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Briton boasts of role as Bin Laden fighter

Briton boasts of role as Bin Laden fighter

Author: Nicholas Hellen
Publication: The Sunday Times, UK
Date: March 10, 2002

A Muslim fundamentalist who claims to have fought for Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda terrorist organisation in Afghanistan has slipped unnoticed back into Britain.

The 22-year-old described how, after nine weeks at war against the allies, he had flown home to his native Manchester to resume his previous life. He was put in contact with the paper through a Taliban sympathiser in Pakistan.

During a four-hour interview conducted near the centre of the city, he appeared untroubled by the prospect of arrest as he spoke of his activities in Afghanistan. His composure only slipped as he posed briefly for pictures.

"A lot of Muslims in Britain support what I have done," he said. "I don't fear that my family or neighbours will turn me in to the authorities."

The man who used the assumed name of Abdullah, said he still regards himself as an Al-Qaeda agent and described how, despite long periods on the front line, he had avoided the fate of the five British captives held at Camp X-Ray.

He claimed he found it straightforward to cross the border back into Pakistan, and that he flew into Manchester on January 3 without attracting any special attention.

Abdullah said an "identity crisis" at the age of 18 led him to embark on his double life. "Like almost all Pakistanis, I was told to respect Islam, British culture and the Pakistani way of life, but it reached a stage where the tensions between the three became too much," he said. "I just smiled if someone called me a Paki, but if someone offends my religion, I take action."

He portrayed his parents as conformists who preferred to compromise their Muslim faith rather than draw attention to themselves. "My father won't even demand that his work allocates a prayer room."

Abdullah wore a light T-shirt during the interview on a cold afternoon in Manchester last week, emphasising his muscular physique. He said he was first introduced to fundamentalist preaching by his friend Hassan Butt, a well-known agitator who has established links to the Tipton Muslims now held in Cuba.

At the age of 19, Abdullah joined a group of 10 extremists who went on extended endurance training in the Lake District, Scotland and on the Brecon Beacons. They were taught navigation and survival techniques, marched with 70Ib packs and learned how to load and maintain firearms.

On one of their training weekends in the Lake District, their incongruous appearance caught the eye of an observant policeman, he claimed. "On a day of sleet and rain, one of our cars broke down and the police came by and asked us what we were doing

"With our beards and some of us in combat fatigues, we looked like typical terrorists. One of our three instructors, a black man who told us he had been in the Royal Marines, handled it by telling them we were on a weekend camping trip."

He dropped out of university and, although he was newly married, he claims that on July 16, 2001, he flew to Lahore, Pakistan, to join a training camp for extremists. "I told my wife I had to go on a trip and she didn't try to stop me," he said.

It was here, at a secluded camp between Lahore and Islamabad, that Abdullah claims he first came into contact with Al-Qaeda and an Arab trainer known as Hamid Ullah.

He claimed that he impressed his handlers with his coolness under pressure. "Few people can continue to think clearly in a crisis, but I can," he said. He returned to Britain in late August and says he was "happy" to see thousands of people perish in the World Trade Center. "Muslims are killed everywhere through American foreign policy," he said.

Before returning to Pakistan on September 29 he told his wife his real motives. "She said she was happy for me to go and see me die as a Muslim," he claimed.

According to his account, he crossed into Afghanistan in early October in a group of 12, including two other Britons, through the Malakand border area north of Peshawar. "We crossed over the border in daylight carrying tents, ammunition, rifles and grenades. I was meticulous.

"I brought proper boots from the UK, I wasn't going to wear slippers into battle like some of the Taliban. We walked about 20 miles.

"We were taken to pick-up trucks and drove for about eight hours. When we were eventually brought to Kabul we were taken to a safe-house and given briefings. There weren't any computer-based presentations, but it was done professionally, they knew what they were doing."

He described long stints of guard duty, patrolling the roads north of Kabul for up to 20 hours a day during the American bombing of Taliban positions. The patrols, he said, were broken up by skirmishes with Northern Alliance supporters.

He became animated as he described an alleged incident during the retreat to Kandahar in which he and a group of fellow Al-Qaeda fighters engaged in a gunfight with six Americans as they drove through a gully. He also claimed his group caused damage to three American helicopters.

Abdullah claimed he is now part of a 10-man Al-Qaeda cell in Britain. He said he remained committed to Bin Laden's cause and would not hesitate to destroy non-civilian targets in the UK.

A spokesman for the Home Office said that under the Terrorism Act 2000 it was an offence to indicate support for a proscribed organisation such as Al-Qaeda and added: "We are monitoring a number of people and organisations."

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