Image: Abdul Musavir, Shazzad Ali and Haroon Jahan.
Reuters file
The deaths of, from left, Abdul Musavir, Shazzad Ali and Haroon Jahan are being treated as a murder investigation.
msnbc.com news services
updated 8/10/2011 7:18:59 PM ET 2011-08-10T23:18:59

With police nowhere to be seen, the Muslims of Dudley Road armed themselves with bricks and stones, clubs and cricket bats to fend off carloads of marauding gangs.

Their vigilante stand in Birmingham's west end saved a humble row of family-run shops and a red-brick mosque from the looters' grasp — but at a terrible cost.

A carload of rioters sped into a fleeing crowd of shop defenders, witnesses said, hurling three young men into the air and killing amateur boxer Haroon Jahan, 21, and brothers Shazzad Ali, 30, and Abdul Musavir, 31.

"We all had stones in our hands. But we had no defense to stop a car. They revved their engines and drove right at us as fast as they could," Mohammed Ibrahim, 23, told The Associated Press. "These black men deliberately tried to kill us all."

Wednesday's 1 a.m. slaughter has laid bare racial tensions underlying this week's riots in Birmingham, Britain's second-largest city and its most ethnically diverse. A fifth of the city's 1 million "Brummies" are Muslims, most commonly of Pakistani origin. About 7 percent are black, mostly Caribbean, in background.

Grace of a grieving father speaks to a wounded Britain

While the riots that have swept England this week have involved looters of every creed and hue, the street anarchy also sometimes has exposed the racial fault lines that run beneath the poorest urban quarters.

Resident after resident of Dudley Road and its surrounding Winson Green district commented pointedly to The AP that the attackers were black and accused them of targeting Muslim shops.

The passions echo streetfights from previous years, such as in 2005, when a neighboring Birmingham district suffered two nights of violence between Caribbean and Asian gangs over unsubstantiated rumors that a gang of Pakistani men had raped a 14-year-old Jamaican girl. Two men were stabbed to death, firefighters faced machete-wielding mobs, and Muslim graves were desecrated during those clashes. The west side also suffered riots in 1981, 1985 and 1991 fueled by minority hatred of white police and black resentment of the Asians' dominant position as shopkeepers.

Far-right group calls for safe and sober vigilantism

"We'll hunt down these black men, cut off their heads and feed them to our dogs," said Amir Hawid, 20, who lives just a hundred yards (meters) from the killing scene and heard the screams of the crowd at the moment of impact.

As forensics specialists combed the bloodied, rock-strewn pavement for clues, hundreds of local Muslims and Sikhs — some wearing ceremonial daggers at their waists — packed into a community hall Wednesday to confront three white police commanders who had come seeking to calm tensions. Twice as many Muslims, many in robes and kufi caps, stood outside.

Speaker after speaker complained that they had pleaded by phone for police protection the previous night, when black gangs raided local markets and chased bar staff onto the roof of one pub, yet police failed to respond. Some argued that the police had warned them not to attempt to defend their own streets, yet had offered no alternative.

The three dead men "did nothing wrong! They died because they were doing the job of protecting our community. The job that you lot should have been doing!" one speaker shouted, jabbing an accusatory finger at the police panel.

Police said the deaths are being treated as a murder investigation.

Detective Superintendent Richard Baker, commander of the 60-strong police team hunting the killers, said they already had arrested the suspected driver and 11 others potentially linked to the shop attacks on Dudley Road. He pleaded for locals to overcome their antipathy to the police, give eyewitness statements and hand over amateur camera footage.

"I will deploy whatever it takes to get justice for this community," Baker said above a din of muttered heckles and shouted accusations, dozens of men trying to speak at once.

Baker and the local commander, Superintendent Sean Russell, defended their force's response to the killings — which Russell admitted he could see from the police control center on a closed-circuit surveillance camera — because gangs were attacking shops in the city center. That triggered angry cries that police cared more for protecting downtown shopping centers than Muslim communities.

Russell said it took officers 10 minutes to arrive; locals insisted it was a half-hour and the officers arrived in riot gear thinking the Muslim crowd might pose a threat. The officers said they had to be cautious.

PhotoBlog: 'Stop burning my city'

Afterward, a chastened Baker said it had been the toughest community meeting of his life. In quiet one-to-one conversations, he offered his cell phone number to local residents and pleaded for them to find eyewitnesses.

"We really want to help you, but you need to help us too," he told one man, who said he'd been afraid to speak up and express moderate views during the meeting.

"People are saying it's a race issue now — blacks against Asians," Mykel Douglas, a black youth worker and resident of Winson Green, the working-class district northwest of Birmingham city center where the incident occurred, told The Wall Street Journal. "It's like the ethnic groups are at war with each other."

A local black resident, who didn't want to be identified by name because of fears for his safety, pleaded outside with the departing Muslim crowd not to start targeting blacks in retaliation.

"Don't take your anger out on everyone. Don't keep saying it's black, black, black, black. Don't take this too far," he declared, street preacher-style, after abusive comments were directed at him. "I've lived and worked here seven years alongside you. I don't want to be afraid to walk down that street now. Don't make me afraid, because I didn't do it, man."

The AP found several witnesses outside the hall, who like the dead men had taken up crude arms and manned the sidewalks in hopes of keeping the invaders at bay. None expressed confidence that the police would bring justice.

"We will avenge our brothers. This is a tight community, and someone in their group will brag about how they attacked the Muslims," said Waseem Hussain, 24, who joined the defense of the shops.

Slideshow: Summer of 2011: Riots break out in UK (on this page)

Hussain said several carloads of would-be shop raiders began casing Dudley Road, driving cars up and down the road before midnight, as scores of locals were still in the mosque observing the night's final Ramadan prayers.

He said one carload stopped at the local gas station and convenience store — which had been ransacked the night before and was now closed with metal shutters — and asked a few youths whether there was "anything new to rob."

He said locals threw stones and bricks at the cars, whose occupants had their windows rolled down. The two sides traded verbal abuse as the cars repeatedly passed, Hussain estimating at least a dozen times. The Muslim crowd grew as prayers concluded around 12:30 a.m.

After the cars canvassed the crowd once again under a hail of rocks, Hussain said, one of the occupants shouted a threat at them: "Are you asking for it?"

Two of the cars did a U-turn at the top of the road, he said, and gunned their engines, shifting their gears rapidly as they reached a speed he estimated at 70 mph (110 kph).

"The first car cut extremely close to the crowd but didn't hit anyone. We all were running for cover, but there were too many people and nowhere to go," he said.

"Some people didn't see the second car coming. It went deeper into the footpath (sidewalk) and struck these three men, all standing in the same spot," he said. "They must have flown 20, 30 feet. One, Shazzad, was dead when he hit the ground. All of them were bloody and unconscious. They never had a chance."

A father described Wednesday how he rushed to aid one of the dying men only to find it was his 21-year-old son.

"I heard the thud, ran around and I saw three people on the ground," Tariq Jahan told reporters.

"My instinct was to help the three people. I didn't know who they were, who'd been injured. I helped the first man, and somebody from behind told me my son was lying behind me.

"So I started CPR on my own son. My face was covered in blood, my hands were covered in blood."

"Why, why?," Jahan said. "I don't understand. We are here defending the community of all the problems that are going on in the country. He was trying to help his community."

Jahan appealed for calm.

"We are mourning three members of our community," he said, according to The Telegraph. "Please respect the memory of our sons."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this story.

Video: Citizens, police try to stop UK rioting

  1. Closed captioning of: Citizens, police try to stop UK rioting

    >>> now we go back to london and those scenes have that shocked the whole world, the riots, the violence, the looting, the fires, in a truly great city in the world. the people have stood up against the violence but now the violence has spread out from the city center and to other cities and towns across great britain. among the hot spots, birmingham, about 100 miles from london, our own martin fletcher is there for us tonight, martin, good evening.

    >> reporter: there was a killing early this morning of three young men. as fighting spread in the early hours in cities across the uk, li livepool, manchester, in whales. pakistani muslims mourning two brothers and a friend killed by a hit-and-run driver while trying to protect their neighborhood.

    >> the father of the two dead brothers had a hart attack today.

    >> we are we doing this? i lost my son. step forward if you want to lose your son. otherwise calm down and go home. please.

    >> reporter: however, anger and violence all spreading. the violence that erupted saturday night in north london and spread to other areas in the following days has now spread hundreds of miles from the capital to a dozen towns. in london police arrested 200 people so far. more and more groups are protecting their own areas attempting to take back their own neighborhoods.

    >> there is so much violence. because of a few idiots in the crowd, as everywhere are actually starting to cause a little bit of trouble. we don't want no trouble with police, we don't want no trouble anywhere.

    >> reporter: and the whole country is asking, how on earth did this happen? today with every major english town swarming with police, there's been no violence so far. one police officer said it's too early to

Photos: Summer of 2011: Riots break out in UK

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  1. A double decker bus burns as riot police try to contain a large group of people on a main road in Tottenham, north London, on August 6, 2011. Masked youths went on the rampage after a peaceful protest against the killing of a 29-year-old local man by police. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Police officers wearing riot gear stand in front of a burning building in Tottenham, north London, on August 7, 2011. (Stefan Wermuth / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Aaron Biber, 89, assesses damage to his hairdressing salon after riots on Tottenham High Road, north London, on August 7, 2011. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Residents watch as a building burns after riots in Tottenham, north London, on August 7, 2011. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A police officer patrols as firemen dowse buildings set ablaze during riots in Tottenham, north London, on August 7, 2011. (Luke Macgregor / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Police cordon off an area in Enfield, north London, on August 7, 2011. (Karel Prinsloo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Youths throw bricks at police in Enfield, north London, on August 7, 2011. (Karel Prinsloo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A girl is detained outside Currys electrical store in Brixton, south London, on August 8, 2011. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. People loot a Carhartt store in Hackney, north London, on August 8, 2011. (Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Police officers in riot gear block a road near a burning car in Hackney, north London, on August 8, 2011. (Luke MacGregor / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A resident films a police officer on his mobile phone during disturbances in Hackney, north London, on August 8, 2011. (Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Residents flee Clarence Road in Hackney, north London, on August 8, 2011. (Dan Istitene / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A police officer helps an injured colleague as rioters gather in Croydon, south London, on August 8, 2011. (Sang Tan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An injured man is treated by medical staff after being arrested for looting in an electronic shop in south London on August 8, 2011. (Simon Dawson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Looters rummage through a convenience store in Hackney, east London, on August 8, 2011. (Olivia Harris / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Police clear an area in London's Ealing neighborhood while patrolling the streets on August 8, 2011. (Ming Yeung / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Looters run from a clothing store in Peckham, London, on August 8, 2011. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Police stand guard at the Mailbox shopping and hotel complex in Birmingham city center on August 8, 2011. (Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Police arrest a man as rioters gather in Croydon, south London, on August 8, 2011. (Sang Tan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. A woman jumps from a burning building on Surrey Street during rioting in Croydon, south London, on August 8, 2011. (Amy Weston / WENN.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Police patrol the streets as a large fire engulfs shops and homes in Croydon on August 9, 2011. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Firefighters battle a large blaze that broke out in shops and homes in the London neighborhood of Croydon on August 9, 2011. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. The remains of destroyed vehicles are removed from streets in Hackney, north London on August 9, 2011. (Chris Helgren / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Aerial photograph of a Sony distribution center engulfed in flames on August 9, 2011 in Enfield, north London. The warehouse was set alight by rioters the previous night. (David Goddard / Getty Images Contributor) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Looters carry boxes out of a home cinema shop in central Birmingham on August 9, 2011. (Darren Staples / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. London residents launch a clean-up operation on August 9, 2011 around Hackney Town Hall in east London to clear up after the rioting that took place the previous night. (Nick Cunard / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Residents wait to be allowed through a police barricade to help council workers with the clean up after the rioting that took place the previous night outside Clapham Junction railway station in Battersea, London on August 9, 2011. (Matt Dunham / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. An aerial photograph shows devastation in London Road, Croydon on August 9, 2011. (David Goddard / Getty Images Contributor) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. A neighbor cries as she looks at the devastation left by the riots in the area of Clapham in London on August 9, 2011. (Elizabeth Dalziel / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Police detain a man in central Birmingham on August 9, 2011. Looting and clashes with police continued for a fourth night. (Darren Staples / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. A rioter walks through a burning barricade in Liverpool on August 9, 2011. (Phil Noble / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. London Mayor Boris Johnson, left, talks with Leon Fearon, right, 19, from Lewisham, during a tour of the devastation in riot-hit Clapham, south London on August 9, 2011. (Nick Ansell / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Police restrain a man in Manchester on August 9, 2011 after trouble in the city center. (Dave Thompson / PA via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Men angry about recent rioting and looting come out in Eltham, south London to protect their properties on August 9, 2011. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Hundreds of messages of support from the community of Peckham are seen posted on a looted storefront in south London on August 10, 2011. (Chris Helgren / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. People clean up the Manchester city center on August 10, 2011 following a fourth night of violence. (Andrew Yates / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. A police officer speaks to a woman in Birmingham on August 10, 2011 after three Asian men were hit by a car and killed. Witnesses said they died while trying to protect their community from looters. (Paul Ellis / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Police officers question men during a routine stop and search operation on August 10, 2011 in Hackney, north London. An eerie calm prevailed over most of London as night fell, with a highly visible police presence throughout the city. (Karel Prinsloo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Police officers detain a man in Eltham, south London, on August 10, 2011. (Stefan Wermuth / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Police officers search the crime scene where Haroon Jahan and two other Asian men were hit by a car and killed in the early hours in Birmingham on August 10, 2011. (Carl De Souza / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Tarmiq Jahan, father of Haroon Jahan, gives a statement to the media near the crime scene where Haroon and two other Asian men were hit by a car and killed in the early hours in Birmingham on August 10, 2011. (Carl De Souza / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Community members lay flowers at the scene of a hit and run following civil disturbances in the Winson Green area of Birmingham on August 11, 2011. Police are continuing investigations after three people - reportedly trying to protect shops from rioting and looting in Dudley Road - were struck by a car. (Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Metropolitan Police officers arrest a suspect after carrying out a raid on a property on the Churchill Gardens estate in Pimlico in London on August 11, 2011 during Operation Woodstock. Police hope to recover property stolen during the recent civil disturbances in the capital. Police began raiding houses across London to make arrests over the riots that rocked the British capital, with more than 100 warrants issued already, a senior Scotland Yard officer said. (Anthony Devlin / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Metropolitan Police officers hold bags containing a pair of Nike shoes and Hugo Boss clothing including jeans, shirts, a coat and a bag during a raid on a property on the Churchill Gardens estate in Pimlico, London during Operation Woodstock on August 11, 2011. Over 1,000 people have been arrested since rioting began Aug. 6. Police have started to raid properties across the capital as they round up people suspected of involvement in the rioting and recover stolen property. (Wpa Pool / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Offenders sentenced for their roles in recent United Kingdom disturbances, shown August 11, 2011 in these photographs from the Greater Manchester Police, include (top, left to right) Aaron Grima, jailed for four months for assaulting a police officer; Paul Obonyano, jailed for 14 weeks for assaulting a police officer and a public order offense; Bernard Moore, sentenced to 20 weeks for assaulting a police officer; Eoin Flanagan, sentenced to eight months for stealing clothes; (bottom, left to right) Jason Ullett, sentenced to 10 weeks for a section 4 public order offense; Tom Skinkis, sentenced for four months for a section 4 public order offense; Ricky Gemmell, sentenced to 16 weeks in youth custody for a section 4 public order offense; and Paul Ruane, jailed for eight weeks for handling stolen goods. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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