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The Cardiff crown court sentenced an 81-year-old imam for sexually abusing girls for 10 years while giving them Quran lessons - File photoGun Aficionados

Mohammed Haji Saddique, an imam from Cyncoed, Cardiff, was jailed for 13 years after he was found guilty of sexually assaulting young girls taking Quran lessons from him for nearly a decade.

Saddique has "no idea" of the harm caused by his actions, a Cardiff Crown Court judge said during a recent hearing. The victims had reportedly told the court that the imam's act put them off religion and shattered their faith in the holy book.

The 81-year-old would ask the girls to sit next to him while reading from the holy book and touch them inappropriately, the court heard. He would touch the girls under their traditional loose-fitting clothing and also rub them against his groin and legs in front of the whole class.

These incidents reportedly took place between 1996 and 2006, and police had launched an investigation in 2006 following complaints by two girls. However, Saddique denied the charges and insisted that the allegations were a conspiracy by other members of the Madina mosque, where he has been teaching for the past 30 years.

The investigation was reopened in 2016 when two other girls came forward with the same allegations. Saddique was also accused of slapping and beating his students with metal and wooden sticks.

He was found guilty of 14 offences, including six indecent assaults and eight sexual assaults. Judge Stephen Hopkins QC of the Cardiff Crown Court also ordered the accused to register as a sex offender indefinitely.

"All four complainants were very brave indeed in overcoming not only personal but cultural barriers which they faced in making formal complaints and giving evidence against you," The Independent quoted the judge as saying during the sentencing hearing.

"There is a darker, deviant side to you which this trial has exposed. This was a gross breach of trust - parents sending their young, female children to be taught the Quran by you."

The victims, now in their 20s, had reportedly said in their statements to the court that Saddique's offences had a lasting impact on them.

Quoting one of the victim's statements, the judge said: "It has put her off religion, she deliberately doesn't own a Quran.

"[For her] the ethos of going to the mosque at any time is that when you are there, God is protecting you. Her idea was shattered because you abused her when she was reading from the holy book."

Saddique, who was born in Hong Kong, had moved to Pakistan and then to the UK in 1967.