Former student 'among Britons at Cuba base'

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The Independent Online

A former college student from Croydon, south London, was identified yesterday as one of the three British al-Qa'ida suspects being held at the US naval base in Cuba.

Feroz Abbasi, 22, was said to have been taken prisoner at Kunduz in northern Afghanistan last month and was among the more than 100 people flown hooded and in shackles to the secure American base at Guantanamo Bay.

Last night, British officials and the Red Cross, which is speaking to all the men at the base, declined to confirm whether Mr Abbasi was being held. His name was reportedly on a list passed to the Red Cross by American officials.

Mr Abbasi's background is still being investigated by the authorities, leaving the possibility that his identity has been stolen by an al-Qa'ida member.

However, his mother, Zumrati Juma, said Mr Abbasi, a former computer student, had fallen under the influence of the Islamic cleric Abu Hamza and other extremists at a mosque in north London.

She said she had last seen her son in December 2000 when he returned home to pick up a pair of army boots and told her he wanted to go to Afghanistan. Mrs Juma said she reported him a missing a year ago and had spent months concerned that he had died in Afghanistan fighting for the Taliban.

Mrs Juma, who was not at her home yesterday, has not said whether she has been contacted by the Americans or by her son. Despite concerns over human rights at the Cuban base, known as Camp X-Ray, Mr Abbasi would have been allowed to write to his family to confirm he was there. The three British prisoners are to be questioned by MI5 about how they were recruited and their alleged links with terrorist groups.

A friend of Mr Abbasi said the former student had changed from being down to earth to a religious devotee after discovering Islam three years ago. He refused to speak to non-Muslims. Michael Driver, 18, one of his former neighbours in Croydon, described him as bright, a good listener and a big Michael Jackson fan. "He had a girlfriend but did not really talk about her. He was really just a regular guy. We used to go out to amusement arcades in London and play the games. We used to go out roller skating together too," he said. "Feroz used to wear jeans and T-shirts, regular clothes. He was just like any other teenager." Later, he told Mr Driver that he had become interested in Islam and had started speaking about the Koran. He dropped out of his college course to concentrate on his religious studies.

"You could tell he was intent on taking his religion to heart. I backed him 100 per cent, if that was what he wanted to do. Gradually, I hardly saw him because he would never want to go out and about. He seemed to change. He started wearing white robes and would not talk to anyone," Mr Driver said.