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/ Source: NBC News

British counterterrorism detectives have taken the lead to investigate the death of a Syria-born preacher in London, police said.

Abdul-Hadi Arwani, 48, was found with gunshot wounds to the chest in a Volkswagon Passat late Tuesday in northwest London. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Police did not say how many times he had been shot.

The father of six was a former imam at West London's An-Noor mosque and known as an ardent critic of Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to local media reports. Arwani was involved in anti-Assad protests outside the Syrian embassy in London three years ago and once described the Assad regime as “more than criminal...less than animals,” according to the Guardian.

While the case was initially being investigated by homicide detectives, London's Metropolitan Police said counterterrorism detectives were now heading it up "because of their expertise" in managing inquiries "with international dimension."

In a statement, the force added: "The investigation remains in its very early stages and officers remain open-minded about the motive."

— Cassandra Vinograd