Families of those killed by Birmingham looters appeal for restraint

The grieving relatives of three men run down by a car outside a petrol station want justice, not vengeance
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The Independent Online

"I want to be able to bury him so that he is at rest, but the police cannot release the body," said Khansa Ali, 22, the pregnant wife of one of the three men mown down in Birmingham in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

"I didn't want a post-mortem because it is against Islam, and now I just want bury my husband."

Ms Ali, who is four months pregnant and finds herself widowed half a year after coming to Britain from Rawalpindi in Pakistan to begin a life with her new husband, spent yesterday mourning at the Allens Road mosque with her husband's distraught family and friends, trying to picture a life in England with a new baby but no husband.

The tiny mosque is a five-minute drive from the Jet petrol station in Winson Green where her husband, Shahzad, 30, his brother, Abdul Musavir Khan, 31, and a third man, Haroon Jahan, 21, were hit and killed while trying to protect local shops from looting and vandalism during Tuesday night's violence.

The tension in the city's streets on Wednesday was palpable as threats of racial violence and recriminations escalated within hours of the murders. But by yesterday, one man had helped restore some calm. Tariq Jahan, father of Haroon, may have singlehandedly stopped parts of Birmingham from self-combusting last night with his unforgettable plea for peace, according to the chief constable of West Midlands Police.

Speaking outside the petrol station after meeting Mr Jahan and his family, who live just around the corner, Chief Constable Chris Sims was full of praise for Mr Jahan's intervention.

"An awful lot of work was being done yesterday by communities across Birmingham," he said. "But I think most of us would see that the intervention he felt able to make, which was one of the most powerful, generous and far-sighted interventions I have ever seen, at a moment of absolute grief and devastation, was decisive in terms of Birmingham not suffering tension and violence between communities."

Yesterday detectives held three more men, aged 16, 17 and 26, on suspicion of the murders. A fourth man, 32, arrested on Wednesday after he allegedly torched the car which was driven into the three men, was bailed after being questioned for 36 hours. This brings the number of people arrested in the West Midlands to nearly 400, of whom 26 were sentenced during Wednesday's all-night sitting at Solihull Court.

Mr Jahan, now a reluctant hero, publicly accepted condolences from Afro-Caribbean community leaders last night and reiterated his opposition to violence. Another call for calm was made, albeit less publicly, by the father of the two dead brothers.

Ghazanfar Ali, 63, speaking for the first time through an interpreter, appeared frailer than his years as he stood outside the mosque, where dozens had gathered to pay respects for a second day. "I want everyone to pray for my children; that's all the family now wants because there is nothing else we can do. I saw them lying on the floor with my own two eyes but I still can't believe that they are dead."

His only remaining son, Abdul Quddoos Khan, 33, was chain-smoking in an attempt to stay calm. He says he spent Wednesday night convincing young, angry Muslim men that revenge and violence was not what his family wanted.

"I am angry but violence wouldn't achieve anything except make another mother and father lose their child; what good would that do? We have to stay calm; everyone has to stay calm because we are looking for justice."

Sumera Ali, 25, the only sister of the dead brothers, is adamant that they are martyrs because they died protecting the mosque. "They were popular, really funny and bubbly; the house feels empty and will never be the same again. But they died protecting us so I am proud of them. I just want to bury them now; it would make us all feel better."

There was an uneasy calm in Birmingham last night but the large police presence cannot last for ever, and so, somehow, different communities must learn to trust each other again. Robert Branson, 63, from Perry Common, was one of dozens of people, Afro-Caribbean, Asian and white, who came to pay their respects and lay flowers where the three men were slain. Mr Branson's card read: "From one father to another father, I feel your pain."