Last week I was at Southwark Crown Court to observe the harrowing trial of Brian Donegan who last August launched a vicious unprovoked attack on the Imam of Regents Park mosque, Shiekh Mohammed El-Salamouni. Sheikh El-Salamouni was left lying on the floor of the mosque with horrific injuries and is now blind for life. In its symbolism to those in the Muslim community, the attack would be comparable for Roman Catholics to an attack on an archbishop at Westminster Cathedral. To add to the local community’s distress, the fall-out from the attack is that Imams from Al-Azhar University who have provided us with the Imams at Regents Park for many years could now leave London if the Egyptian authorities do not feel they will be adequately protected in London .
It is of scant consolation to Sheikh El-Salamouni, but Brian Donegan will be imprisoned indefinitely in a secure hospital after he was declared insane by the court. His punishment and the fact he will spend the rest of life behind bars needs needs to be properly explained to the local community and users of the mosque, some of whom are concerned that the lack of a traditional “guilty” verdict means Mr Donegan has somehow got off lightly. This of course is not the case. It would take the intervention of the Home Secretary for Mr Donegan’s sentence ever to be revisited – something I do not envisage happening and something I will do everything in my gift to prevent.
I have written to Jacqui Smith the present Home Secretary to press home this fact and to emphasise to her that the likes of Mr Donegan must not be allowed to harm our excellent record of harmonious community relations here in London.
Clearly , in the meantime, security needs to be improved in Regents Park mosque and reviewed at other mosques and religious buildings . In light of this horrific experience , it is important that we at least have security outside the room when an Imam is giving counsel – along the lines of that given to MP’s during their surgeries. Mosques should be encouraged to liaise with local police and Safer Neighbourhood Teams for advice on ensuring that religious buildings are as secure as possible for both staff and worshippers.
I sincerely hope this is not the prelude of us losing the Imams from Al-Azhar University in Cairo at Regents Park mosque. Over the years they have provided an invaluable service to the local Muslim community, stretching right back to the appointment of the much-respected Zaki Badawi as Chief Imam in 1978 .
l have written to the Foreign Secretary to outlining my concerns and to ask him to reassure the Egyptian authorities that their Imams can in future continue to feel safe in London.