Street-corner mosque 'was a recruiting centre'

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The Independent Online

A whitewashed terraced house in the West Midlands is said to have served as an extremist mosque to recruit a group of Britons being held by American forces on suspicion of membership of al-Qa'ida.

The Bait ul-Makram Mosque, or House of Nobility, on a street corner in Tipton, was alleged by moderate Muslims in the town to have been used for extremist preaching for the past two years.

It was attended by two Tipton men, Shafiq Rasul, 24, and Asif Iqbal, 20, who are being held in Camp X-Ray in Cuba. Their former schoolmate, Ruhal Ahmed, 20, is in American custody in the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.

A fourth local man, Munir Ali, 21, who is believed to be missing in Afghanistan, also attended the mosque at 17 Wellington Road, which stands 50 yards from Mr Iqbal's home.

Foreign Office sources confirmed yesterday that British intelligence officers had spoken to Mr Ahmed and another Briton being held in Kandahar.

Mr Ali's sister, Syeda Khatun, who has served as a member of Sandwell District Council, said she and her family were "devastated" at reports that her brother was missing in the Kandahar region. She said he left Britain last year to go on holiday with friends.

Activities at the Bait ul-Makram Mosque have been the cause of a rift in the wider Muslim community that led to a legal battle about the ownership of the building.

A senior member of a nearby moderate mosque said: "It was well known that 17 Wellington Road was popular with some young men and that some misguided views were being expressed about Holy War. It was youthful exuberance."

Ian Jones, a member of Sandwell District Council, said he had received letters from people in the community expressing concern about the mosque: "We know that these men who have been caught in the US were regulars," he said.

"The teachings at this particular mosque were incompatible with mainstream Muslim faith. People have cause for concern that this mosque is being used by a fundamentalist group."

Harun Miah, 29, assistant secretary of the mosque, insisted the men's attendance had been rare and denied any extremist preaching had taken place.

Another member of the mosque said it did not currently have an imam and the last cleric had been a temporary replacement who travelled from London.

The well-maintained building was deserted yesterday. The only indication that it served as a place of prayer was a copy of the Prophet Mohammed's last sermon, in Arabic script taped to the window, and a poster for an Islamic centre in nearby West Bromwich asking for religious teachers.

In a nearby street yesterday, council workers removed graffiti from a wall which depicted two aircraft flying into the twin towers in New York alongside the words: "Base of Terror".