Straw Under Fire for Linking Ethnicity to Sex Attacks

A row around race and sexual exploitation flared last night as opponents and supporters reacted to a suggestion by former home secretary Jack Straw that Pakistani men were grooming white girls for sexual abuse. The Blackburn MP made his comments on Friday night after two Asian men were sentenced that day for a series of rapes and sexual assaults on vulnerable young girls. Abid Mohammed Saddique, 27, was jailed for a minimum of 11 years at Nottingham Crown Court and Mohammed Romaan Liaqat, 28, was given eight years. The men were ringleaders of a gang who befriended girls as young as 12 in the Derby area and groomed them for sex.

Mr Straw told BBC’s Newsnight it was a “specific problem” in the Pakistani community. “These young men are in a Western society. In any event, they act like any other young men: they’re fizzing and popping with testosterone, they want some outlet for that. But Pakistani-heritage girls are off-limits and they are expected to marry a girl from Pakistan, typically. So they seek other avenues and they see these young women, white girls who are vulnerable, some of them in care… who they think are easy meat.”

Muslim couple dies in arson attack in North England

A Muslim cleric and his wife have been killed in their own house in an arson attack, with two of their children injured, in Blackburn near Manchester. Abdullah Mohammed, 41, was killed in the fire in October. His wife, Ayesha, 39, died a week later. The 14-year old daughter is still hospitalized. Her 9-year old brother has been released and taken care of by extended family.

Two men have already been charged with murder and remanded in custody, while two more men have now been arrested on suspicion of murder. The police have not yet commented on the motive for the attack.

Qatar donates £1.5m for mosque after intervention from Jack Straw

Jack Straw, Britain’s Justice Secretary, wrote a letter of introduction for his friend and political ally, Lord Patel of Blackburn, who persuaded the emir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, to spend £1.5m, half the total needed to build the five-story mosque.

Liberal Democrats in Blackburn, Mr. Straw’s constituency, claimed the Labour party had used the donation to the Bicknell Street mosque in order to garner votes from local Muslims.

Haras Rafiq, co-founder of the Sufi Muslim council, said large foreign donors expected mosques to reflect their beliefs, and this was squeezing out moderate Muslims. “This has been a huge problem for the last decade. Some of the biggest mosques and institutions in the UK have been funded by foreign money and have been proven to be portraying extremist viewpoints.

The Emir of Qatar has an image as a pro-western reformist and modernizer and his country is the base for a significant US military presence. However, Qatar has also provided aid to Hamas and offered support to the extremist Muslim Brotherhood and to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan who has been indicted for war crimes in Darfur.

Manchester UK’s Blackburn prayers in park festival plan

A two-day Muslim prayer festival could be staged in Corporation Park, Blackburn, next month. The event – the first of its kind outside London – would attract thousands of visitors from across the North West, according to the group behind the plans. They hope the festival would help change the image of Muslims and how Eid is celebrated among the wider community. Eid, which marks the end of the month of Ramadan in which Muslims fast, is due to take place on October 1. Jalal ibn Sa’eed Mohabbat, one of the organisers, said: “The Muslim community has been crying out for such an event. “As well as prayers in the morning the two-day festival will include funfairs, Islamic stalls and children’s games. “However, prayers will only be held on the first day. “We will celebrate on a second day for others to join in who did not pray on the first day. “It is important that the host community sees a united Muslim community and two times a year we can show them what and who we are.” National group the Eid Celebration Committee is behind the plans. It held a pilot event in Ealing, London, which was attended by thousands. Mr Mohabbat said: “In London the response was overwhelming. “According to Islamic texts regarding the Eid prayer must be prayed outdoors and can be prayed inside a masjid if it is necessary.” Local organiser Ashfaq Ahmed told of his plans for Blackburn: “We are hoping to cater for 3,500 people and the plan is to attract people from across the region.”

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Police arrest three over plot to murder PM

The arrests of three men from Blackburn over terror offences are linked to an investigation into threats to kill the Prime Minister, it has been reported. The men are being held in connection with website threats against Gordon Brown and former PM Tony Blair, the BBC said. It was also reported that the threats included a demand for the release of Muslim prisoners from Belmarsh high-security prison in London. The claims shocked East Lancashire community leaders but they were quick to stress how strong community relations are in the area. Two men from Blackburn were arrested at Manchester Airport on Thursday, August 14. Another man, also from Blackburn, was arrested at his workplace, Express Gifts, in Church. It is believed two of the suspects were on their way to Iceland when they were arrested, although the BBC reported that they were going to Finland. Police have declined to name the three men, aged 21, 22 and 23. It is understood two of the suspects are from Percival Street, off Whalley Range, and the third is a friend of theirs from Cromwell Street, off Audley Range.

Mosque worshippers pray in wrong direction

A mosque in Blackburn has undergone a refurbishment after discovering that worshippers were praying in the wrong direction. Experts using modern satellite technology discovered that prayers at the mosque, which should have been in the direction of Mecca, were over 30 degrees out. The location of the Qiblah, which is what worshippers pray towards as a guide to the direction of Mecca, has now been changed at the Masjid-e-Sajideen mosque in Plane Tree Road, Little Harwood. It has been moved during a routine renovation following research from local academics which found that prayers were in the direction of Africa rather than Mecca. Work at the mosque has seen the layout of the main prayer room altered and the Qiblah, as the focus of the room, which is similar to an alter in a Christian church, has been moved. Research has shown that it is not unusual for mosques in the UK to change the direction of the Qiblah if errors are discovered. A spokesman for the Lancashire Council of Mosques said: “There is a common problem in finding the Qiblah and it is not unusual for this sort of thing to happen. “Often there is some error at many mosques but not always as much as 30 degrees.”

Gitmo detainee speaks at Cathedral

Moazzam Begg spoke about his experiences at Blackburn Cathedral on Tuesday describing how he was tortured and held in solitary confinement. Moazzam Begg, a British citizen, said how he travelled to Afghanistan to start a girls’ school with his wife and within a year he had been captured by American forces as part of the “war on terror” and transported to Guantanamo Bay. He was kept without charge until his eventual release in 2005. Moazzam Begg said he knew what it was like “not to have a voice”. But he insisted that members of all faith communities in East Lancashire needed to make sure that they articulated themselves well – and avoided violence. Mr Begg said he wanted to tell all people, not just Muslims, that they have a voice.

‘Family man’ Mohammed Shafiq brutally murdered

A man was attacked, stabbed in the stomach and hit with an a iron bar in Burnley. Mohammed Shafiq, 50, of York Street in Lancashire, was murdered in broad daylight after attempting to intervene in a fight involving his son. He died in Royal Blackburn hospital eight hours. Detective Superintendent Mick Gradwell, from Lancashire police stated: “Mr Shafiq intervened in a disorder at about 1.30pm and as a result he received an injury consistent with being stabbed and later died from that injury. “I have officers with Mr Shafiq’s family who are naturally distraught after this incident. He leaves a wife and 5 children and we will be offering them support during this devastating time.” It is believed that Shafiq’s son phoned his father to tell him that he was being harassed by a gang of youths. This prompted Mr Shafiq to call the police to raise his concern and then attend to his son’s welfare. Rukshana Choudhary reports.

Council’s integration solution ‘sticking plaster’

Problems with segregated communities cannot be cured by new schools, a leading cleric said on Wendesday. Blackburn Cathedral’s Canon Chris Chivers described the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) scheme, which will see a major shake-up of secondary education in Blackburn and Darwen, as a “band-aid” for other, deeper social problems. But Muslim leaders in Lancashire have defended the council, saying that it is working hard to promote cohesion. Blackburn with Darwen Council this week revealed finalised BSF plans which will see three new super-schools created – Witton Park and Pleckgate High Schools will be completely rebuilt on site, and a new East Lancashire Community College will replace Blakewater College.

Rice Hears Complaints From British Muslims

BLACKBURN, England – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice heard passionate complaints Saturday from British Muslims about U.S. polices in Iraq, toward the Palestinians and at the U.S.-run detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Some of the complaints were voiced respectfully by Muslim leaders who met with Rice. Others were chanted, shouted and screamed by anti Iraq-war protesters, who were present almost everywhere the secretary went during what her team planned as a goodwill visit. Local commentary on Rice’s two-day outreach visit to northwest England has been harsh. Saturday morning’s Guardian newspaper carried a half-page cartoon showing Rice and her host, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, holding a banner that said: The Case for War. The banner was riddled with holes and the caption read, Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, a wry reference to the words of the Beatles song A Day in the Life. Kam Kothia, one of the Muslim community leaders who met for an hour with Rice, said the group respectfully told her we want to see change in U.S. policies in the Muslim world. He said he told Rice that the Bush administration should engage, not isolate, the new Hamas government in the Palestinian areas, because it was democratically elected in a process Washington, D.C., backed. The anger at U.S. policies shows the hurdles Rice and her public diplomacy chief, Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes, face as they aggressively try to improve the U.S. image in the Muslim world. Their message is usually drowned out in a torrent of complaints about U.S. policies that affect Muslims. Asked what she’d learned from the visit, Rice said, I certainly think you hear a passion about a number of issues. She defended the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, where some terror suspects have been held for years without trial. She said the United States did not want to keep the prison open longer than necessary, but added: If the alternative is to release people back on the street so they can do harm again, that we’re not going to do.