Imam removal may have sparked Longford mosque row, court hears

Longford Courthouse.

Longford Courthouse

A court has heard claims of how the planned removal of an Imam at a Longford mosque led to a row witnessed by up to 200 muslims over two years ago.

Six men appeared at a special sitting of Longford District Court last Thursday and Friday charged with assault and public order offences following an incident at the Longford Community Islamic Centre, Townspark Industrial Estate, Longford on August 21 2015.

Muhammad Abid Hussain, 7 Cloverwell, Edgeworthstown, Longford, Quasim Rasool, Ahsan Rasool and Ghulan Rasool, all of 4 Cloverwell, Edgeworthstown, Longford, Muhammad Khalid, 11 Cloverwell, Edgeworthstown, Longford and Mohammad Tariq, 19 Cloverwell, Edgeworthstown, Longford were all charged with assaulting Muhammad Asim.

All six have pleaded not guilty to the charges before the court.

Two of the men, Quasim Rasool and Muhammad Khalid were also charged with public order as a result of the incident.

The court was told both gardaí and members of the media were present on the day on foot of claims that a disturbance may arise.

Garda Michael Belton said he noticed a commotion taking place at around 2pm shortly after members of the local media had gone inside.

He said once inside, he observed what he described as the “remnants of a row” during which he approached the victim, Mr Asim.

“He (victim) was bleeding from the head,” he said.

“He looked like a man who had got a bit of a beating and his robe was ripped apart.”
Garda Belton said he also observed two of the defendants, Quasim Rasool and Muhammad Khalid who were appearing to incite or “cajole the crowd”.

The garda said during the course of the ensuing investigation, he canvassed up to 40 witnesses for statements.

Many of those requests, he said, were spurned due to the sense of humiliation the entire episode had brought on the local Muslim community.

“People were more ashamed as to what had happened and where it happened and they were not forthcoming,” he said.

The local garda, who has been an almost ever present with Longford's community policing division for the best part of a decade, told of how the incident required him to call for additional garda back-up.

In the midst of that, Garda Belton said he approached two of the defendants, Quasim Rasool and Muhammad Khalid, who he described as being “quite argumentative” on the day.

The latter, he claimed, had been the more vocal of the two, causing him to issue a Section 8 order to leave the area.

Under measured and on occasions vigorous cross examination from defence counsel Niall Flynn, BL, Garda Belton was pressed as to why claims surrounding Mr Khalid being the main aggressor of the two men was not contained in his statement.

He was also quizzed about what appeared to be conflicting claims from a number of prosecution witnesses including the victim, Muhammad Asim over whether another defendant Ahsan Rasool had struck Mr Asim with a ring.

“Mr Asim gave clear evidence to the court that the defendant did not know what was in Mr Rasool's hand,” said Mr Flynn.

There was evidence too from Garda Colm Satchwell.

He was one of the first on the scene after receiving a call for assistance from Garda Belton.
Garda Satchwell said his duty on the day had been to ensure worshippers vacated the mosque as quickly as possible while preventing others from returning inside.

He concurred with Garda Belton's view concerning the alleged demeanour of Mr Khalid.

“He (Mr Khalid) didn't comply with the direction (Section 8) of Garda Michael Belton,” he said.

“He continued to be aggressive with other patrons present.”

Asked as to his overall take on what he had witnessed on August 21 2015, Garda Satchwell said it was an event that he would “never forget.”

Sajid Amin, a brother-in-law of the victim, Mr Asim, recalled seeing Muhammad Abid Hussain striking

Mr Asim, who had seconds earlier asked his alleged attacker to sit down.

Defence counsel, Niall Flynn BL, took issue however with Mr Sajid's claim in the witness box of seeing chanting or “pumping” going on inside the Mosque.

Mr Flynn termed it as “unbelievable” surrounding Mr Sajid's claim that Mosque-goers simply sat as Mr Asim and Mr Abid were involved in the ensuing scuffle.

The court also heard from the mosque’s former Imam, Asif Nafaz said he believed a decision taken by the Mosque’s committee to relieve him of his duties in the days leading up the incident may have prompted the row.

The mosque’s trustee and chairman, Dr Syed Ali said when the Imam announced his departure, one of the men, Ahsan Rasool said the committee “should be punished physically” for the decision.

“There were women and young children there the other side of the curtain and my own family there. People were crying and shaking,” he said.

The case before Judge John Cheatle is expected to return on October 19 following last Friday’s adjournment.

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