Lifestyle & Belief

The bizarre murder of a Muslim grandfather

LONDON — When British Army private Lee Rigby was publicly butchered outside his barracks in south London by Islamic radicals on May 22, there was a general concern among the British authorities and public that this might lead to a violent backlash against the Muslim community. And indeed there has been a spike in attacks on mosques, although not particularly violent.

When a nail bomb went off near a Birmingham mosque three weeks ago the worst fears seemed to be confirmed. It was the third bombing incident in and around Britain's second largest city.

But then came a bizarre twist. The police arrested a Ukrainian man, Pavlo Lapshyn, and charged him with the three bombings and one other crime: the murder of 82-year-old grandfather Mohammed Saleem back in April.

Even stranger is the fact that Lapshyn had only arrived in Britain a few days before allegedly knifing the elderly Saleem, a Muslim, to death.

The 25-year-old is a prize-winning post-graduate student from Dnipropetrovsk in western Ukraine. He was in Britain to work on a special training course at Delcam, a software manufacturer, specializing in products that help drive heavy machinery.

Anti-terrorist officers of the West Midlands Police initially investigated Lapshyn for the bombings. It was only in searching his house that they found evidence that linked him to the murder of Saleem.

That murder investigation had gone nowhere for almost three months. Police now understand it was because the alleged murderer was so new to the area.

Lapshyn's background is a bit of a mystery. He is described in the Daily Mail by his parents and a teacher as being very unlikely to engage in this kind of terrorism.

But Ukraine has a very strong and violent anti-immigrant subculture, points out Fiyaz Mughal of Faith Matters

"Was he activated here or did he come with it?" Mughal asks. That question has no answer yet. However, Mughal notes, it wouldn't be uncommon for someone from that part of the world to be challenged by the ethnic make-up of contemporary Britain.

"One thing we have noticed with people from eastern Europe is that they arrive in Britain and the super diversity here is something they can't handle".

If Lapshyn brought prejudices from his homeland to Britain he was living in exactly the wrong metropolitan area. A little more than 21 percent of Birmingham's residents are Muslim. It is the highest concentration of Muslims in the country. By comparison London is 12.4 percent Muslim.

The Birmingham Muslim community is diverse and not one where you can judge a book by its cover. Many men wear traditional Pakistani dress and have long beards, but this outward sign of religious traditionalism does not mean they are unassimilated. Saleem, a respected elder, preached tolerance and the value of education for all his children including his daughters.

He was a voice of moderation as the community has been buffeted in the last decade by the anger directed towards it following the attacks of 7/7; and its own frustrations about British government policy, particularly the invasion of Iraq and UK support for American drone strikes in Pakistan.

The arrest came just in time, says Mughal: "There was a lot of distrust that had crept in to the community over the police's failure to make headway in the case. People were demanding, 'Why hasn't someone been arrested?'"

Now both the police and the community understand that there was no break in the case because the police had difficulty detecting such a recent arrival. "Call it luck or whatever but the community has calmed down," says Mughal.