JNN 10 July 2013 London : Anti-terrorism police are investigating claims of sectarian attacks on Shia By Wahabi Radical Groups , after an Iraqi refugee was attacked in a suspected hate crime in central London.
Five men have been arrested following the attack, which took place in Edgware Road on 10 May after a rally against the Syrian regime, where radical Wahabi cleric Anjum Choudary was a speaker.
SO15, the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism branch, has been drafted in to conduct the investigation into violent disorder and suspected grievous bodily harm.
The suspects, all aged between 18 and 38, are on bail pending further inquiries.
In a second incident at the same event a Sunni man was attacked after being mistaken for a Shi’ite, according to reports. No arrests have been made.
The conflict in Syria has divided Britain’s Muslims, with significant numbers travelling to the country to take part in the opposition to the regime of Bashar al Assad.
Threat to Shia and Sunni Muslims from Wahabi Radicals in Australia
It was not so much a death threat as a declaration of war.
”You wanna go to war, you f—in’ Shia dogs?” the phone message says. ”We’re taking all of you to war, in Sydney and overseas!”
It was 8pm and Jamal Daoud, an aspiring politician from Auburn was having dinner with his wife and children. An outspoken critic of the Free Syrian Army, Daoud is accustomed to abuse but this call was more frightening than most.
”You wanna kill our brothers and sisters overseas, we’re gonna kill you motherf- – -ers here,” the caller says.
”We know where [you] live. We’re coming past [your] house and shoot at [it], if there are people inside we don’t give a f—. You wanna spill blood, we’re gonna spill blood, you f—in’ dogs!”
After two years and an estimated 100,000 deaths, the civil war in Syria has spilled on to the streets of Sydney. Auburn, Lakemba and Bankstown are the new battle lines.
The Syrian conflict, which pits the Sunni-dominated rebellion against the Alawite regime of President Bashar al-Assad, has split the Middle East in two; the Wahabi regimes of Saudi Arabia and Qatar and large Wahabi population in Lebanon on one side; Iran, the Lebanese militia Hezbollah and the broader Shiite Muslim population, of which the Alawites are an offshoot, on the other.
In Sydney, it is splitting suburbs along the same sectarian lines.
”It’s very frightening, what is happening,” says Daoud, who was targeted after posting a disparaging message about the death of Mustafa al-Majzoub, a Sydney sheikh killed in Syria last year, while recruited as a Jihadist for the Saudi Backed Terrorist Network, while his supporters say that he was on a Humanitarian Mission.
Daoud and others described him as a ”terrorist” fighting on the frontline but local Wahabi insist he was a ”shaheed”, or martyr.
Majzoub was one of about 200 Australians to travel to the war zone in the past two years. The Australian Federal Police believe a significant proportion of these mostly Lebanese dual citizens are fighting with the Syrian resistance, about half of whom are in al-Qaeda aligned Al-Nusra Front, which was put on a Federal Police terrorist blacklist in March and censured again yesterday by Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus.
Several organisations at home — including the al-Risalah Islamic Bookstore in Bankstown, where Majzoub spoke regularly — have been fund-raising and loudly decrying the brutal acts being committed on their fellow Wahabi .
”Our families in Syria are in desperate need,” reads one message on the Facebook page of the ultra-conservative Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama’ah Association, which runs several mosques including the controversial Bukhari House bookstore and prayer hall in Auburn. ”Just yesterday 45 men, women, children and babies, bruatly [sic] murder by the evil bashar death squads. WHAT ARE WE DOING???”
In a connected world, smartphone footage of Assad’s forces slaughtering women and children or a rebel fighter eating the lung of a dead soldier travel around the world almost instantaneously and fill the Facebook pages of young Australian Muslims.
The satellite dishes that line the streets of Sydney’s west hint at how much families remain in touch via the more graphic and politically engaged Arabic-language channels.
Older generations fear for those they have left behind. Their Australian-born children find it all too easy to take up the call-to-arms.
”We don’t want to transfer the problems from Syria to Australia but I fear that is what’s happening,” Australian Syrian Association spokesman Mohammad al-Hamwi says. ”Day by day, it becomes worse. So far two years and five months and it’s still going on. It affects us because we are so far and we feel we can do nothing to help. It is unbelievable what is happening to our people in Syria.”
Seventeen incidents of sectarian violence in Melbourne and Sydney have been reported in the media but Fairfax Media has uncovered details of many more.
The conflicts in Sydney have ranged from bitter verbal exchanges on a Lakemba street to the firebombing, bashing and extortion of the owner of a Bankstown juice bar.
According to court documents, a group of men from al-Risalah, led by owner Wisam Haddad, told Juicylicious owner Ali Issawi they would hunt down any supporters of Assad, ”crush them down with our feet” and ”slaughter your necks, all of you”.
It’s believed Issawi has entered police protection. One of his attackers, the accused Hyde Park rioter Ahmed Elomar, was sentenced to a year in prison.
Haddad did not respond to a list of questions he asked be emailed to him.
Another Shiite Muslim, 29-year-old Ali Ibrahim, who was attacked last year, has gone into hiding and withdrawn charges against the alleged shooter. Fairfax understands Ibrahim made comments in support of Assad on Facebook. Fifteen minutes later, he answered the front door of his Punchbowl home and was shot twice in the legs.
The fear of retribution and lack of faith in police action has meant few people will press charges, let alone speak publicly. Mr Ibrahim no longer opens his door, even for friends.
The streets of Sydney’s south-west have long been known for their peaceable mix of Afghan supermarkets, Iraqi hairdressers and Turkish bakeries — where Muslims of all stripes live and work side by side with little or no fuss.
However, with tensions running high, certain areas have become no-go zones for Sunnis, Shiites or Alawites. Daoud, one of few people prepared to speak publicly about the sectarian violence, is wary of walking through Wahabi -dominated parts of Lakemba, Auburn and Bankstown.
When he invited Today Tonight’s cameras on to Auburn Road in May, it took minutes for a crowd to gather.
Daoud was allegedly spat on and punched on camera by Omar Ammouche, one of a group of men who emerged from Bukhari House.
According to locals, men from the bookshop regularly harass and intimidate Shiite shopkeepers.
”I have received death threats from them,” says an Iraqi man, who did not want to be named. ”Men came into the shop and demanded I take down some posters of Jesus Christ and imam Ali [revered by Shiites as the successor of the prophet Muhammad].”
He says he reported this to police ”15 times at least” but no action has been taken.
Shops have been firebombed and their owners coerced into selling cheaply since a list of 22 Shiite businesses to boycott circulated online last year. The message ended with the line: ”BOYCOTT ALL KAFIR [infidel] SHIA [Alawite] SHOPS!!!! BOYCOTT THEM ALL!!!”
As he walks up Auburn Road, Daoud points out dozens of shops — including Vatan restaurant, Hamka Halal Meat, Auburn Fruit Market, Safir carpet shop, Sofra Kebab House, Diljah Mixed Business — and describes how each has been threatened verbally or physically.
After his $200,000 Bankstown chicken shop was firebombed two days before it was due to open last year, Rockdale City councillor Michael Nagi simply gave up and quietly withdrew from the area.
No one has been arrested and Nagi, a Shiite, will not talk about the incident except to call for calm.
Assistant Commissioner Frank Mennilli says police are aware of several cases of both reported and unreported extortion and threats but the perceived tensions have been overstated. ”However, there is no excuse for criminal acts to be undertaken in Australia in the name of some overseas cause or to use overseas events to justify acts of violence here,” he says.
In many instances, Shiites are fighting back. Zaki Mallah, a young Wahabi who spent three weeks on the front line in Syria last year, says he was subjected to death threats on his return.
”It’s very, very ugly,” he says. ”The sectarian hatred is there, you can feel it in the air. It’s sad that it has gotten to that stage but it just gives you a sense of how bad the Syrian crisis is.”
Mallah, who was acquitted of terrorism charges in 2005 and runs an Australian outpost of the Free Syrian Army from his garage, says he drives with tinted windows and stays away from Shiite-dominated areas such as Arncliffe, Rockdale and Belfield.
‘If the police don’t take this seriously, we are heading towards a civil unrest,” Daoud says.
”Some people become very scared and they keep silent but others are taking matters into their own hands. When I was attacked, I was helped by people from the Shia community who said, ‘If you need protection just tell us’. They say, ‘If they have gangs, we have People to Protect you. If they have somebody who can attack …’ ”
Police dispute the fearful assessments of those within the community and insist there have been some ”minor issues” but no widespread violence attributable to the violence in Syria.
However, counter-terrorism researcher Andrew Zammit from Monash University’s global terrorism research centre says there is the added and dangerous dimension of Australians coming into contact with al-Qaeda by travelling to Syria.
This, he says, is the difference between previous proxy wars fought on Australian soil like the Balkan War-inspired violence between Serbs and Croatia in the 1990s.
Federal counter-terrorism agencies say some Australians have travelled overseas to engage in terrorist training or fighting, yet no one has been arrested. Four Australians have died in the conflict.
Like Majzoub, Mallah was photographed on the frontline in Syria with an AK-47 in his hand but he says this was for self-defence and denies claims that he was fighting.
Police have expressed grave concerns that some young Australians will bring back military training and extreme ideas.
”Extremist ideology plus capability can transform into serious intent which is ready to trigger if a catalyst and an opportunity materialise,” Mr Mennilli says.
He assures the community that police have ”heavily invested” in proactive engagement strategies in south-western Sydney and have ”ongoing community consultations” with groups like al-Risalah and Bukhari House.
On the streets of Auburn one rainy afternoon, matters certainly appear calm on the surface. Shops are buzzing with customers. Men converse cheerily with Daoud as he greets them with a ”salaam” on the footpath.
But the young man who emerges on the step of a nearby bakery to watch Daoud’s every move hints at something more sinister. He is there to keep watch, Daoud warns. It is a subtle form of intimidation.
”There is no way to calm everyone down,” Hamwi warns.
”Everyone is waiting for the other side to initiate a problem and then it will explode. It does not end until the crisis in Syria ends.”
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