Muslim paratrooper 'feared for his life after months of racist abuse'

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A Muslim paratrooper was forced to take sanctuary in a mosque after he was assaulted and racially abused by fellow soldiers who threatened to kill him if he continued to practise his religion, an employment tribunal will be told this week.

A Muslim paratrooper was forced to take sanctuary in a mosque after he was assaulted and racially abused by fellow soldiers who threatened to kill him if he continued to practise his religion, an employment tribunal will be told this week.

Timur Kalayaci, 28, a former private in the Parachute Regiment who had been earmarked as officer material, claims he was subjected to months of racist abuse orchestrated by his superiors. On one occasion, he says, he was head-butted by a comrade and another tried to run him over. He was so frightened that he slept in a mosque for weeks, fearing for his life while stationed in barracks at Litchfield and Catterick.

One sergeant held a knife to his throat and told him that he would cut his beard off if he tried to grow one, he claims. Another told him to "lock myself in a cupboard so as to lose some of my complexion".

In a separate incident, a corporal threw a bottle of white correction fluid at him and said: "You're not British. Go and put this over your body".

Mr Kalayaci, who has lived all his life in Hackney, east London, and is of Turkish descent, says he had never experienced racism until he joined the British Army in 1997, when he claims he was regularly called "nigger", "Paki" and "coon".

He only made an official complaint to the Army after, he claims, one of his tormentors made two attempts to run him over, once in a military Land Rover and once in a private car. The soldier was subsequently demoted and sent to Northern Ireland but little was done to protect Mr Kalayaci.

The private was discharged from the Army in September after doctors diagnosed severe stress. "Despite the policies of religious tolerance propounded in the Army's leaflets, I experienced many difficulties in getting halal meals. Chefs either burnt my Halal meals or failed to prepare them. I was compelled to go hungry on many occasions. I was never issued with halal ration packs, although the MoD leaflet clearly states that they are 'readily available'."

On one occasion, he alleges, a corporal tried to force-feed him pork. Another taunted him: "Why the fuck did you join the British Army if you won't practise the religion? Get away from me before I do something I regret."

These latest allegations of violent bullying among Britain's servicemen comes at a time when police are investigating the suspicious deaths of four soldiers at the Deepcut barracks in Surrey. The Army is also trying to rebuild an image of racial tolerance after a number of high-profile allegations of racism.

In May 2000, another Muslim soldier, who was racially abused by his regiment during the 1990-91 Gulf War, won a five-figure pay-out from the Army in an out-of-court settlement.

Nasar Khan, 35, who helped to interrogate Iraqi prisoners for the Allies, was told during the conflict that he was fighting for "the wrong side".

The former lance-bombardier alleged that he had been subjected to unremitting discrimination, including taunts and obstruction of his career, since he joined the Army in 1988. During his service with the Royal Artillery, he was routinely referred to as a "black" and "Paki bastard" and "a Muslim shite".

Three years ago, the Army launched an advertising campaign aimed at attracting recruits from non-white backgrounds. Army rations now include provisions for soldiers who cannot eat certain foods for religious reasons, and non-Christian religious holidays are now recognised.

But black and Asian servicemen and women still make up just over 1 per cent of the British armed forces, well below its target of 5 per cent set for the end of this year.

Mr Kalayaci, who is suing the Army for racial discrimination, said: "I believed, in all honesty, the British Army and their promise of equal opportunity and non-discrimination. My health is deteriorating. I have become a burden on my family, rather than rearing my children. I am unable to stabilise my own self. I have lost my career and know nothing else. I did not grow up thinking I would one day become a sick dependent. I was sure I would become the best in serving my country. I had always yearned to wear the maroon beret and wings. I feel I have been robbed of my life."

Sarah Culshaw, of CCL Solicitors, who represents Mr Kalayaci, said: "This is a terrible case of a bright young man whom the Army assessed as 'officer material', who was desperate to serve his country."

She added: "The Army says they have equal opportunity procedures, yet the way the Army failed to deal with Mr Kalayaci's torment clearly shows that they were not put into practice. Mr Kalayaci suffered so badly that he has had a serious breakdown and is on medication."

Mr Kalayaci said he had committed himself to giving 22 years of service to "Queen and country, yet because my race and religion was somewhat different to others I am now helpless in the comfort of anti- depressants and sleeping tablets. My wife tries to reassure me that in time I'll be well again but the reflection of the mirror tells me something else."

The Army is defending the claim of racial discrimination at Norwich employment tribunal, saying that Mr Kalayaci's allegations of discrimination are unfounded.