SOME relatives of suspected suicide bomber Abdul Waheed Majeed are still hopeful he is alive and will return home despite his brother appearing on national TV to claim he was a hero for carrying out an attack in Syria.
Arif Syed, a leader of Crawley’s Muslim community, says that not all family members share the views of Majeed’s brother, Hafeez, who appeared on BBC2’s Newsnight earlier this month.
Majeed, 41, is believed to be responsible for a suicide bombing at a prison in the Syrian city of Aleppo, which reportedly allowed hundreds of prisoners to escape.
Hafeez said on the programme last Tuesday night that his brother was a hero as he was fighting the Syrian regime.
It was the first time a family member had accepted that the dad-of-three was responsible.
However, Mr Syed, who is close friends with Majeed’s uncle, Mohammad Jamil, said: “The position is still the same. There is still no evidence, DNA or otherwise, from the officials to say it definitely happened [that Majeed was involved].
“The family at large – I am good friends with his uncle – are still hopeful. Within the family there are different views.”
Hafeez told Newsnight his brother was not a threat to the UK and never had been.
He added that the bombing was carried out to free prisoners of President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.
Speaking on the programme, he said: “If my brother had been a British soldier and there were British people in that prison and [he carried out] the act of heroism or bravery that he did, I know he would have been awarded the posthumous Victoria Cross.”
Majeed had gone to Syria as part of a humanitarian aid mission last summer.
His family believed he was helping in refugee camps but got a phone call shortly before the bombing, when Majeed told them he might not be able to contact them again for some time.
As well as Majeed’s house in Martyrs Avenue, Langley Green, homes in Langley Drive, Langley Green; Punch Copse Road, Three Bridges; and St Joan Close, Langley Green; were searched by counter terrorism officers following the suicide bombing, but this didn’t lead to any arrests.
Crawley mosques have, as a result of the bombing, banned worshippers from going on aid missions to Syria, fearing that they could be radicalised once in the Middle East.
The attack on Aleppo Prison is believed to have been led by Chechen fighters from the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist group affiliated with al-Qaeda.
A video posted online has shown an English-speaking man resembling Majeed standing next to a truck that is later seen driving towards the prison, seconds before an explosion.
But his family have previously said this is not conclusive evidence that he was responsible.
Neighbours of Majeed have mixed feelings about the attack.
Muslim residents living in Martyrs Avenue said they did not wish to comment on whether they agreed with Hafeez’s comments because of the uncertainty surrounding the situation.
One Muslim resident, who asked not to be named, explained: “To be honest, people just want to get on with their lives, but also people don’t know what actually happened.
“No one really wants to talk about it out of respect to the family because there is still no evidence to say that he did it.”
Other residents in Martyrs Avenue said that if Majeed did carry out the attack he should not be considered a hero regardless of his intentions.
Frances Beckinsale, 77, said: “It’s an act of terror, isn’t it? It’s as simple as that.”
Frederick Whiteman, 85, added: “It is an act of terrorism. It is a suicide bombing. It’s the same sort of thing, I think [as an attack on people]. I think he was just a bit misguided.”
Farakh Jamal, a trustee at Langley Green Mosque, said the uncertainty around exactly what happened has made it difficult for the Muslim community to know how to react.
He said: “We have been shocked in hearing the news [that he is suspected of the attack].
“However, there has been a mixed reaction because, like any community, we don’t want the media spotlight it has brought. A lot of people have been asking probing questions.
“It is sad if a member of the Muslim community has been radicalised in the way the media is portraying it.
“He had taken it upon himself to relieve some of the hardship and suffering which is going on [in Syria]. From what I understand [from the Newsnight programme] he was influenced by the suffering he saw there.
“If there is something which would drive someone to that extreme it is going to be graphic suffering.”
Mr Jamal said the incident, if it is what it seems, has divided opinion because of the reported nature of the attack – that the bomber was trying to free prisoners rather than attempting to kill people.
He said: “What he [Hafeez] was saying on the programme, about if it had been British citizens in jail then he would have been awarded the Victoria Cross, is quite a striking point if you think about it.”
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