Al-Qa'ida 'hardcore' are boys from Tipton

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The Independent Online

Shafiq Rasul, 24, left his home town of Tipton, near Birmingham, to take a computing exam in Pakistan last September. Six months later, he was in Camp X-Ray; blindfolded and shackled, a suspected member of Osama Bin Laden's al-Qa'ida terrorist network.

He was accompanied to Guantanamo Bay, the US base in Cuba, by his close friend Asif Iqbal, 20, who had joined him on his original trip to Pakistan, days before the 11 September attacks on the World Trade Centre. Iqbal told his mother he was going to meet his father to prepare for an arranged marriage.

The two knew each other from Alexandra High School and lived yards away from each other. The were both members of a radical Islamic group which met in a Victorian semi-detached house in Tipton. The town has a population of 50,000, 14 per cent of whom are Asian.

Two other members of this group, Munir Ali, 21, and Ruhal Ahmed, 20, left for Pakistan in December and are missing.

Mr Iqbal and Mr Rasul were seized by US forces in Afghanistan two weeks ago and have been questioned in Cuba by MI5 officers. They are part of the first wave of prisoners to be sent to Cuba, the "hardest of the hardcore" of al-Qa'ida members, according US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Mr Rasul's brother says he may have been "brainwashed". He describes his sibling as an ordinary young man who went to nightclubs three times a week and studied computer science.

But a senior member of Tipton's Muslim community said there had been concern over the radical group the four men belonged to. "They are hardline fundamentalists who are out of step with the majority of us," he said.

According to Mr Iqbal's relatives, the factory worker had become more devout over the past three years. He grew a beard, refused to be photographed and urged his family to pray more.

His mother, Imtiaz, said a call from the Foreign Office a few days ago to tell her of her son's whereabouts was the first she knew of his alleged involvement with al-Qa'ida. "I just want my son to come home," she said.

A friend of Mr Ali said he used to be the most Westernised person he knew and a "nice chap". "But then he changed and started growing a beard," he said. "His mother is sick with worry."

Allegations were also made last night that a video portraying the murders of "infidels" by Islamic extremists is being circulated in Britain's mosques as part of an al-Qa'ida recruitment drive.

A second video apparently shows graphic scenes of Taliban soldiers decapitating Northern Alliance opposition troops.

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