A divided community waits anxiously for the return of the 'Tipton Taliban'

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The Independent Online

For 20 minutes the tense wait Riasoth Ahmed had endured for two years reached an unbearable pitch as he willed Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, to utter his son's name.

Mr Ahmed, an elderly man with spectacles and a white beard, had learnt that five of the nine Britons being held in Guantanamo Bay were to be sent home. But he did not know if his son was one of them.

He said: "I waited for the [Foreign Secretary's] statement and heard my boy and the two others from Tipton were being released.'' Mr Ahmed stood on the doorstep of his tiny, run-down home yesterday, his gentle features displaying bemusement at the photographers' interest. But his tone became forceful as he explained that his patience was running out. He was "surprised" and "very pleased" that his 23-year-old son was expected back in the UK in the next two weeks, but wanted swifter action. "I have waited two years but two weeks seems too long. I would prefer two days. Bring him back as soon as possible. Let him go free. This boy is not bad. He is a good boy".

The family has insisted that Ruhal, the third of six children, went to Pakistan for a wedding in 2001. Having met up with Shafiq Rasul, 24, and Asif Iqbal, 20, fellow pupils at Alexandra High School on the Park Estate in Tipton, the part-time factory worker was later detained by American forces in Afghanistan before being sent to Cuba.

"He is a young boy and has his whole life ahead of him," Mr Ahmed said. But he conceded that he had no idea what effect the high-security detention will have had on his son. "When you don't see him, you can't tell how he will feel, how he will be."

Mr Ahmed insisted that everybody on the run-down estate near Birmingham backed his family - "nobody has thrown anything at my house" - but support from neighbours yesterday was not quite as strong as he might have hoped.

News that the "Tipton Taliban" were returning has divided a community where racial tension has simmered for years. In a town where two of the nine councillors are from the British National Party, the relationship between the predominantly Bangladeshi residents of the impoverished Park Estate and adjacent wards is strained. Derek Rowley, Labour chairman of the town committee, said: "Hopefully everybody will remain calm. There are elements in the town that will try to stir up trouble. There is a racial tension at the moment in Tipton and we are concerned about it."

The Asian community greeted the news of the release of the three men as long overdue. From behind the closed door of the small mosque where the trio was said to have completed their Islamic studies, one man said: "They are innocent. It is about time they came back. Hopefully they will sue the American government."

The predominantly moderate Muslims in the area insisted the trio would be welcomed home. "Everybody is very happy. They were only young lads and they were misled," one man said.

But most of his white neighbours showed little solidarity. As Westminster debated their potential threat, or lack of it, to national security, residents of Tipton were far more concerned with the more mundane matter of petty crime.

Joan Baker, a Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinator, said: "They are not the goody-two- shoes they were made out to be by the media. There will be uproar if they come back. They were the sort of people who didn't have a care in the world for anybody else. It has been quiet and it will all start again. People don't want them here and there will be trouble."

Mohammed Yaseen, 34, said: "There certainly has been problems with white people from other areas, gangs coming here to fight and then gangs going there for a fight. But it has all gone quiet. I think they decided they could make money if they got together for crime."

Another local family was still waiting. Munir Ali disappeared at the same time as the other three but no one has heard of him since. His sister Syeda Khatun, a local councillor, yesterday received an MBE for services to the community.

Her other brother, Syed Montaz Ali, said that he could not wait to speak to the returning men. He added yesterday: "My brother was with them, so it's the first confirmation we will get whether he is still in this world or actually no longer with us."

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