Sajid Badat: 'I believe he is innocent. He is a walking angel'

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The Independent Online

Everyone who knew Sajid Badat growing up in Gloucester, or studying at an Islamic college in Blackburn, considered him a devout Muslim - he was even described as a "walking angel" - who looked likely to become an imam or priest.

The well-respected young man lived with his parents in Gloucester and earlier this month led a prayer session at his local mosque.

So it was a shock when the 24-year-old was arrested in an early morning raid by anti-terrorist officers and questioned about possible suicide attacks in Britain. David Blunkett said MI5 and Special Branch believe the British-born Asian man had connections with the al-Qa'ida terrorist network.

To add to the Muslim community's trauma, bomb squad officers said they discovered explosives inside the terraced house where Mr Badat lived with his family.

His parents, Zubeda and Mohammed Badat, were in a police safe house last night with their other son and two daughters after their home on St James Street was sealed off.

An unnamed cousin said: "This has come as a complete shock. Sajid is nothing more than a sociable young lad. He has lots of friends and doesn't hold extreme views. The whole family is very upset and have no idea why the police have targeted him."

His father, a carpenter, and mother, emigrated to Gloucester about 30 years ago from Malawi in southern Africa.

Born on 28 March 1979 at Gloucester maternity hospital, Sajid Badat did well at St James's Primary School and went on to the city's Crypt Grammar School where he gained four A-levels and 10 GCSEs. An ardent football fan, he supports Liverpool and used to play for a Sunday league team called the Asian Stars.

His Muslim faith has always been central to his life. He was well known at the Masjid-e-Noor mosque in Ryecroft Street in Gloucester.

Abdul Jaffer, the owner of a butchers, said he had known Mr Badat all his life and he had gone to school with his son Mohammed. Mr Jaffer said: "He was a very intelligent boy who always spoke out if something was wrong. He was a very bright lad who respected things and people. When he grew up he told people to stay away from the streets."

Of the arrest he added: "Straight away I said it can't be. I still believe he is innocent. He's a walking angel. He respected me and used to teach lots of boys how to dress in the Muslim way and how to be in a mosque. He always wanted to learn more about Islam."

Two years ago Mr Badat moved closer to achieving his aim of becoming an imam when he went to study at the College of Islamic Knowledge and Guidance in Blackburn, Lancashire. He boarded at the college and shared a room with five other Islamic students. A world map and two pictures of mosques adorned the walls of the room, which police have searched along with Mr Badat's college locker.

Daily prayers take place in a large room on the ground floor of the school which has a mimbar (pulpit) in the centre of the room facing in the direction of Mecca. The head of the school, Abdus Samed Ahmed, said that he was shocked at news of the arrest. He said: "I was stunned to find a former student has been allegedly linked with al-Qa'ida.

"We have a thorough and normal vetting process at the school and Badat passed the checks. We have been here seven years and have an excellent relationship with the local council, police and other key agencies."

Mr Badat was enrolled on a five-year course but he left this summer of his own accord, the head said. He was known as a bright but very quiet student. He recently travelled to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia for the Muslim pilgrimage of Hajj. This was one of several trips to Pakistan during which he studied in madrassas - Islamic schools - possibly in Peshawar, a city with strong fundamentalist and al-Qa'ida links.

He quickly came to the notice of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), the Pakistani secret police, who could find no intrinsic family or social links to the places he was visiting.

At about the same time MI5 and Scotland Yard were investigating possible links with Richard Reid, the British Muslim who was sentenced to 110 years plus three life sentences in January for trying to bring down an American Airlines Paris to Miami jet carrying 197 passengers in December 2001. Reid, 30, a self-confessed al-Qa'ida terrorist, tried to ignite explosives hidden in the sole of his training shoes but was overpowered by the crew.

MI5 turned their attention to Mr Badat, about whom they became increasingly suspicious, and placed him under surveillance. Further suspicions were subsequently raised by the discovery that Mr Badat has worshipped at the Finsbury Park mosque and one in Brixton where Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 11 September "20th hijacker", were fellow worshippers.

¿ Police were searching six addresses in Birmingham last night after the arrest of a 33-year-old man suspected of involvement in terrorism. The man was detained yesterday by officers from the Metropolitan Police Anti-Terrorism unit and was being held at a police station in the West Midlands. A police spokesman said officers were searching three homes and three business premises.