Shahara Akther Islam was a lively 20-year-old, a devout Muslim with all her life before her

On Thursday, she had to attend a dentist's appointment before going to her job at the Co-operative Bank. So she said goodbye to her younger brother at their home in Plaistow, east London, and headed off on the Underground. It was a day like so many others. She never arrived.

Her family fear Shahara was caught up in the explosion that wrecked the Circle line train just beyond Aldgate station at 8.51am on Thursday. The unbroken agony for her family, who spent much of yesterday like other families, desperately but vainly trawling hospitals for news of her, is that they do not yet know for sure. It seems an unspeakably cruel fate for them and for a young woman who could have been a poster girl for young British Muslims today.

Born in Whitechapel to a family who came to Britain in the 1960s from Bangladesh, Shahara has been going to the mosque every Friday with her close-knit family, but she also loves designer handbags, designer clothes and going out with her friends.

"She's one of those people who just makes friends wherever she goes," said her uncle, Nazmul Hasan, who is helping in the search for her.

"She doesn't think that much about politics - she likes hanging out with her friends, talking and laughing a lot. We just want to bring her home - whether that means she's one of the fatalities or not, we just want something to bring home."

Shahara embodies as much as anyone multicultural Britain and the way in which younger generations of Muslims are embracing both their own and Western cultures. She went to Barking Abbey School near her home and took A-levels before leaving school to work at the bank.

"She's a lovely girl, really feminine," her uncle said. "But she didn't want to go to university - she just wanted to start working so she could spend money. She loves her Burberry and Gucci handbags. She doesn't wear a hijab, she wears Western clothes, but she is very close to her family, her mother especially.

"She doesn't have a boyfriend. She is a lovely, well-behaved girl - she has her own opinions and she can hold her own in any company, but she's not a ladette, and we all absolutely adore her."

Mr Hasan went on: "The whole family is just completely devastated. If we had a body, if we knew she was dead, at least we would be able to start mourning. If she was injured really badly, at least we could be there for her in hospital.

"What tortures us is the fact that the police say that there are still bodies in the tunnel. I keep thinking, what if she is lying there, still alive, still just breathing, but needing help, and nobody is coming for her? This is the worst situation to be in."

Shahara's father, Shamsul, 44, a bus supervisor for London Transport, made an appeal for information at East London Mosque, a few hundred yards from the scene of the Aldgate attack. "We have no words to say other than that we hope she will return home. I just hope that everyone is praying for her wellbeing and that she will return home in good health," he said.

"My prayers go to every other family and I hope that they too pray for my daughter.&"

Asked what he thought of those who had committed the attacks, he said: " These people are not human beings, they are not doing anything for Islam. They may call themselves Muslim but there is no such thing as a Muslim killing people."

The family had gathered with thousands of others at the mosque to pray for those caught in the attack. Her mother, Rumena, 40, is a housewife who looks after her 17-year-old brother and 13-year-old sister.

Shahara's uncle said: "Her father is trying to hold it together but her mother is just completely devastated by this."

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