Birmingham family mark 10th anniversary of grandfather Mohammed Saleem’s Islamophobic murder in city
Today marks the 10th anniversary of one of the worst terror incidents in the recent history of Birmingham when an elderly and fragile Muslim man was knifed to death by a neo-Nazi terrorist who wanted to “start a race war”.
On April 29, 2013, white supremacist terrorist Pavlo Lapshyn stabbed and murdered Birmingham pensioner Mohammed Saleem outside Green Lane Masjid in Small Heath, as the elderly grandfather walked home, in the hope of “increasing racial tensions”.
The savagery and viciousness of the unprovoked and premeditated assault by Lapshyn shocked the people of Birmingham, and left sections of the British Muslim community in mourning and living in fear.
The savage terror attack was the climax to a planned operation during which Lapshyn had planted bombs in three different mosques across the West Midlands, within five days of arriving in the country.
Lapshyn was a PhD student from Dnipropetrovsk in Ukraine, in the UK on a work placement with software company Delcam, yet he concocted and executed a racist plot to target Birmingham’s Muslim community which led to the horrific murder of Mohammed Saleem.
Lapshyn was known for racist and neo-Nazi activity in Ukraine which included taking part in terror camps, and was later found guilty of attempting to blow up mosques in Wolverhampton, Tipton and Walsall during his brief stay in the UK.
If these terror attacks had been successful the number of casualties would have been in the hundreds.
His vicious and fatal assault on Mr Saleem was carried out not long after he settled in Birmingham where he enrolled into university and was accepted on a work placement.
Mr Saleem had been walking alone near his Small Heath home when he was spotted by Lapshyn, who was armed with a hunting knife. The cowardly neo-Nazi terrorist ambushed and brutally stabbed the elderly man three times in the back.
The force of the attack was so vicious that one of the wounds resulted with the hunting knife passing all the way through Mr Saleem’s body.
Lapshyn later told detectives that he decided to kill Mr Saleem because he “was a Muslim and there were no witnesses.”
In statements during sentencing, Lapshyn said that his reasoning behind the murder and bombings was that “they are not white – and I am white”.
82-year-old Mr Saleem was a grandfather and a respected member of the community in Birmingham’s Small Heath and Bordesley Green areas. He arrived from Pakistan to the UK in 1957 in answer to a call for citizens from Commonwealth nations to help rebuild Great Britain after World War II.
Pre-retirement, he worked at the Wimbush Bakery in Little Green Lane, which used to be situated directly opposite Green Lane Masjid where Mr Saleem prayed. He would often take triple shifts at the bread factory to support his family.
He was a much-loved figure and was known for his charity and community work over the years.
Over 5,000 people attended his funeral as Mr Saleem was laid to rest in Handsworth Cemetery.
The callous slaughter of the pensioner left his loved ones devastated and, after a lengthy investigation, Lapshyn was caught, tried and imprisoned.
During the sentencing Lapshyn was told by High Court judge Mr Justice Sweeney: “You clearly hold extreme right-wing white supremacist views, and you were motivated to commit the offences by religious and racial hatred in the hope that you would ignite racial conflict and cause Muslims to leave the area where you were living.”
Despite being in prison, Lapshyn continued with his terrorist activities.
In 2020, the convicted killer pleaded guilty to making an explosive substance while serving his sentence in HMP Wakefield. Laphysn admitted to prison officers he had been preparing chemicals.
The terrorist is known to the authorities to be an experienced chemical engineer. Laphysn used several ingredients including salt, copper wire and a pencil to produce an explosive substance according to a professional expert.
Judge Tom Bayliss described Lapshyn as a “highly intelligent man” and shockingly did not add time to his sentence following Laphysn’s nefarious work on producing an explosive cocktail in prison.
Following the murder of Mr Saleem in 2013, an initial police investigation was criticised by family members for failing to identify the attack as a hate crime.
Community vigils in the city added pressure and eventually the attack was viewed from a racially and religiously motivated perspective. This led to the discovery of the failed mosque bomb attacks which were designed to ignite a “race war”.
Maz Saleem, the youngest child of the tragic victim, loved her father immensely and has become an anti-racism campaigner following the horrific murder of her father. She has spoken out against institutional racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia and far-right extremists since 2013.
In an interview with I Am Birmingham, Ms Saleem said: “It just seems like yesterday, I mean everything comes back. We relive it most days because we live on the street where it happened, we walk past the scene everyday, so it is very raw.
“We always feel like we wish we were there, we wish we could’ve stopped it. It was literally a stone’s throw away from our house, you don’t expect this to happen, here in the UK on our streets.”
Ms Saleem is also frustrated at the way the media and government ministers continue to whip up dangerous rhetoric that targets the British Muslim community.
She contrasted media coverage, and the response from authorities, to her father’s murder with other terror related killings where the official reaction is markedly different: “Lee Rigby was murdered three weeks after my father’s brutal terrorist murder, and Theresa May [the Home Secretary] went out with a Cobra meeting, Muslims were condemning the attack, there were meetings across the country, the media went crazy… we as Muslims had to apologise for this.
“But when my father’s terrorist murder [happened] in a similar attack on our streets in the UK – and also, Pavlo [Lapshyn] went on a bombing campaign… he put nail bombs outside three mosques – and yet, we didn’t get the same publicity, it was very quiet on the media front; and we need to challenge the media because this constant Islamophobic rhetoric that they keep putting out is not on.
“When Muslims are being murdered on our streets, when mosques are being bombed and graffitied, these are not being reported, so we really need to challenge the media and our politicians.”
She added: “When my father, Mohammed Saleem, first came to Britain as a young, handsome Pakistani man, he worked at the steelwork’s factory in Aston, Birmingham.
“Dad loved and respected this country and was so proud to be British. He never had a bad word to say about this nation.
“Devastatingly, at the delicate age of 82, my father was singled out on his way home from the local mosque after Ishaa prayers. He was targeted on the road he lived for most of his life, by a terrorist who had only been in the country for five days.
“He was singled out by a known Ukrainian neo-Nazi terrorist who was still allowed to come to the UK. A man who had shaken the hand of the British ambassador in Ukraine and then stabbed my fragile father to death and continued his violent terrorism over three months, placing nail bombs outside three mosques in Walsall, Wolverhampton and Tipton.
“And after his arrest, Lapshyn told police he wanted to start a race war in the UK.”
On the 10th anniversary of her beloved father’s death Ms Saleem is still seeking answers and demanding justice.
She is deeply disturbed at the “double standards and hypocrisy by the British state” and says things have gotten worse rather than better since the death of her father in 2013.
“Increasingly racist and Islamophobic laws and policies are being pushed through by the government.
“The Shawcross Report revealed that the majority of terrorists are white and far-right, yet the government insists on targeting Muslims, whipping up the kind of hate that leads to my father’s murder.
“Statistics show that far-right extremists are more active in Britain and accounted for 41% of terrorism arrests last year. Yet the previous Home Secretary Priti Patel expanded the Prevent Programme, claiming it doesn’t focus enough on alleged Islamic extremists.
“The current Home Secretary Suella Braverman scapegoats Pakistani Muslim men.”
Ms Saleem has campaigned for an official definition of Islamophobia but the government has failed to address this serious matter.
The shocking rise in Islamophobia and hate crime has caused fear within the British Muslim community and the threat posed by far right extremists and their ideologies are not being taken seriously either by police or government departments according to Ms Saleem.
“My family found out the hard way that we cannot stop ideologies crossing borders. The UK allowed someone with a known history of neo-Nazism and bomb making skills to travel to Britain and cause devastation and destruction in the West Midlands,” said Ms Saleem.
“It’s not good enough to condemn the murder of my father – the government and media have to recognise the role they play in the toxic climate that facilitated his murder; one that continues to downplay, and sometimes support, far-right ideology and demonise ordinary Muslims and minorities.”
Tragically, since the murder of Mr Saleem 10 years ago in Birminghm, incidents of hate crime and Islamophobia continue in the city as mosques and worshippers are targeted.
Two elderly Muslim men were savagely attacked during the holy month of Ramadan as they walked home from their local mosques after evening prayers.
One victim, 70-year-old grandfather Mohammed Rayaz was set on fire in Edgbaston on 20 March while another elderly Muslim man, aged 73, was hospitalised after a brutal attack in the Kings Heath area of Birmingham on 29 March.