Hardline cleric is accused of 'brainwashing' British suspect

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The Independent Online

A former religious mentor of the British terror suspect Feroz Abbasi has called for firm action to be taken against the hardline cleric Abu Hamza who allegedly fostered the Briton's hatred of the West.

Qasim Ahmad, the Imam at Croydon mosque, said he was surprised Mr Hamza remained free in Britain after accusations that he had "brainwashed" impressionable young Muslims.

Downing Street confirmed that Mr Abbasi was being held at the high-security camp in Cuba. He was believed to have been taken prisoner in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan, in December, before being flown to the base at Guantanamo Bay.

Fresh details have emerged of Mr Abassi's education and upbringing. Friends and family told of how the former computer student, aged 22, became estranged from them after he turned to Islam.

Mr Ahmad said he believed he recognised Mr Abassi in photographs as a man he converted to Islam. He was not a regular at the mosque and is understood to have started to attend Mr Hamza's mosque in Finsbury Park, north London, because he thought the teaching at Croydon was too superficial.

Mr Ahmad said: "He might have converted to Islam in this mosque with me. The reason I can remember that is because he said he was born a Muslim in Africa but his parents brought him up as a Christian.

"Then he said he would like to remain a Muslim. I asked him many questions and he knew all the basic things and it wasn't necessary for him to go through any classes. I converted him straight away."

Mr Ahmad said Mr Abassi then went to Abu Hamza's mosque at Finsbury Park. "Abu Hamza is well known. I'm surprised he is still free and the Government hasn't taken action against him. The Government must stop him from what he is trying to do. It's against the teaching of Islam."

Mr Abbasi, was described by school friends at Edenham High School in Croydon, as a "regular guy" with normal teenage interests. He gained good GCSE results.

After moving on to John Ruskin College, he took a computer course at the North East Surrey College of Technology.

The principal, Ron Pritchard, said Mr Abassi enrolled on an HND computer course in September 1998. He dropped out of the Epsom college the following July.

Mr Pritchard said: "To the best of my knowledge there is nobody currently on the staff of the college who has any knowledge of Mr Abbasi,"

Mr Abbasi is believed to have gone on a tour of Europe but turned to Islam after being mugged in Switzerland. As he became increasingly radical, he stopped talking to his family and other non-Muslims.

His mother, Zumrati Juma, fears he will be given the death sentence. British officials have reported that he had made no complaints of ill-treatment.

Along with the other two British suspects, he has sent messages to his family, according to Downing Street.

His mother said she was stunned when she heard he was being held, after fearing he had been killed while fighting for the Taliban. She said he had been "brainwashed" at the Finsbury Park mosque.

He was reportedly seen visiting the mosque dozens of times by Special Branch officers who were recording comings and goings there.

* Detectives have released five men on bail who were arrested last week on suspicion of having links with al-Qai'da and terrorist plots in Europe. Four others were passed to the Immigration Service.

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