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Friday, 1 February, 2002, 19:13 GMT
Tipton rejects 'fanaticism' claim
Row brewing over 'fanaticism' claims in town
News that five of their fellow townsmen are being accused of taking up arms to fight for the Taleban has left the people of Tipton reeling.

Two young local men Shafiq Rasul, 24, and Asif Iqbal, 20, are being held in the high security Camp X-Ray in Cuba, while Ruhal Ahmed, 20, is being questioned in the Afghan city of Kandahar.

A fourth man from the west Midlands town, Munir Ali, is believed to be missing in Afghanistan and his sister, Sayeda Khatun, confirmed that Mr Ali is friends with Mr Rasul, Mr Iqbal and Mr Ahmed.

Ruhal Ahmed
Ruhal Ahmed is being held in Kandahar

Now a fifth man from Tipton is reported by a local newspaper to be missing in Afghanistan.

The link being investigated by security forces in the UK is that all five worshipped at the same mosque.

A local councillor said the mosque - a converted corner house - was a hotbed of fanaticism.

Labour councillor Ian Jones claims an extremist fundamentalist group has been active in the area for more than two years.

'Firing from the hip'

But his views have been disputed by other local leaders and there are fears his comments could inflame racial tensions in the area.

The leader of the local Sandwell Borough Council, Bill Thomas, accused Mr Jones of "firing from the hip".

"Further investigation should take place before people label a place a hotbed of fanaticism," he said.

"It's not proven and it's something that we as council will step back from."

 Shafiq Rasul
Shafiq Rasul has been seen by UK officials

Other local representatives have been keen to deny any extremist activity exists in the area.

Adrian Bailey, the Labour MP for West Bromwich West, who spoke to the Rasul family when they heard their son was being held in Camp X-Ray, said the community as a whole was "shocked and amazed" at what had happened.

"The Muslim community in Tipton is old established, well integrated and moderate, and there is very little sympathy for the al-Qaeda cause," he said.

A leading member of the area's Pakistani community, who did not want to be named, said local Muslims had been mainly supportive of the American action in Afghanistan since the 11 September attacks.

Multi-faith community

"There hasn't been any evidence of religious extremist activity in the area so it's been quite a shock for people here to find out the men being held in Cuba are from Tipton."

Ian Binnie is head teacher of Alexandra High School and Sixth Form Centre which both Mr Rasul and Mr Iqbal attended, and where Mr Ahmed is also reported to have been educated.

He said there was no indication at the time of any extreme fundamentalist views.

Extreme right views

"Talk of gang involvement or any such issues within the school at the time is completely untrue," he said.

"Tipton is a multi-cultural, multi-faith community.

"Relations amongst the different groups are harmonious. This is a tribute to the tolerance of the people of Tipton."

But BBC correspondent Andrew North, reporting from Tipton, said concerns are mounting now that racial tensions could rise in the town over the young men's alleged involvement with the Taleban.

The British National Party held 24% of the vote in the Tipton Green ward in the May 2000 local elections.

See also:

27 Jan 02 | England
Terror suspect family 'baffled'
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