From Acton to Aleppo: how one British Muslim’s quest to Syria ended in death

Ali Almanasfi, who was killed along with a US woman and third westerner, hoped to atone for a wrong by fighting with rebels. After five months fighting in Syria with the rebels, Ali Almanasfi’s luck finally ran out. On Wednesday the 22-year-old Briton took a wrong turn and drove into a government checkpoint near the city of Idlib. Syrian soldiers immediately opened fire. They killed Almanasfi together with his two fellow passengers: an American woman and Islamic convert, Nicole Mansfield from Michigan, and a third, so far unidentified man, possibly Canadian.

 

Syrian TV showed the bloody aftermath of this one-sided encounter: a black VW Golf riddled with bullets and a haul of Kalashnikovs. Also visible was Almanasfi’s maroon British passport. It gave his place of birth – London – and date of birth, June 1990.

 

Almanasfi’s family were conservative Sunnis from Damascus, Syria’s capital. But he grew up in west London, the son of a bus driver, who later split stormily with Almanasfi’s mother and remarried twice. As a teenager, according to his friend Tam Hussein, Almanasfi drifted into trouble. He got involved in street fights with other Acton gangs and petty crime: drugs, stealing, booze. In 2008 his father sent him to Syria to cool down. Apparently this didn’t work. A year later he did something he would bitterly regret: drunk, he attacked an older man. The details are hazy. But he was caught, sentenced to four or five years in jail, and initially imprisoned in Feltham young offenders institute. In Arabic culture it is shameful to disrespect an elder, to beat up an old man an act of terrible dishonour. Almanasfi appeared haunted by this ghost. He looked at fighting for the rebel cause “almost like a redemptive act”, Hussein said.

 

It was in prison that he became interested in religion. He discovered an identity. He grew a beard. Hussein recalled: “He became increasingly religious; the ghetto talk, the accent, the slang slowly disappeared.

 

It was at this point that Britain’s secret services appeared on the scene. Almanasfi had begun attending a radical mosque in west London. He popped up on MI5’s radar, intelligence sources made clear on Friday.

 

In January Almanasfi went over, despite MI5 warnings: he left the third-floor Acton flat he shared with his mum and disappeared. He sent a valedictory text to his half-brother Safwan in Halifax. It read: “I’m off. I love you.” He seemed aware of the risks but also confident that he would survive his idealistic adventure unscathed. “He told me about some guys who were killed there. He said these guys were hotheads who didn’t know what they were doing,” Hussein said.

 

Almanasfi’s final five months in Syria are a mystery. In west London his family reported him missing; police called round at his flat, but found no trace. Like other foreign volunteers – at least 600 have gone to Syria since 2011 from at least 14 European countries including the UK.

 

Canadian Convert Opens Hijab Fashion Business

OnIslam: December 1, 2012

 

Finding Islam three years ago, Amanda Redmond, a native of Halifax, Nova Scotia, has launched a new business for hijab fashion to help her fellow Muslim women find appropriate clothes according to her faith.

 

Aspiring to offer her fellow Muslim women a modest fashion, Redmond started her small business on a Facebook profile. Titled Al-Qamar, or The Moon, her new business was named after the 54th sura of the Qur’an. Last September, she launched its official online store and has now garnered more than 1,200 Facebook fans and a growing reputation as a go-to shop for Muslim women. The shop offers an assortment of contemporary clothing and accessories for veiled Muslim women.

Protests around Canada emerge in solidarity with Egyptians

News Agencies – January 30, 2011

About 100 people showed up Sunday afternoon in front of a downtown Montreal high-rise where the consulate general of the Arab Republic of Egypt is located. Expatriate Egyptians and supporters have been gathering for the past several days at the same spot, chanting slogans and singing the Egyptian national anthem, waving Egyptian and Canadian flags and placards and calling for the immediate ouster of Mr. Mubarak, who has had an iron grip on the country for 30 years. Organizers of the Montreal demonstration vowed to return every day until Mr. Mubarak leaves.

There were similar non-violent gatherings over the weekend in several other Canadian cities. No incidents were reported by police. In Toronto on Saturday, an estimated 400 people staged a rally at Yonge-Dundas Square, chanting in Arabic with many hoisting signs that read “Egyptians in, Mubarak out.” In Vancouver, a crowd gathered at Library Square in the city’s downtown Saturday to listen to speakers and express their support for anti-government actions in Egypt.

About 100 turned out for a rally at Churchill Square in front of City Hall in Edmonton on Saturday. In Halifax, about two dozen people were reported to have showed up for a show of support at Victoria Park on Saturday. Another rally was expected to be held Sunday at Halifax’s Grand Parade.

Hijab invites suspicion for woman at Canadian airport, CAIR reports new potential issues to Obama

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) wrote President Obama a letter stating that Muslim women in hijabs may be targeted at airports.

A Muslim woman at Canada’s Halifax Stanfield International Airport was detained for four hours and interrogated harshly. She was boarding a plane to the US to see her husband in Ohio and was denied entry.

In the letter, CAIR President Nihad Awad told Obama he supports efforts to improve security, but pointed out that safety was not improved through profiling tactics.

Canadian Muslim woman refused entry into the US, claims discrimination

A Muslim woman alleges she was mistreated by border officials at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport after she was denied entry to the United States. Ayat Manna, who lives in Halifax, said she had a one-way ticket leaving Monday for Cleveland, where she was planning to spend several months to visit her husband.

The 25-year-old was held for questioning – something she said made her believe she was targeted because she was wearing a head scarf and is a Muslim woman. Border officials questioned her for more than four hours about why she was visiting the United States.

She said she was told to go home and escorted from the building by the RCMP. “I felt like I was a terrorist. Everybody was staring at me and it was the most embarrassing moment of my life.” A spokesperson for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency denied many of her claims of poor treatment.