Man guilty of attempted murder of two worshippers walking home from mosques

A man who set fire to two worshippers as they walked home from mosques in London and Birmingham is facing a lengthy prison sentence after being found guilty of attempted murder.

Mohammed Abbkr, 29, poured petrol on his victims, in their 70s and 80s, before setting them alight using a lighter.

Abbkr struck first in the capital on 27 February this year, when Hashi Odowa, aged 82, was leaving prayers at the West London Islamic Centre in Ealing. He had been in the mosque at the same time as his victim, when they both left just before 8pm.

The victim was approached by Abbkr, who was holding a Volvic water bottle containing what is believed to have been petrol. Abbkr asked the victim if he remembered him, and the victim replied no. Abbkr then said: “I swear in the name of Allah, in the name of God, you will know me.”

He then poured petrol over him, setting him ablaze with a lighter and running away. The victim threw his burning jacket into the road, before being taken to hospital with burns to his face and left hand.

Abbkr struck again on 20 March, this time targeting a Mohammed Rayaz, aged 70, who had been at the Dudley Road mosque in Birmingham.

At around 7pm, he approached Mr Rayaz, on Shenstone Road, and spoke to him, asking him if he spoke Arabic. He then poured fuel over him before setting him on fire. Mr Rayaz managed to walk to his son’s house nearby. His son opened the door and the victim said: “Son, son, someone’s put me on fire.”

He was left with serious burns to his face and neck, and in need of skin grafts to his hands and face. He’s been diagnosed with depression and PTSD, and may be left with permanent patching to his face.

Officers launched a major investigation, including taking witness statements and trawling CCTV. While near the mosque carrying out enquiries around 1pm following day, officers spotted Abbkr and recognised him from CCTV. He was arrested and charged with both attacks. When officers searched Abbkr’s home on Gillott Road, Edgbaston, they found a Volvic bottle containing a yellow liquid and a lighter in a rucksack.

At Birmingham Crown Court, Abbkr was found guilty of two charges of attempted murder. He had denied the offences on the basis of insanity. He will be sentenced on 17 November. Mohammed Ayaz, the eldest son of Mr Rayaz, said:

“One of my early memories as a child growing up was my father taking me to the park, taking me to school and spending quality time with me whilst also juggling work and family life like many great fathers in our great country.

"So, seeing my father on the evening of 20th March in the burnt state he was in was just an awful and unbearable thing to see.

“My father had kept a beard for 20 years after completing Hajj a religious pilgrimage and on that evening seeing my father’s beautiful white beard all burnt off, eyes and lips swollen up, hands burnt and seeing him half naked with no clothes on the upper body was just a very traumatic and life changing moment.

"No words can describe that moment the emotions which I was feeling, I felt so helpless and weak, no son or daughter should see their father or mother in that state.

“The unlawful use of violence and intimidation on two elderly people, in two different cities after Islamic prayers and after two separate mosques in my view were all planned in advance and carried out with precision with no concern if the victim lives or dies. Furthermore, no consideration of the surrounding public who could have been hurt also.

“My elderly mother is still traumatised and thinks that the attacker will be released early to come back to finish the job or the attacker’s family might come and attack her and us.” 

Ch Insp Haroon Chughtai, of Birmingham Police, said: “These were absolutely horrific attacks which almost defy belief in their apparent randomness and severity. It is by luck and not by design that these two men, who were simply returning home from prayers.

“Counter-terrorism officers were initially called in to investigate, given the nature of the attacks. While they have continued the investigation, we have found no evidence that Abbkr was motivated by a particular ideology, and so this has not been treated as a terrorist attack.

“Thankfully these kinds of attacks are incredibly rare, but in the aftermath, we worked closely with mosques around Birmingham to offer reassurance and listen to their concerns.

“The courage of the victims and their families has been exceptional. They have been left with physical and emotional wounds that they may never recover from, but I hope today’s verdicts will offer them some comfort.”

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