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Friends claim Khan's statement was faked

London Guardian | September 5 2005

Five young men sit in their cars on Maud Avenue in the early evening sunshine. Opposite, in Cross Flats park, another group of teenagers kicks a ball around a purpose-built football pitch designed to keep the young people of the deprived Leeds suburb of Beeston off the streets.

Their personal memories of Mohammad Sidique Khan, brought up like them in a rundown, redbrick terrace perched on a hill overlooking the affluent city centre, were stronger than ever yesterday.

They knew Khan as a youth leader, a joker, a friend and a mentor. They had played football with him on the pitch opposite; across the main street, on the ground floor of the Hardy Street mosque, he had supervised and encouraged them as they trained in the boys-only gym.

One, who gave his name as Saj, had been on day trips quad biking with the 30-year-old youth worker - born to a foundry worker and educated at the local secondary school - who investigators believe was the recruiting sergeant and ringleader of the July 7 suicide attacks in London.

In the two months since Khan left his wife and young baby at their flat in Dewsbury, and led his three recruits, Shehzad Tanweer, 22, Hasib Hussain, 18, and Germaine Lindsay, 19, to London to explode four bombs on the transport system, Saj and his friends have been living in denial.

"A lot of people loved him round here. I have known him all my life, he was a friend to everyone," said Saj.

"He never talked of terrorism to me. I just don't accept that he or the others did this. I am suspicious of what the police say, there is no proof and look how they shot that Brazilian guy who was innocent."

Provided yesterday with what seemed to be evidence, the video statement of Khan apparently admitting his role in the bombings, his proteges were left confused.

After watching it on Thursday night, Saj was one of the few young men to admit it was evidence of a kind. "That is proof I suppose. It just shows you doesn't it?"

His friends were less easy to persuade. Paranoid that their conversations were being recorded by MI5, none would give their names but their sentiments were clear.

"It's a fake," said one. "Look at the way his lips were moving; they looked odd, the whole thing is a fake."

It is not just the young who need persuading. Many older men in the grid of potholed streets and boarded-up houses which back on to alleys where rubbish lies uncollected believe Khan, a dedicated teaching assistant at Hillside Primary school, is the victim of a conspiracy.

"It's crap," said Mohammed Afsal, a father of five and member of the Hardy Street mosque.

"I know people can change in a second, but I can't say he is one of them. He taught my son, he was a very good teacher. He was never hardline - no one could say he was an extremist - he was peaceful and dedicated to the children. They all loved him."

The release of the video brought television satellite vans, a media pack and police vans back to Beeston yesterday after weeks in which the citizens have had what they say is "a little peace".

In the intervening period, the parents of Hussain and Tanweer have moved back, devastated, but attempting to get on with their lives.

Khan's wife, Hasina Patel, who is expecting a baby, his young daughter and his mother-in-law, Farida Patel, are essentially living in hiding in Dewsbury, according to friends. "They will not be happy at all about this video," said one.

His parents, Tika Khan and Mamida Begum, have not been seen at their home in Nottingham since the police led them away in the aftermath of the bombings.

In Beeston, community leaders say they have spent the weeks urging parents to pay more attention to what their sons are doing.

At Friday prayers each week, families are urged to look out for their young sons: the unspoken fear is that others may follow in Khan's footsteps.

Afzal Choudhry, a youth worker who spent six months working with Khan in Beeston, hopes they will not.

He said the video may have a positive impact in the long term, forcing young people to accept that he was involved. "It makes it more clear that he perpetrated these acts, it was definitely him, it was his voice and his face, that cannot be denied," he said.

Mr Choudhry believes it was only in the last five years that Khan became particularly religious.

In the months before July 7, Khan had travelled to Pakistan with Tanweer and had also visited Afghanistan.

Police are investigating whether it was on this last trip that the attacks were planned.

Like many people yesterday, Dr Hassan Akertib, from the Leeds Forum of Mosques, had to accept what police have been saying, that Khan was one of the suicide bombers.

His greatest fear now is that other young men may still be under Khan's spell. "This video will make some see him as a martyr, definitely," he said.

"We are very concerned. We are trying to reach out to his circle of friends to find out what influence he still holds on them and to try and eradicate it. "

 

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