The assistant secretary general of Britain’s Muslim Council has said he is appalled by the way some UK newspapers covered the attack on a mosque in Quebec in which six worshippers were killed.
Miqdaad Versi is concerned that some titles reported in the headline, and as fact, that the attacker shouted “Allahu Akbar”. This claim was made by one source who also said that there were two assailants (police say there was one).
He is also concerned that titles continued to report that there were two attackers, one of whom was called Muhammad, long after it was made clear that there was one gunman, Alexandre Bissonnette.
Versi noted that The Sun described the phrase “Allahu Akbar” as an Islamist phrase, meaning it is related to Islamic militancy or fundamentalism. The phrase, meaning God is great, is used by all Muslims when they pray.
Press Gazette understands that his mistake in The Sun article was a typo and the word has now been changed to Islamic.
The reports come a few weeks after newspapers mistakenly reported that a man who opened fire in a Spanish supermarket shouted “Allahu Akbar”. It has since emerged that the attack, by a local man, did not have any religious motive.
Versi said: “The source who says he shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ is anonymous and not independently verified.
“By 10pm everyone knew that the only gunman was called Alexandre and that the other suspected gunman, Muhammad, was a witness. But none of them have changed their stories
“It is appalling. At least contextualise it, they could say this is what someone claims.”
He said he found it offensive that The Sun had described the phrase “Allahu Akbar” as “Islamist”.
One Mail Online headline, since changed, said: “Killer surrendered ‘because he felt bad’ after he and a second gunman shot six people dead during ‘terror attack on Muslims’ at Quebec city mosque ‘while they shouted Allahu Akbar'”
The Daily Express headline said: “Six dead as gunmen ‘shout Allahu Akbar’ in Sunday prayer attack.”
Versi said: “When there is a breaking news story journalists should take care that what you write is accurate and be clear about what is speculation. Otherwise one person’s claim is taken up by the far right and spreads.”
Versi is also concerned about the lack of prominence the story has been given. Only The Times and the Telegraph covered the story (which broke last night) on their front pages.
He said: “If this had been any other place of worship in a western country it would have been a massive story. It wasn’t because it involved Muslims.”
He also said he felt that The Sun headline for the story – ‘I FEEL BAD’ What ‘student’ gunman who stormed Quebec mosque screaming ‘Allahu Akbar’ told cops as he gave himself up after killing six – downplayed the severity of the incident.