London, Jul 29: The invitation to a Pakistani cleric to an anti-terror meet in the UK earlier this month has triggered controversy as it emerged that he had praised the actions of an Islamist extremist in the past.
Hassan Haseeb ur Rehman attended the 'Counter Terrorism Conference' on July 12 in Manchester alongside UK police chiefs and family members of a victim of the ISIS-claimed terror attack on an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena last year, which had claimed 23 lives.
According to The Sunday Times, Rehman led a "high-profile campaign" in Pakistan in praise of Mumtaz Qadri, who had killed Punjab governor Salman Taseer in 2011 for wanting a dialogue on the country's strict blasphemy laws.
Qadri, who shot Taseer 28 times saying it was his religious duty, was executed in 2016.
Sara Khan, the UK's lead Commissioner for Countering Extremism, told the newspaper: "Rehman attended and spoke at the funeral of Qadri and described him as a martyr.
"There is no defence or justification for celebrating an ideologically motivated assassination. It is clear that many of those at the conference... would not have known about his vile views."
Fiyaz Mughal, founder of the interfaith group Faith Matters said: "The speaker being feted in the 'counter-extremism' conference has been on record as maligning Ahmadi Muslims and in supporting the memory of the murderer of Punjab governor Salman Taseer."
The conference in a Manchester hotel was hosted by the Ramadhan Foundation, which denied its Pakistani guest's links to extremism. Mohammed Shafiq, the chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation said: "He (Rehman) is not a supporter of terrorism. He is an opponent of terrorism. Any insinuation that he is an extremist is frankly absurd and an insult."
Russ Jackson, Head of the Northwest Counter-Terrorism Unit, was presented with an award by Rehman and Shafiq at the event, which was also attended by Sharon Goodman, grandmother of the Manchester Arena attack victim Olivia Campbell-Hardy, and Andrew Hardy, Olivia's father. Greater Manchester police said: "The Sunday Times has now brought to our attention some concerns about one of the speakers, which we will now consider."