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Syria: councillor's home searched

Published 03/04/2015

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said officers are trying to establish the reason nine Britons detained in Turkey had travelled to the Syrian border.
Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said officers are trying to establish the reason nine Britons detained in Turkey had travelled to the Syrian border.

Police are searching the home of a Labour councillor whose son is one of nine Britons detained in Turkey on suspicion of trying to cross the border into Syria.

Officers are now at the home of Shakil Ahmed, who represents the Kingsway ward on Rochdale Borough Council.

His son, Waheed, is among a group of five adults and four children being returned to the UK after they were stopped in Hatay province on Wednesday.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it was providing consular assistance but was unable to confirm when the nine people, who are related, would reach British soil.

Mr Ahmed said that among those detained were Waheed's aunt, Zadia Bi, two of Zadia's sons and one of the son's wives.

Speaking to the Daily Mail, Mr Ahmed said the group were on holiday.

"All I know is that they were on holiday and then the next thing I am told is that they have been arrested," he said.

Mr Ahmed earlier said in a statement that he thought his son was on a work placement in Birmingham.

He said: "I was shocked, worried and extremely upset to hear that my son has been arrested on the Turkey-Syria border. It's a total mystery to me why he's there, as I was under the impression he was on a work placement in Birmingham.

"My son is a good Muslim and his loyalties belong to Britain, so I don't understand what he's doing there. If I thought for a second that he was in danger of being radicalised, I would have reported him to the authorities.

"He's studying a degree in politics and sociology at Manchester University and has a good future ahead of him. I just want to speak to my son and get him home as soon as possible so I can find out what's going on."

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said officers were trying to establish their reason for travelling to the Syrian border.

The group includes two women aged 47 and 22, three men aged 24, 22 and 21, and four children aged one, three, eight and 11, GMP said.

Assistant Chief Constable Ian Wiggett said: "What is obviously concerning is why a family were seemingly attempting to take very young and vulnerable children into a war zone. Such a volatile and dangerous environment is no place for them whatsoever."

Footage apparently showed the Britons arriving at a police station in southern Hatay province, where they were understood to have been kept overnight.

The force said it had uncovered "no evidence whatsoever" of any imminent threat to the Rochdale community or elsewhere in the UK.

Usman Nawaz, who went to the same school as Waheed Ahmed in Rochdale, said the "constant drip-feeding of British Muslims from this country" into Islamic State needed to be addressed.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "For some it's an adventure but for some they think that they are doing something noble.

"The ideology which is peddled, this very hardcore understanding of the faith, one which is state sponsored by Saudi Arabia, that has to be challenged and it's quite difficult to challenge it in a coherent manner when the Saudi ideology has the backing of petrodollars.

"There are mosques in this country which are funded with petrodollars. However, mosques in Rochdale, from what I understand, don't have a problem of radicalisation and extremism."

Mr Nawaz, who is a former member of a panel called the Young Muslims Advisory Group and a mentor to young Muslims through the Youth Council of Rochdale, said he did not think his former school could be blamed for Waheed Ahmed's actions.

He said: "I don't believe the school necessarily has anything to do with the path he has taken now.

"I'm of that same generation of young British Muslims; I'm 25 and I have not been radicalised."

Iman Irfan Chishti, of the Rochdale Council of Mosques, said: "We are shocked to hear this has happened in our town. Rochdale has had its fair share of negative publicity of late, given the grooming issue, and this is the last thing we need."

Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, said: "The news that nine people from Rochdale, including children, have been arrested in Turkey trying to get into Syria is deeply worrying.

"The idea you can take young children into a war zone is despicable and we condemn those adults who have done this."

GMP's Mr Wiggett said one of the police's primary concerns was the safety and welfare of the young children.

He added: "I would also like to take the opportunity to remind everyone of their responsibility to help us in our fight against extremism and prevent anyone thinking of travelling to Syria or other war zones from going."

GMP said officers were working closely with Rochdale Borough Council and faith leaders as part of the Prevent initiative, which aims to divert young Muslims away from terrorism and violent extremism.

The latest Britons to be detained follow three young men who were stopped at the Turkey-Syria border last month. They were tracked down after police were given a tip-off about their alleged plan to enter the country.

A woman was also arrested at the border on a separate occasion last month.

In February, police launched an international manhunt for three schoolgirls who went missing from their east London homes.

Bethnal Green Academy pupils Shamima Begum, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana are believed to be inside Syria after flying to Turkey on a well-trodden path to the country.

It is understood they were following another 15-year-old girl who travelled there in December.

A High Court judge has since confiscated the passports of four other pupils at the school after concerns were raised by Tower Hamlets Council.

The Metropolitan Police believe around 600 Britons have travelled to Syria and Iraq since the conflict began, while around half are believed to have returned to the UK.

Mr Ahmed posted a picture of himself with Labour leader Ed Miliband on his Facebook page just before Christmas.

A Labour spokesman said this morning: "This is a family matter. The good news is that the authorities stopped them crossing into Syria.

"The priority now is that the police and authorities investigate fully. We're clear that anyone involved with terrorist groups should feel full force of law."

Rochdale councillor Dalaat Ali, who is a family friend of Waheed Ahmed, told 5 Live Daily: " I've known him since he was little... He was born here, he's just as British as anyone else. We've never got an indication as to whether this was happening."

He described the fact that children seem to have been involved as " unbelievable" adding "who would endanger their children?"

He went on: " Just a couple of days ago, they were arrested in Turkey at around 2am and councillor Ahmed got a phone call from his son saying he was arrested in Turkey. He was supposed to be in Birmingham on work experience. He asked, 'what are you doing in Turkey?'

"It was early in the morning, he rang me, he came around and we've got a number for a councillor in Ankara but they were closed so we informed the local police as to what has happened. The family is gutted, mum, brother. It's unbelievable. Don't know what to say."

In Rochdale, Bassat Yousaf said he had known Waheed Ahmed since childhood and was shocked at his arrest in Turkey.

Mr Yousaf, 21, said his friend had been collecting money for victims of the Syria conflict before he learned he had gone to Turkey.

He said: "I have known him for 15 years. He's really a quiet guy and he was just the same person that he was when he was in high school.

"I didn't see any change in him whatsoever. He was a nice guy, I used to see him daily, I used to see him going up and down getting a milkshake.

"Seeing him on the news came as a shock for me. He didn't seem that kind of person. He was a family guy and not the kind of person they are talking about.

"I knew his dad was a councillor for Rochdale. These things don't really add up. He's not the person I knew five years ago.

"I saw him a month ago and he was a nice person, a really humble guy.

"We used to eat and go out together. He's not the person in the news that I knew from back then.

"When I saw the news yesterday, I was very shocked. It was shocking because it didn't look like him.

"I knew him and who his dad was and didn't think he would do anything like that.

"We used to talk about Palestine and Syria and he sometimes collected charity money. I used to see him collecting a lot of charity money for people whose homes have been blown up.

"He was out collecting charity for people in Syria, knowing the person for that long - that's the only thing I can think of.

"It was money for Syria, they made a lot of badges and shirts, people wearing Palestinian, Syria shirts.

"I think he might have been away in Turkey, maybe on holiday, he might have gone there to help Syria, with his family."

Reporters were spat at and had their cameras shoved by some worshippers after Friday prayers at the Neeli Masjid Mosque in Hare Street, Rochdale, where it is believed Waheed Ahmed attended.

A spokesman for the mosque said: "It's a big-time shock. I have seen him here. I watched it on the news but I don't know the family."

After prayers, another man said: "People are shamed about what's happening, Rochdale again is brought into light again for negative reasons.

"Muslims are being stigmatised. Islam itself is beautiful but the musclemen need to go to pure Islam.

"People are saying Isis, Isis is not Muslim, Isis is Mossad. It's on the internet."

At a second local mosque, the Masjid Al-Furquan, in Philip Street, Rochdale, worshippers were also frustrated by questioning from reporters and cameramen.

After prayers some railed at journalists for the way Muslims are portrayed in the media.

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