Disbelief and anger greet arrest of devout Muslim
Saturday November 29, 2003
The image of Sajid Badat as an Islamist terrorist was met with disbelief and anger in his home town of Gloucester yesterday.
Since the arrest on Thursday morning the authorities have described the man who was arrested as a potential suicide bomber with links to al-Qaida. According to some reports he was planning to blow himself up at a football match or target the royal family or the government's listening centre GCHQ, in Cheltenham.
But as forensic specialists continued to scour the house in St James Street, those in the community who professed to know Sajid Badat well painted a picture entirely at odds with this profile.
"I saw him a few days before the arrest and he was in the street chatting to children about the correct way to behave. I know him very, very well and I can tell you the person you are seeing and hearing about in the papers is not Sajid," said a childhood friend, Mohammed Yosuf. "He is popular and he has never mentioned anything about fundamentalism or terrorism, that is simply not him. He has travelled to many countries to study Islam, but studying Islam is not the same as studying terrorism."
Badat went to St James Church of England primary school, less than 100 yards from the house where he was born in the Barton area of Gloucester. Daniel Jeffrey, 25, a school friend, said he was a bright, popular pupil. "He got on well with everyone. He was always top of the class, but also good company."
From St James he went to the Crypt Grammar school in Gloucester, where he continued to impress friends and staff. The head teacher, David Lamper, told the Guardian he was "punctual, cheerful and polite". He said: "He was a successful student achieving 10 good GCSEs and four A levels.He was a quiet boy who took his religious beliefs seriously."
He was born in St James Street and neighbours said the family were friendly, devout Muslims. He grew up with two sisters and a brother. His parents, Mahomed, who works for Birds Eye Walls at Barnwood, and Zubeida, moved to England from Milawi in the 1960s.
After leaving grammar school Badat is thought to have spent five years in Pakistan studying to become a cleric.
He is also thought to have worshipped at the Finsbury Park mosque, in north London, and the Brixton mosque, south London, where the shoe bomber, Richard Reid, worshipped.
Friends say Badat returned to Britain and began studying at the College of Islamic Knowledge and Guidance in Blackburn last year. He returned to Gloucester for Ramadan to preach at the Masjid E Noor mosque.
Mr Yosuf said: "He is the rising star of the mosque. He has been making speeches to about 1,000 worshippers, talking about respect for your parents and the correct way to behave, does this sound like a man involved in terrorism?
"Everyone knows he is a good and very intelligent person and we know he is not involved in this sort of thing."
Yesterday a cousin said his arrest had shocked the whole family. "He is nothing more than a friendly, sociable, normal young lad, who had lots of friends and did not hold extreme views in any way."
At the Masjid E Noor mosque worshippers filing out of afternoon prayers refused to believe that Badat had been involved in terrorism. "He spoke about the way to be a good Muslim and people listened. No one can believe the things that are being said," a fellow worshipper, Mohammed Rafique, said.
Gloucestershire police deputy chief constable, Martin Baker, said he believed the events of the past two days would not affect community relations, although he pledged tough action against anyone abusing ethnic minorities.
Officers have mounted extra high-visibility patrols in the area to reassure residents and to deter any incidents that might arise.
Two further properties in the Barton area were searched but nothing of significance was found and no arrests were made.
Mahmood Moolla, the founder of the Gloucestershire Islamic Trust, said the whole community had been shocked by Badat's arrest. "We never expected any such thing to happen here in this peaceful community. This has always been a trouble-free place.
"We teach our children in our mosques that violence is wrong and that terrorism is not acceptable in Islam.
"This is the kind of thing we don't want happening in our community, if we have a problem we want to solve it peacefully, not through terrorism and violence".
· Three North African men were arrested in Italy and Germany yesterday as part of an investigation into a network seeking to recruit Islamic militants for suicide attacks against coalition forces in Iraq.
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