One of three suspects accused of murdering British imam pleads not guilty

Mohammed Aqil Mahdi, 22, was in his second year at Greenwich University, studying accounting and finance. (Supplied/Shamam Chowdhury)
Mohammed Aqil Mahdi, 22, was in his second year at Greenwich University, studying accounting and finance. (Supplied/Shamam Chowdhury)
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Updated 29 January 2022

One of three suspects accused of murdering British imam pleads not guilty

Shamam Chowdhury. (Supplied)
  • The other two defendants failed to appear for a scheduled hearing at Southwark Crown Court in London on Friday
  • One of them had been moved to another prison and his papers were ‘lost in transition,’ the judge said, while a lawyer for the other said his client was unwell

LONDON: A 22-year-old man accused of killing a British-Bangladeshi imam in East London has pleaded not guilty. Muzahid Ali, one of three men charged with murdering Mohammed Aqil Mahdi, appeared at Southwark Crown Court on Friday and was remanded in custody.

The other defendants, Majid Ahmed, 18, and Abul Kashem, 28, did not appear for their plea hearings. Ahmed had been transferred to the Category-A Belmarsh prison and his “papers had been lost in transition,” said Judge Deborah Taylor.

Prosecutor Gareth Patterson QC said Kashem was listed as “not attending.” His attorney, Benjamin Gordon, said his client was “unwell and complaining of stomach pains.” Judge Taylor said Kashem was “fit to attend court” and there was “no justification” for not doing so.

Ahmed and Kashem were ordered to attend their arraignment, which was set for May 6, days before the time limit on their custody is due to expire. All three of the accused were previously refused bail and have been in custody since they were charged on Nov. 10.




Mohammed Aqil Mahdi, 22, was in his second year at Greenwich University, studying accounting and finance. (Supplied/Shamam Chowdhury)

Ali spoke only twice during his court appearance on Friday, once to answer “yes” when asked by the judge whether he had spoken to counsel, and then to plead “not guilty.”

Paramedics found Mahdi, 22, who lived in north London, with stab wounds on Nov. 6, police said. He was unresponsive and pronounced dead at the scene.

Mahdi was in his second year at Greenwich University, where he was studying accounting and finance. He also taught the Qur’an in his spare time and had led Taraweeh prayers during Ramadan at various mosques around London for the past nine years.

“He wanted to dedicate his time by making a difference and impacting young children and teenagers’ lives by teaching the Qur’an alongside his studies,” his mother, Shamam Chowdhury, told Arab News.

An online fund has been set up in Mahdi’s memory to raise money for a mosque in Egypt where he studied in 2019 to receive his ijazah, a license for those who want to teach Islam’s holy book.

“Aqil was a very special student of mine whom I had the blessed opportunity to teach and mentor for the past 10 years,” said Ishaaq Abu Rahmiyyah Jasat, Mahdi’s Qur’an teacher. “Words cannot describe how much he meant to me.”

He added that his student always tried hard and excelled in his Islamic journey, and recited the Qur’an in a melodious and soothing tone.

“Despite his hardships, he always had a good heart and cared so much for others,” he said.


Putin won’t be allowed to dictate peace: Scholz

Putin won’t be allowed to dictate peace: Scholz
Vladimir Putin will not be allowed to dictate peace in Ukraine, Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz said. (AP)
Updated 58 min 44 sec ago

Putin won’t be allowed to dictate peace: Scholz

Putin won’t be allowed to dictate peace: Scholz
  • Vladimir Putin will not be allowed to dictate peace in Ukraine, Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz said

DAVOS: Vladimir Putin will not be allowed to dictate peace in Ukraine, Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Thursday, vowing to continue backing Kyiv to push the Russian president to negotiate seriously to end his invasion.
“It is a matter of making it clear to Putin that there will be no dictated peace,” said Scholz. “Ukraine will not accept that and neither will we.”


Firefighters contain blaze at Sudan Red Sea port

Firefighters contain blaze at Sudan Red Sea port
Updated 26 May 2022

Firefighters contain blaze at Sudan Red Sea port

Firefighters contain blaze at Sudan Red Sea port
  • The fire, which raged for hours, broke out in the cargo drop off area of the port

Khartoum: Firefighters have contained a large blaze that erupted in a cargo area of the Sudanese Red Sea port of Suakin, the port’s director said Thursday.
The fire, which raged for hours, broke out in the cargo drop off area of the port on Wednesday sending plumes of acrid smoke into the sky.
It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze.
“The fire has been brought under control following the intervention of civil defense forces and port workers,” port director Taha Ahmed Mokhtar said.
He said an investigation had been launched to determine the cause of the fire, and a commission set up to assess the scale of the losses.
A port official, who spoke on condition of annonymity, had earlier described the damage as “catastrophic.”
The blaze at the port came as Sudan is gripped by a chronic economic crisis which deepened after last year’s military coup led by army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan.
The military takeover triggered punitive measures, including aid cuts by Western governments, who demanded the restoration of the transitional administration installed after the 2019 ouster of longtime president Omar Al-Bashir.
The historic port town of Suakin is no longer Sudan’s main foreign trade hub, a role which has been taken by Port Sudan, some 60 kilometers (40 miles) away along the Red Sea coast.
But there have been moves to redevelop the port.
Bashir’s government signed a deal with Turkey in 2017 to restore the historic buildings of Suakin island and expand its docks, but the agreement has been suspended since his overthrow.


8,000 Ukrainian prisoners of war held in Luhansk, Donetsk: Separatists’ official

8,000 Ukrainian prisoners of war held in Luhansk, Donetsk: Separatists’ official
Ukrainian prisoners of war held in Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics number about 8,000. (File/AFP)
Updated 26 May 2022

8,000 Ukrainian prisoners of war held in Luhansk, Donetsk: Separatists’ official

8,000 Ukrainian prisoners of war held in Luhansk, Donetsk: Separatists’ official
  • Ukrainian prisoners of war held in the Russian-backed self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics number about 8,000

Ukrainian prisoners of war held in the Russian-backed self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics number about 8,000, Luhansk official Rodion Miroshnik was quoted by TASS news agency as saying on Thursday.
“There are a lot of prisoners. Of course, there are more of them on the territory of Donetsk People’s Republic, but we also have enough, and now the total number is somewhere in the region of 8,000. That’s a lot, and literally hundreds are being added every day,” Miroshnik said.
Reuters was not able to verify the report.


11 babies killed in Senegal hospital fire

11 babies killed in Senegal hospital fire
Updated 26 May 2022

11 babies killed in Senegal hospital fire

11 babies killed in Senegal hospital fire
  • The tragedy in Tivaouane comes after several other incidents at public health facilities in Senegal
  • In the northern town of Linguere in late April, a fire broke out at a hospital and four newborn babies were killed

DAKAR: Eleven newborn babies died in a hospital fire in the western Senegalese city of Tivaouane, the president of the country said late Wednesday.
Just before midnight in Senegal, Macky Sall announced on Twitter that 11 infants had died in the blaze.
“I have just learned with pain and dismay about the deaths of 11 newborn babies in the fire at the neonatal department of the public hospital,” he tweeted.
“To their mothers and their families, I express my deepest sympathy,” Sall added.
The tragedy occurred at Mame Abdou Aziz Sy Dabakh Hospital in the transport hub of Tivaouane, and was caused by “a short circuit,” according to Senegalese politician Diop Sy.
“The fire spread very quickly,” he said.
The city’s mayor Demba Diop said “three babies were saved.”
According to local media, the Mame Abdou Aziz Sy Dabakh Hospital was newly inaugurated.
Health minister Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr, who was in Geneva attending a meeting with the World Health Organization, said he would return to Senegal immediately.
“This situation is very unfortunate and extremely painful,” he said on radio. “An investigation is under way to see what happened.”
The tragedy in Tivaouane comes after several other incidents at public health facilities in Senegal, where there is great disparity between urban and rural areas in health care services.
In the northern town of Linguere in late April, a fire broke out at a hospital and four newborn babies were killed. The mayor of that town had cited an electrical malfunction in an air conditioning unit in the maternity ward.
Wednesday’s accident also comes over a month after the nation mourned the death of a pregnant woman who waited in vain for a Caesarean section.
The woman, named Astou Sokhna, had arrived at a hospital in the northern city of Louga in pain. The staff had refused to accommodate her request for a C-section, saying that it was not scheduled.
She died April 1, 20 hours after she arrived.
Sokhna’s death caused a wave of outrage across the country on the dire state of Senegal’s public health system, and health minister Sarr acknowledged two weeks later that the death could have been avoided.
Three midwives — on duty the night Sokhna died — were sentenced on May 11 by the High Court of Louga to six months of suspended imprisonment for “failure to assist a person in danger” in connection to her case.
Amnesty International’s Senegal director Seydi Gassama said his organization had called for an inspection and upgrade for neonatology services in hospitals across Senegal after the “atrocious” death of the four babies in Linguere.
With Wednesday’s fresh tragedy, Amnesty “urges the government to set up an independent commission of inquiry to determine responsibility and punish the culprits, no matter the level they are at in the state apparatus,” he tweeted.
Opposition lawmaker Mamadou Lamine Diallo also responded with outrage to the Tivaouane blaze that killed the babies.
“More babies burned in a public hospital... this is unacceptable @MackySall,” he said.
“We suffer with the families to whom we offer our condolences. Enough is enough.”


Texas school massacre: Onlookers say more lives could have been saved had police moved in quickly

Texas school massacre: Onlookers say more lives could have been saved had police moved in quickly
Updated 26 May 2022

Texas school massacre: Onlookers say more lives could have been saved had police moved in quickly

Texas school massacre: Onlookers say more lives could have been saved had police moved in quickly
  • Onlookers begged police gathered outside the school building to rush in urgently
  • Authorities say about 40 minutes elapsed from when Ramos opened fire to when he was shot dead

UVALDE, US: Frustrated onlookers urged police officers to charge into the Texas elementary school where a gunman’s rampage killed 19 children and two teachers, witnesses said Wednesday, as investigators worked to track the massacre that lasted upwards of 40 minutes and ended when the 18-year-old shooter was killed by a Border Patrol team.
“Go in there! Go in there!” nearby women shouted at the officers soon after the attack began, said Juan Carranza, 24, who saw the scene from outside his house, across the street from Robb Elementary School in the close-knit town of Uvalde. Carranza said the officers did not go in.
Javier Cazares, whose fourth grade daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the attack, said he raced to the school when he heard about the shooting, arriving while police were still gathered outside the building.
Upset that police were not moving in, he raised the idea of charging into the school with several other bystanders.
“Let’s just rush in because the cops aren’t doing anything like they are supposed to,” he said. “More could have been done.”
“They were unprepared,” he added.
Minutes earlier, Carranza had watched as Salvador Ramos crashed his truck into a ditch outside the school, grabbed his AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle and shot at two people outside a nearby funeral home who ran away uninjured.
Officials say he “encountered” a school district security officer outside the school, though there were conflicting reports from authorities on whether the men exchanged gunfire. After running inside, he fired on two arriving Uvalde police officers who were outside the building, said Texas Department of Public Safety spokesperson Travis Considine. The police officers were injured.
After entering the school, Ramos charged into one classroom and began to kill.
He “barricaded himself by locking the door and just started shooting children and teachers that were inside that classroom,” Lt. Christopher Olivarez of the Department of Public Safety told CNN. “It just shows you the complete evil of the shooter.”
All those killed were in the same classroom, he said.
Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told reporters that 40 minutes to an hour elapsed from when Ramos opened fire on the school security officer to when the tactical team shot him, though a department spokesman said later that they could not give a solid estimate of how long the gunman was in the school or when he was killed.
“The bottom line is law enforcement was there,” McCraw said. “They did engage immediately. They did contain (Ramos) in the classroom.”
Meanwhile, a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation said the Border Patrol agents had trouble breaching the classroom door and had to get a staff member to open the room with a key. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing investigation.
Carranza said the officers should have entered the school sooner.
“There were more of them. There was just one of him,” he said.
Uvalde is a largely Latino town of some 16,000 people about 75 miles (120 kilometers) from the Mexican border. Robb Elementary, which has nearly 600 students in second, third and fourth grades, is a single-story brick structure in a mostly residential neighborhood of modest homes.
Before attacking the school, Ramos shot and wounded his grandmother at the home they shared, authorities said.
Neighbor Gilbert Gallegos, 82, who lives across the street and has known the family for decades, said he was puttering in his yard when he heard the shots.
Ramos ran out the front door and across the small yard to the truck parked in front of the house. He seemed panicked, Gallegos said, and had trouble getting the truck out of park.
Then he raced away: “He spun out, I mean fast,” spraying gravel in the air.
His grandmother emerged covered in blood: “She says, ‘Berto, this is what he did. He shot me.’” She was hospitalized.
Gallegos, whose wife called 911, said he had heard no arguments before or after the shots, and knew of no history of bullying or abuse of Ramos, who he rarely saw.
Investigators also shed no light on Ramos’ motive for the attack, which also left at least 17 people wounded. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Ramos, a resident of the small town about 85 miles (135 kilometers) west of San Antonio, had no known criminal or mental health history.
“We don’t see a motive or catalyst right now,” said McCraw of the Department of Public Safety.
Ramos legally bought the rifle and a second one like it last week, just after his birthday, authorities said.
About a half-hour before the mass shooting, Ramos sent the first of three online messages warning about his plans, Abbott said.
Ramos wrote that he was going to shoot his grandmother, then that he had shot the woman. In the last note, sent about 15 minutes before he reached Robb Elementary, he said he was going to shoot up an elementary school, according to Abbott. Investigators said Ramos did not specify which school.
Ramos sent the private, one-to-one text messages via Facebook, said company spokesman Andy Stone.
Grief engulfed Uvalde as the details emerged.
The dead included Eliahna Garcia, an outgoing 10-year-old who loved to sing, dance and play basketball; a fellow fourth-grader, Xavier Javier Lopez, who had been eagerly awaiting a summer of swimming; and a teacher, Eva Mireles, whose husband is an officer with the school district’s police department.
“You can just tell by their angelic smiles that they were loved,” Uvalde Schools Superintendent Hal Harrell said, fighting back tears as he recalled the children and teachers killed.
The tragedy was the latest in a seemingly unending wave of mass shootings across the US in recent years. Just 10 days earlier, 10 Black people were shot to death in a racist attack at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket.
The attack was the deadliest school shooting in the US since a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012.
Amid calls for tighter restrictions on firearms, the Republican governor repeatedly talked about mental health struggles among Texas young people and argued that tougher gun laws in Chicago, New York and California are ineffective.
Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who is running against Abbott for governor, interrupted Wednesday’s news conference, calling the tragedy “predictable.” Pointing his finger at Abbott, he said: “This is on you until you choose to do something different. This will continue to happen.” O’Rourke was escorted out as some in the room yelled at him. Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin yelled that O’Rourke was a “sick son of a bitch.”
Texas has some of the most gun-friendly laws in the nation and has been the site of some of the deadliest shootings in the US over the past five years.
“I just don’t know how people can sell that type of a gun to a kid 18 years old,” Siria Arizmendi, the aunt of victim Eliahna Garcia, said angrily through tears. “What is he going to use it for but for that purpose?”
President Joe Biden said Wednesday that “the Second Amendment is not absolute” as he called for new limitations on guns in the wake of the massacre.
But the prospects for reform of the nation’s gun regulations appeared dim. Repeated attempts over the years to expand background checks and enact other curbs have run into Republican opposition in Congress.
The shooting came days before the National Rifle Association annual convention was set to begin in Houston, with the Texas governor and both of the state’s Republican US senators scheduled to speak.
Dillon Silva, whose nephew was in a classroom, said students were watching the Disney movie “Moana” when they heard several loud pops and a bullet shattered a window. Moments later, their teacher saw the attacker stride past.
“Oh, my God, he has a gun!” the teacher shouted twice, according to Silva. “The teacher didn’t even have time to lock the door,” he said.
The close-knit community, built around a shaded central square, includes many families who have lived there for generations.
Lorena Auguste was substitute teaching at Uvalde High School when she heard about the shooting and began frantically texting her niece, a fourth grader at Robb Elementary. Eventually she found out the girl was OK.
But that night, her niece had a question.
“Why did they do this to us?” the girl asked. “We’re good kids. We didn’t do anything wrong.”