Muslim voters have potential ‘big role’ in 39 seats in UK election

A Union flag lies from a flagpole opposite the Elizabeth Tower, commonly reffered to as Big Ben, at the Houses of Parliament in central London on Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated 08 June 2017

Muslim voters have potential ‘big role’ in 39 seats in UK election

LONDON: Muslims voting in the UK polls could have a significant impact in as many as 39 constituencies, a community group said ahead of today’s general election.
Millions of Brits are set to go out to vote on Thursday, with Prime Minster Theresa May and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn the front-runners in a race that has divided the pollsters.
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) identified 39 constituencies where votes by the Muslim community may have a high or medium “impact.”
That could be all the more significant considering that some polls have shown the divide between the two main parties narrowing. A poll published by YouGov on Tuesday found that May is on track to win 304 seats in Britain’s Parliament, short of a 326-seat majority. Her party had 330 seats when the election was called in April.
Miqdaad Versi, assistant secretary general of the MCB, said it was impossible to say whether votes by Muslims could actually swing the election.
But he said it could help decide some important seats, including some of the 39 constituencies identified.
“The Muslim community’s votes do really matter,” Versi told Arab News.
“If there is not much of a swing either way, then in these 39 constituencies, the Muslim (voter) turnout might play a very big role.”
Some of these seats could “be an important part of the overall puzzle after the election,” he added.
Historically favoring Labour
Versi pointed out that the Muslim community is not one single “homogenous group,” with different people voting different ways.
“There is no one single Muslim vote. There is no block vote,” he said.
But historically, the majority of UK Muslims have voted for Labour, which is currently the opposition party, Versi added.
“Many Muslims do happen to have very similar views on certain issues,” he said. These issues include concerns over Islamophobia in Britain and demands for the right to wear certain clothing and eat halal food.
“It is very much part of the democratic process for a member of parliament or a parliamentary candidate to consider the views of Muslim communities and of any of their constituents,” Versi said.
He also pointed out that British Muslims share many of the concerns of the wider population, on issues such as health care.
Higher turnout expected
This election has also seen higher political engagement among UK Muslims, Versi said, although he pointed out this was based on anecdotal evidence.
“This election has invigorated many Muslim communities — many want to get involved, many want to participate, many want to canvass and support one of the parties,” he said.
“I would not be surprised if the turnout from the communities in this election is higher than it has been previously.”
Security and the terror threat to Britain has emerged as the key campaign issue in the election, after three deadly terror attacks in the country in as many months.
Versi said that British Muslims were just as concerned over this issue as other members of society.
“Muslim communities care about security like everybody else. It is a core concern. When people ask ‘what should Muslim communities do now?’ one of the things that people are doing is praying that they are not victims of the next terror attack. That’s the reality… all of us are in the same boat,” he said.
“We are strongly encouraging Muslim communities to go out and vote, participate in the democratic process, make sure their voice is heard. Because if there is ever a time for your voice to be heard it is in an election.”


Two accomplices in Kenya’s Westgate attack jailed for 33 and 18 years

Updated 30 October 2020

Two accomplices in Kenya’s Westgate attack jailed for 33 and 18 years

  • Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa, both 31, were found guilty on October 7 of conspiring with and supporting the four assailants
  • The convicted men were in regular contact with the attackers who at midday on September 21, 2013, stormed the upscale Westgate mall in the Kenyan capital

NAIROBI: A Kenyan court Friday handed prison terms of 33 and 18 years respectively to two men accused of conspiring with the Al-Shabab extremists who attacked Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in 2013, killing 67 people.

Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa, both 31, were found guilty on October 7 of conspiring with and supporting the four assailants from the Somalia-based extremist group who died in what was then Kenya’s worst terrorist attack in 15 years.

The accused asked the judge for leniency, saying they had already served seven years behind bars and had family to care for.

“Despite mitigation by their defense lawyers on their innocence, the offense committed was serious, devastating, destructive, that called for a punishment by the court,” Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi told a Nairobi courtroom.

He sentenced the men to 18 years for conspiracy and 18 for supporting extremists, but ordered they serve both terms together. Abdi was also given an additional 15 years for two counts of possessing extremist propaganda material on his laptop.

He will serve 26 years and Mustafa 11, taking into account their pre-trial detention.

The convicted men were in regular contact with the attackers who at midday on September 21, 2013, stormed the upscale Westgate mall in the Kenyan capital and began throwing grenades and firing indiscriminately on shoppers and business owners.

A four-day siege ensued — much of it broadcast live on television — during which Kenyan security forces tried to flush out the gunmen and take back the high-end retail complex.

Although there was no specific evidence Abdi and Mustafa had provided material help, the court was satisfied their communication with the attackers amounted to supporting the armed rampage, and justified the guilty verdict for conspiracy.

The marathon trial began in January 2014. A third accused was acquitted of all charges.
The Westgate attack was claimed by Al-Shabab in retaliation for Kenya intervening military over the border in Somalia, where the extremist group was waging a bloody insurgency against the fragile central government.

Kenya is a major contributor of troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which in 2011 drove Al-Shabab out of Mogadishu and other urban strongholds after a months-long offensive.

In a car the attackers drove to Westgate, police found evidence of newly-activated SIM cards used by the gunmen. Their communications were traced, including calls to Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa.

A fourth defendant, Adan Mohammed Abdikadir, was acquitted in early 2019 for lack of evidence.

The Westgate attack was the deadliest incident of violent extremism on Kenyan soil since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, which killed 213 people.

But since the assault on the shopping complex, Al-Shabab has perpetrated further atrocities in Kenya against civilian targets.

In April 2015, gunmen entered Garissa University and killed 148 people, almost all of them students. Many were shot point blank after being identified as Christians.

In January 2019, the militants struck Nairobi again, hitting the Dusit Hotel and surrounding offices and killing 21 people.

Al-Shabab warned in a January statement that Kenya “will never be safe” as long as its troops were stationed in Somalia, and threatened further attacks on tourists and US interests.

That same month, Al-Shabab attacked a US military base in northeast Kenya in a cross-border raid, killing three Americans and destroying a number of aircraft.