Our brother is more interested in Club 18-30 than religion

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The Independent Online

Shafiq Rasul is the youngest brother of the family. A man who cared more for Ralph Lauren and Armani sweaters, sports cars, gangsta rap and Club 18-30 trips than the strictures of the Koran

The 24-year-old, his family said, was not the bearded and unkempt man in an Afghan hat, pictured in one newspaper yesterday lying on straw and with a seeping bullet wound in his left shoulder. Nor, his three brothers insist, was he the hot-headed vigilante who set up an armed gang called the Tipton Asian Terror Squad at Alexandra High School to tackle white racists. Or the man who later became involved in the fringes of radical Islam in Britain.

He was ordinary. Born and bred in Tipton, Shafiq never got into trouble with the police, and had only "minor scrapes" at school. He was a softly spoken and mild-mannered stockroom clerk at a local branch of Currys who had taken leave to do a three-month Microsoft software engineering course in Pakistan.

"He's not the type to be involved in a movement such as the Taliban or Al-Qa'ida," said his eldest brother Habib in a rich West Midlands accent as he sat beside his computers in his bedroom on the third floor of the family home.

The Americans, he insists, have the wrong man. "He wouldn't have these types of connections. For him first to get to Afghanistan then get arrested is just the wildest thing in the world. It's just crazy."

Parvez Akhtar, a family friend and lawyer who grew up with the brothers, agreed. "He's more likely to go to Charlie Brown's nightclub in Birmingham than go to some fundamentalist Pakistani forum."

For the Rasul family, the past seven days have indeed been wild. They learnt that Shafiq was being detained among the world's most notorious terrorists at Camp X-Ray on Cuba last Monday morning, in a polite phone call from the Foreign Office.

"At first I thought it was a prank call from one of my American colleagues," said Habib, who works as an IT specialist for a US multinational. "I just put the phone down and two minutes later my mobile phone rang, and it was my brother, saying Shafiq was in Cuba."

Since then, the Rasuls have barely left their house, besieged by reporters, television crews and radio journalists. The Special Branch police officers who finally arrived to interview them on Saturday, and the Foreign Office, have asked numerous questions but given them no answers. The most that the Foreign Office has confirmed is that Shafiq is alive and unwounded, despite some media reports to the contrary.

"There are questions we still want an answer to," said Habib. "What the hell was he doing in Afghanistan? How the hell did he get there? Someone probably said, 'Let's go and help the refugees. Let's go and do aid work'. We don't know. He's just not a violent person."

Claims that Shafiq was linked directly to two other men from Tipton who were also under arrest in Camp X-Ray are riddled with inconsistencies, they insist. He had last been to Pakistan when he was two, rarely prayed or went to mosque, had no experience with guns, little interest in politics, and could speak Punjabi, his mother tongue, only with difficulty.

Although he knew at least one of the other two detainees from Tipton, Asif Iqbal, they were four years apart in age and from different crowds.

Habib told of Shafiq's reaction to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon. "When 11 September happened, I came home and he said, 'Look what's happened on the telly'. He was just shocked. He said, 'You know, in the World Trade Centre, there are hundreds of Muslims'."

Shafiq had flown to Pakistan in mid-October on his own, travelling to Lahore via Karachi and his father's home village in the Punjab. Microsoft courses in Pakistan cost roughly a tenth of the £3,500 he would be charged in Britain, and Shafiq and Habib had plans to go into the computing business together.

The course was a final shot at finding an alternative to a job in Currys. His attempts to study law at the University of Central England in Perry Bar had floundered after one year because he was not bright enough. The family said their last contact with Shafiq, after several phone calls, was a Hotmail e-mail on 25 October from Lahore, asking Habib for advice on which module to take.

What happened after leaves the brothers bemused. "He could only have been in Afghanistan for two months maximum, and the US are claiming he became an Al-Qa'ida terrorist, when he's never seen the world before?" said Hafiz. "Perhaps the Americans grabbed the first guys they found and said, 'We've got the worst of the worst'?"

The family were too distracted by an earlier tragedy to worry that Shafiq had not been in touch. The infant son of his brother Hafiz was in Birmingham children's hospital dying slowly from incurable lung failure. On 24 December, the two-year-old, Zyad, finally died. That day, Habib left word for Shafiq about the death with their relatives in Pakistan. "We had no time to chase up Shafiq," said Habib. "This is very emotional for us. It hasn't even been a month."

In Shafiq's freshly decorated bedroom on the first floor of their neat but modestly furnished three-storey house, his older brother Murtza, 32, rifled through the clothes that Shafiq had left behind, saying they were evidence of his brother's Western tastes.

Soon there was a pile of Armani jeans, Adidas shirts and baggy tracksuit bottoms on the floor. Tucked under the clothes was his latest buy: a pair of high-topped and shining brown Kangol boots too ostentatious to parade in Pakistan. On a nearby bookcase was Shafiq's tiny library featuring two cheap volumes of Shakespeare and a collection of E M Forster, alongside a few electronics and computing textbooks.

With a guilty grin, one brother smuggled out of Shafiq's room a set of index prints from one of his Club 18-30 holidays in Spain, images he would rather that his mother didn't see. They show Shafiq, in nightclubs, arm in arm with young white women. He even had a white girlfriend last year, a lively Londoner called Sheila.

Mr Akhtar, their lawyer, added: "This lad has no political views, no political agenda, no grudges. He hardly even goes to mosque."

Habib said: "This all just scares the hell out of me. All we want is to get Shafiq home and get a fair trial. We want the truth to come out."

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