two days later, using another unwitting girlfriend as a getaway driver, asking her to give him a lift back from a job.

During the search of Rashad’s house in Wembley, counter-terrorism police found 226g of PE4 plastic explosives in a carrier bag on a cardboard box in the garage.

Masjid An Noor
Masjid An Noor

In a shoebox, on a shelf in the garage, were a number of Islamic audio cassettes, along with five 8mm modified blank rounds.

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.

During the trial Rashad said he was approached by the Security Services but refused to become a “secret agent.”

“I don’t think they were too happy with it,’ he told the Old Bailey. “I know many young men who frequented the centre and told me they had been approached and asked to spy within the organisation.”

Rashad said he was asked to come to a building in Whitehall and “invited to become an operative.”

“One of the things was that I was the leader of an Islamic community in West London and they would like to have someone like me on their books,” he said. He refused, however, telling the jury: “I think it would have been perfidious of me to take on that responsibility. It would have been deceitful to the people I’m serving, I would have been a hypocrite.”

At a subsequent meeting at the Novotel in Hammersmith, Rashad said he was shown a number of photographs of young men but did not recognise any of them.

He agreed to meet members of Scotland Yard’s SO15 Counter-Terrorism Command for coffee, adding: “I said I would work openly with them, but not being a secret agent.”

Rashad accused someone of planting the material in his garage, but he told the Old Bailey: “I didn’t see anyone put anything there. It would be wrong of me to point a finger. ”

“All I can say is I didn’t put it there,’ he added. “I don’t want to blame anyone. I just want to clear my name.”

Rashad said there were also tensions among the leadership at the mosque, which he described as a “disease.”

“There was friction in the multi-cultural centre. Although it had a lovely family oriented feeling, there was some kind of disease,” he told the jury.

The mosque director said there were tensions within “different cultures within the institution.”

“One of the main tensions you face is who should be in charge, who should seen to be in charge, who should take that role,” he added.

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