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Monday, 28 January, 2002, 10:38 GMT
Shy student or al-Qaeda warrior?
A Muslim community in the West Midlands, has been shaken by news that two young men from their town are terror suspects being held by US forces in Cuba.

Shafiq Rasul, 24, and Asif Iqbal, 20, are accused of belonging to a hardline Islamic group based in Tipton.

They were captured in Afghanistan and are now among 158 Taleban and al-Qaeda suspects being held by the Americans at Camp X-Ray.

Shafiq Rasul
Shafiq Rasul was supposed to be on a course in Pakistan
Mr Iqbal's family has refused to comment.

But the picture being painted by the family of Mr Rasul is very different to US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's description of the captives as among the most vicious killers in the world.

Both Shafiq and Asif studied at the Alexandria High School and Sixth Form Centre and lived streets away from each other in Tipton.

Shafiq's family describe him as a shy, "westernised", Black Country lad who cannot even speak Punjabi properly.

Lost contact

He went to college every day and showed little support for the Muslim community in Tipton.

His family says he did not take part in the Pakistani community events and rarely attended the local mosque, even at key dates in the Muslim calendar.

He could have been brainwashed and taken over there to fight

Murtza Rasul, brother
When Islamic extremists were blamed for the 11 September atrocities in the United States, Shafiq is said to have condemned the attacks.

He travelled to Pakistan in October, apparently for a Microsoft computer course as it was cheaper than doing it in the UK.

Every week he spoke to his family in Tipton until December when they lost contact.

The family had tried to call Shafiq to tell him about his nephew's death but were unable to talk to him.

On Monday last week, they received a call from the Foreign Office informing them of his capture. The news shocked the family.

Gang claims

Their boy, who they say had never expressed radical beliefs, was being branded a terrorist.

How or why he ended up in Afghanistan remains a mystery to them.

Camp X Ray
The family has been shocked by pictures of Camp X-Ray
Shafiq's brother Murtza said: "First, he could have been brainwashed and taken over there to fight.

"Second thing is he could have gone over there to aid the women and the children."

Media interest in the case has of course been frenzied.

But the family deny press allegations that he had been in a gang or carried a gun to school.

They even reject claims that photographs of a dazed, injured soldier captured at the Qalai Janghi fortress in Afghanistan are of Shafiq.

The family is now concerned for his welfare in the US camp and are demanding his return to Britain.

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"All the men named went to the same school"
See also:

27 Jan 02 | England
Terror suspect family 'baffled'
27 Jan 02 | Americas
No POW rights for Cuba prisoners
21 Jan 02 | UK Politics
From student to terror suspect
21 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Captive Britons have 'no complaints'
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