As uncertainty shrouds his future, a past full of contradictions haunts Qur’an burner Salwan Momika

Special As uncertainty shrouds his future, a past full of contradictions haunts Qur’an burner Salwan Momika
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Updated 07 July 2023
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As uncertainty shrouds his future, a past full of contradictions haunts Qur’an burner Salwan Momika

As uncertainty shrouds his future, a past full of contradictions haunts Qur’an burner Salwan Momika
  • Iraqi refugee claims to be liberal, but he fought in the Imam Ali Brigades and praised firebrand cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr
  • Swedish political writer Jerry Maher says Momika’s motives appears to be asylum related, presenting himself as a victim

LONDON: Salwan Momika, the Iraqi refugee who burned and desecrated a copy of the holy Qur’an outside a Stockholm mosque on Eid Al-Adha, made headlines across the globe as his act went viral on social media. 

Momika’s stunt quickly spread across TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. What followed was a barrage of threats from understandably angry Muslims and even non-Muslims around the world, who argued that he had other means to deliver his message and that religious symbols must be kept sacred. 

As predicted, Momika’s actions caused diplomatic troubles for Sweden; he also reportedly received several death threats via social media and his personal contact information. 

As the story continues to unfold, Momika has called upon authorities to extend his refugee status and even grant him citizenship. Now, while there is no doubt the threats to his life are real, an Arab News investigation into his past has raised several questions about the authenticity of his motives and ideological claims. 

On June 28, Momika stood in front of the Central Mosque in Stockholm shielded by a wall of Swedish police officers as his friend filmed him ripping pages from the Qur’an, burning them, and covering them with bacon.

 

“This is my country. I am keen to protect Sweden from this book, I am keen to protect Sweden from this book. This book is a threat to this country,” he shouted at worshipers exiting the mosque and toward his friend, who filmed him.

“I call on every honorable person to step on this book,” he said.

However, not so long ago, the self-proclaimed “liberal” Momika stood dressed in militia attire pledging allegiance to one of the most notorious extreme religious groups in Iraq — the Imam Ali Brigades, the armed wing of the Islamic Movement of Iraq that operates under the terrorist-designated Popular Mobilization Units.

 

 

“We either live with dignity or die courageously. I am the officer in charge of Kata’ib Rouh Allah Issa Ibn Miriam (the Brigade of the Spirit of God Jesus, Son of Mary), which is affiliated with the Imam Ali Brigades, peace be upon him,” he said in a video interview ahead of the PMU’s battles against Daesh.

Originally from Qaraqosh in northern Iraq’s Nineveh Plains, he was also a founder of the Syriac Democratic Union party and the Hawks Syriac Forces, an armed militia established in 2014 that was affiliated with the pseudo-Christian militia Babylon Brigades, which took up arms against Daesh as the latter attempted to take control of Iraq in its conquest to assert Shariah across the land.

Now he claims that Muslims are migrating away from their own countries because they are ruled by Shariah. “They flee that country to come here and want to apply their Shariah law. They come here seeking safety, peace, dignity and democracy, and then they say that they want to apply their Shariah law, as if they are the oppressed,” he said.

 

 

In another instance, Momika announced that he intended to file a lawsuit against Iraqi Shiite cleric and political leader Muqtada Al-Sadr because he urged people to kill him after he burned a copy of the holy Qur’an.

However, a now-deleted tweet he published on his account on Dec. 2, 2021 shows that he praised and rallied support for the head of the Iraqi Sadrist movement, stating: “In support of the courageous commander Muqtada … neither eastern nor western … a national majority government … they will fight and break it up.”

 

Arab News contacted several experts in Iraq who all confirmed Momika’s past involvement with the group. 

These contradictions, as well as his background, have shed light on why he went on to publicly defame and burn the Qur’an.

“Momika came from a background strongly influenced by Christianity and joined the ranks of the militia to combat a common enemy, Daesh,” said Dr. Hani Nasira, a political and religious expert. “While he adhered to the Christian faith, he worked tirelessly to achieve his goal of attaining importance and relevance. He became an opportunist.”




A letter of condemnation issued by the Council of Christian Church-Leaders of Iraq. (Courtesy: Patriarch Mar Awa III via Facebook)

An Arab News investigation into Momika’s social media profiles and personas highlighted a sharp shift in the Iraqi refugee’s posts. His Facebook and Instagram feed was first dominated by criticism of the Iraqi government following the mass protests of 2019 up until six months ago, when he took an extremely anti-Islamic stance and consistently posted derogatory statements about the Prophet Muhammad and the Muslim faith.

“When the circumstances aligned, he renounced his faith and became an atheist, going to great lengths to make his point and appeal to a niche group that shares his ideology, thus provoking the opposing party,” said Nasira.

“His transition from one extreme to another, even rejecting his own religion and becoming an atheist, was not enough. He failed miserably, so he further pushed his agenda, strategically choosing the right time and place. He utilized social media to gain fame and attention, exploiting Islamophobia to achieve his goals.”

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The circumstances in question appear to be tied to Momika’s immigration and refugee status.

According to Swedish immigration law, anyone granted refugee status will be given a three-year residence permit with the opportunity to apply for an extension if protection is still needed. However, with the country tightening its immigration laws, more and more refugees are seeing their permits being withdrawn.




Salwan Momika on a visit to Germany before moving to Sweden. (Instagram)

Momika has made known his intention of staying in Sweden. In a phone interview with CNN last week, the Iraqi said he came to Sweden five years ago from Iraq and has Swedish citizenship, however, Arab News could not find any proof to support his statement.

The Iraqi chose the one red line to cross that would ensure his life would be at risk should he be forced to return to Iraq: flagrantly vandalizing the most sacred of symbols in the Islamic world, the Qur’an.

“The most important thing is to take pictures,” Momika shouted in front of the Central Mosque as he burned the Qur’an. “It is the most important thing.”

Prior to the burning, Momika posted an Instagram video informing followers of his success in overturning an initial rejection by the Swedish police for his request to burn the Qur’an in front of the Central Mosque.

 

“The police want to impose the Qur’an and its respect on the Swedish society, which is impossible and is considered a violation of Swedish laws,” he said.

“With this book, I will also burn the Iraqi flag, which does not represent me. I will grill pork meat on top of them in front of the Iraqi Embassy. This book does not represent me, and this flag does not represent me either. I will grill pork meat on this book’s fire,” he added.

Within the same video, Momika uploaded a copy of his request to the Swedish police, notably censoring his address and ID number but keeping his personal email and phone number visible.

“Considering the potential consequences under Sweden’s new immigration laws, he chose this path to stir up trouble and receive numerous threats. This enables him to manipulate and abuse the system, providing evidence that his life is in danger, just as he claimed when leaving Iraq,” said Jerry Maher, a Swedish political writer and Middle East and Iran specialist.

Maher believes that Momika purposely exposed his identity to the public, revealing his phone number and email on his Facebook page for people to establish contact. 

“These tactics are all part of his strategy to present himself to the Swedish authorities as a victim under threat and seek protection. As a former fighter who engaged in battles in Iraq, his asylum papers and residence permit are likely at risk. Recent changes in Swedish migration laws have become more stringent, resulting in several expulsions,” added Maher.

 


Russia invites Taliban to top economic forum in June, TASS reports

Russia invites Taliban to top economic forum in June, TASS reports
Updated 27 May 2024
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Russia invites Taliban to top economic forum in June, TASS reports

Russia invites Taliban to top economic forum in June, TASS reports

MOSCOW: Russia has invited the Taliban to take part in the St. Petersburg Economic Forum in June, the TASS state news agency reported on Monday, citing the foreign ministry.
TASS reported on Monday that Russian ministries advised Putin that Moscow could remove the Taliban from its listed of banned organizations.


Philippines protests China’s annual fishing ban

Philippines protests China’s annual fishing ban
Updated 27 May 2024
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Philippines protests China’s annual fishing ban

Philippines protests China’s annual fishing ban
  • China imposes an annual fishing ban on South China Sea waters and the Philippines routinely opposes it
  • China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion in annual ship commerce

MANILA: The Philippines has protested China’s imposition of a unilateral four-month long fishing ban in the South China Sea, its foreign ministry said on Monday.
The annual imposition of a fishing ban raises tensions in the South China Sea, the foreign ministry said, calling on Beijing to “cease and desist” from “illegal actions” that violate the Philippines’ sovereignty and sovereign rights.
China imposes an annual fishing ban on South China Sea waters and the Philippines routinely opposes it. This year’s ban is expected to last until September.
The Philippines’ foreign affairs department (DFA) has protested the ban through a diplomatic note, saying the fishing moratorium covers waters within its maritime zones.
“The Philippines stressed that the unilateral imposition of the fishing moratorium raises tensions in the West Philippine Sea and the South China Sea,” the DFA said in a statement.
China’s embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro last week said China’s rules about how its Coast Guard can operate in the South China were a
“provocation.”
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion in annual ship commerce. Its territorial claims overlap with waters claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.
In 2016, an international arbitral tribunal said China’s claims had no legal basis, a decision Beijing has rejected.


Indonesia’s Mountain Ibu erupts as agency warns local aviation authorities

Indonesia’s Mountain Ibu erupts as agency warns local aviation authorities
Updated 27 May 2024
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Indonesia’s Mountain Ibu erupts as agency warns local aviation authorities

Indonesia’s Mountain Ibu erupts as agency warns local aviation authorities
  • This follows a series of eruptions this month after authorities noticed an uptick of volcanic activity since April

JAKARTA: A volcano on the remote Indonesian island of Halmahera erupted on Monday spewing a grey ash cloud six km (four miles) into the sky, the country’s volcanology agency said, adding it had issued a warning for aviation authorities managing local flights.
This follows a series of eruptions this month after authorities noticed an uptick of volcanic activity since April, leading to evacuations of people from seven nearby villages.
“The ash column is seen to be thick and grey and moving westward,” the agency said, adding the eruption occurred at 3 a.m. local time (7 p.m. GMT) and recommending that a seven-km (4.35-mile) radius be cleared.
Footage shared by the agency on Monday showed the volcano spewing ash that grew thicker and eventually obscured it.
The agency also issued a “red” color code warning to local aviation authorities on Monday, the highest of its kind due to ash exceeding six km in height, its website stated.
It previously raised the alert level of the volcano to the highest on its scale on May 16.
Ibu’s activities follow a series of eruptions of different volcanoes in Indonesia, which sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” and has 127 active volcanoes.
Flash floods and cold lava flow from Mount Marapi, one of the most active in West Sumatra province, covered several nearby districts following torrential rain on May 11, killing at least 62 people with 10 people still missing.
In recent weeks North Sulawesi’s Ruang volcano has erupted, spewing incandescent lava. The eruption prompted authorities to evacuate more than 12,000 people on a nearby island.


Myanmar’s Rohingya in the crosshairs as fighting escalates in Rakhine

Myanmar’s Rohingya in the crosshairs as fighting escalates in Rakhine
Updated 27 May 2024
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Myanmar’s Rohingya in the crosshairs as fighting escalates in Rakhine

Myanmar’s Rohingya in the crosshairs as fighting escalates in Rakhine
  • Tens of thousands of Rohingya are estimated to have fled for safety toward neighboring Bangladesh since mid-May

NAYPVIDAW: Myanmar’s Muslim-minority Rohingya community is once again under threat of attacks and displacement as fighting between a powerful ethnic army and the country’s ruling junta escalates in the western state of Rakhine, according to UN and aid agencies.
Tens of thousands of Rohingya are estimated to have fled for safety toward neighboring Bangladesh since mid-May, which is reluctant to accept more refugees, and many of those remaining in Rakhine are in dire need of humanitarian aid.
The Arakan Army (AA) claimed control of Buthidaung town earlier in May following fighting during which the ethnic army was accused of singling out Rohingya community members. The AA denies the charges.
Reuters could not independently verify the claims, and a junta spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.
The AA is now bearing down on the border town of Maungdaw, also home to a large Rohingya population, that the Myanmar junta will likely attempt to hold, raising the spectre of more serious violence.
“We see clear and present risks of a serious expansion of violence as the battle for neighboring Maungdaw town has begun — where the military maintains outposts and where a large Rohingya community lives,” a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said.
The Rohingya have faced decades of persecution and, after a 2017 crackdown by the military, nearly one million fled to Bangladesh, where many now live in crowded refugee camps.
Mohammed Taher, a Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh, said he had recently spoken to a friend in Maungdaw, who described the community living in fear.
“Many want to flee from Rakhine but Bangladesh is not opening its door for Rohingya,” Taher said.
Recent fighting has forced some 45,000 Rohingya to flee to an area along the Naf river on the border, according to a UN estimate.
“No Rohingya will be allowed to enter Bangladesh,” a senior Bangladesh border guard official told Reuters last week.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since a 2021 military coup, which spurred a grassroots armed resistance that is fighting the junta alongside long-established ethnic minority rebel groups.
’CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE’
The fighting in Rakhine broke out last November when a ceasefire between the AA and the junta collapsed, leading to a string of battlefield successes for the rebels.
“Faced with mounting losses in Rakhine, the regime has resorted to arming members of the Rohingya ethnic minority to counter the Arakan Army’s advance,” Morgan Michaels of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said in a May report.
“The AA has reacted with inflammatory rhetoric and violence directed at the Rohingya.”
Amid the renewed conflict, Rohingya civilians are “increasingly being caught in the middle,” the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its latest report last week.
The agency estimates that over 350,000 people are displaced across Rakhine after years of conflict, many of whom do not have access to basic services.
“We are witnessing a near total absence of humanitarian assistance for communities who rely on it,” medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said, adding that hospitals in Buthidaung and Maungdaw were closed.
The AA, which has a goal to form an autonomous state, has warned that more battles are coming, asking civilians in Buthidaung, Maungdaw, and Thandwe to dig bomb shelters or evacuate to safer areas.
The group, which has denied it has targeted the Rohingya, has also asked for international aid for some 200,000 internally displaced people that it says are sheltering in areas under its control in Buthidaung and Maungdaw.
“The situation is incredibly fraught and dangerous,” said Scot Marciel, a former USambassador to Myanmar.
“In some ways, this is an early test of whether a post-military-rule Rakhine State with significant autonomy can work.”


33 Muslims arrested for attacking 2 Christian men on allegations of desecrating Qur’an in Pakistan

33 Muslims arrested for attacking 2 Christian men on allegations of desecrating Qur’an in Pakistan
Updated 27 May 2024
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33 Muslims arrested for attacking 2 Christian men on allegations of desecrating Qur’an in Pakistan

33 Muslims arrested for attacking 2 Christian men on allegations of desecrating Qur’an in Pakistan
  • The blaze fully incinerated the factory and parts of the house
  • Blasphemy accusations are common in Pakistan and under the country’s blasphemy laws, anyone found guilty of insulting Islam or Islamic religious figures can be sentenced to death

LAHORE, Pakistan: Police in eastern Pakistan arrested dozens of Muslim men and charged them with attacking a Christian father and son on allegations of desecrating pages of Islam’s holy book, officials said Monday.
The mob went on a rampage Saturday after locals saw burnt pages of the Qur’an outside the two Christian men’s house and accused the son of being behind it, setting their house and shoemaking factory on fire in the city of Sargodha in Punjab province, said senior police officer Asad Ijaz Malhi. They also beat up the son.
Malhi said police forces rescued the two wounded men and transported them to a hospital where they were in stable condition, and that at least 33 men were arrested following multiple police raids. Authorities were chasing others who may be involved in the attack, he said.
The blaze fully incinerated the factory and parts of the house, residents and the police said.
Punjab police said in a statement it beefed up security at churches.
Blasphemy accusations are common in Pakistan and under the country’s blasphemy laws, anyone found guilty of insulting Islam or Islamic religious figures can be sentenced to death. While no one has been executed on such charges, often just an accusation can cause riots and incite mobs to violence, lynching and killings.
The latest violence, however, brought back memories of one of the worst attacks on Christians in Pakistan in August 2023, when thousands of people set churches and homes of Christians on fire in Jaranwala, a district in Punjab province.
Muslim residents at the time also claimed they saw two men desecrating the Qur’an.