City shares grief of 'hero' father who lost son in riots


2 May 2011
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BIRMINGHAM, United Kingdom — A shocked community scarred by riots lined the streets here Thursday to support a father hailed as a hero for his dignified response to his son's death.

Tariq Jahan's youngest son, 21-year-old Haroon Jahan, was one of three men of South Asian origin killed when the worst riots in living memory rocked Birmingham, Britain's second city.

Dozens of bunches of flowers were laid around two lampposts by the entrance to the petrol station which the young men were guarding from looters early Wednesday before they were mown down by a car travelling at high speed.

The deaths, in the inner-city suburb of Winson Green and widely believed to be at the hands of looters of Afro-Caribbean descent, stunned a racially mixed area where relations between different communities are largely good.

Skyrocketing tensions threatened to erupt into a wave of inter-ethnic violence late Wednesday as young members of the Asian community vowed to take revenge.

Even police have acknowledged that it was only an emotional plea from Jahan not to seek revenge for his son's death that lowered the temperature and saved the area from a second night of violence.

"I don't want there to be any more trouble, anyone getting hurt," he told an angry crowd of some 150 men, some wearing hoods and preparing to march through the area.

"I don't want any of you to fight," he said. "My son died defending the community he lived in. We're part of this community so please go home."

Police investigating the deaths said Thursday they had arrested two youths aged 16 and 17 and a 26-year-old man on suspicion of murder, while a fourth man arrested a day earlier was released on bail pending further inquiries.

The deaths were one of the most shocking incidents in four days of riots which started in London Saturday before spreading through the capital and on to other cities.

The Asian, Afro-Caribbean and white communities in Winson Green have in recent years got on well, locals said, but the deaths of Haroon Jahan, Shahzad Ali, 30, and his brother, Abdul Musavir, 31, shattered the harmony.

"Tensions were at boiling point last night," community worker Raj Rattu told AFP.

"There were probably about 50, 60 Asian lads covered up with hoods who wanted to take revenge... they wanted to go and track down Afro-Caribbean lads."

Sandra Brooks, a woman of Afro-Caribbean descent who lives next door to Tariq Jahan, was among a small group standing round the grieving father as he made his statement, in a show of unity.

"Rumours were going round, tension was getting high, people didn't know what to expect," said the 41-year-old mental health worker.

"I'm just glad that we have had a peaceful night last night and that people have heard the family's message."

Many in the area recognised that the murders were not a racially-motivated attack and were simply the work of a handful of crazed looters, but nevertheless feared that efforts to build a harmonious community had been damaged.

"This has probably put back race relations five years," said Rattu.

There was also disbelief that the fatal police shooting of a man 190 kilometres away in London a week earlier sparked a chain of events which led to the death of three men in Birmingham.

"The first killing happened in Tottenham and then it came all the way to Birmingham," said Kulvinder Singh, a 43-year-old shop owner, shaking his head in disbelief.

Community leaders as well as locals have expressed fears that the violence could continue to stoke tensions between different ethnic groups.

"We have to be on guard that this does not lead to further fractures," said Bishop Joe Aldred, who worked for more than a decade with Christian communities in Birmingham.

He added: "We do not want the legacy for our children and grandchildren to be one of animosity."

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