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Monday, 21 January, 2002, 18:55 GMT
From student to terror suspect
Feroz Abbasi
Feroz Abbasi: Studied computing after 'A'-levels
Briton Feroz Abbasi was known as a well behaved and conscientious school pupil, interested in roller blading and Michael Jackson - but now he is an al-Qaeda terror suspect.

Family, friends and former teachers have spoken of their shock that the 22-year-old is one of three Britons being held at a high-security compound at a US military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

He was a really good mate. I'm totally shocked

Childhood friend Michael Driver
His mother, reportedly "stunned", believes he was brainwashed after turning to Islam and joining London's Finsbury Park mosque, where he helped set up a website for a militant Islamic group before heading for Afghanistan.

But the exact trigger for his transformation from conscientious student to alleged terrorist is so far unclear.

Koran study

Childhood friend Michael Driver told the BBC he was "shocked" to learn of Mr Abbasi's alleged involvement with the Taleban and al-Qaeda.

He said he had encouraged Abbasi to study the Koran and become more involved in the Muslim faith.

"I was behind him 100%. He told me he wanted to become a Muslim and he was reading the Koran.

"I said 'if you want to take up your religion take it up'."

'Good mate'

Mr Driver said he hadn't seen Mr Abbasi for "about two years".

"He was a really good mate. I'm totally shocked. To be honest, I don't really believe it," Mr Driver added.

Feroz Abbasi was born in Uganda and moved to Britain with his parents at the age of eight.

He was a very well behaved and courteous student who was never in any trouble

College principal Jennifer Simms

The family settled in the upmarket London suburb of Croydon, where he reportedly attended Edenham High School, gaining good GCSE grades.

He had the hobbies typical of any British teenager, including an interest in girls and trips to amusement arcades.

For 'A'-level studies he attended the John Ruskin college between September 1996 and June 1998.

Jennifer Simms, the college principal, said: "During that time he was a very well behaved and courteous student who was never in any trouble here."

The institution, she added, has a strong academic reputation and prides itself on the way staff and students from a variety of backgrounds "work together in a peaceful and friendly atmosphere".

Computer studies

After 'A'-levels he took an two-year computing course at Nescot College in Epsom.

The areas covered during his time on the two-year HND course included industrial networking and satellite communications, a college spokeswoman told BBC News Online.

She said Mr Abbasi was registered with the college as a British national, although it was in the college records that he originally came from an African country.

Whatever they are going to do to him, at least I have the right to see my child

Abbasi's mother, Zumrati Juma
College principal Ron Pritchard said no existing members of staff could remember the student.

Mr Abbasi dropped out of the course halfway through his first year and went on a tour of Europe to consider his future.

He reportedly turned to Islam after being mugged in Switzerland, and began attending the Finsbury Park mosque.

The north London mosque has been linked to Zacarius Moussaouri, the so-called '20th hijacker', and shoe-bomb suspect Richard Reid.

Family cut-off

Feroz Abbasi effectively moved into the Finsbury Park mosque in spring 2000, it is claimed, slowly cutting off links to his former life.

Because his half-brother and half-sister had a Christian father, he stopped talking to the family and eventually disappeared altogether.

At some point he left for Afghanistan where he allegedly helped defend the last Taleban stronghold of Kunduz before it fell. It was then that he was captured.

Mr Abbasi's mother Zumrati Juma, a nurse at Epsom General Hospital in Surrey, has told newspapers she was shocked that her son was a prisoner in "a zoo cage" in Cuba.

"I hope they will not use the death penalty," she told the Sunday Times.

"Whatever they are going to do to him, at least I have the right to see my child."

Mrs Juma, who has not seen her son since December 2000, told The Guardian she wanted to visit her son but the Foreign Office told her it was not possible at the moment.

"The Foreign Office has told me not to worry about his conditions. But I won't be happy until I have seen him for myself."

Donald Anderson MP
"I believe the British government should talk very strongly to our US allies"
The BBC's Peter Hunt
"Many of the pieces of the jigsaw are still unclear"
See also:

21 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Captive Britons have 'no complaints'
21 Jan 02 | Americas
More suspects arrive in Cuba
28 Dec 01 | Americas
Destination Guantanamo Bay
20 Jan 02 | Americas
In pictures: Camp X-Ray prisoners
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