Rochdale Labour Councillor’s Son, 21, Arrested in Remote Turkish Border Town Alongside His Aunt, Cousins and Four Children
Chris Greenwood et al., Daily Mail, April 3, 2015
The leader of a family of nine caught trying to get into lawless Syria was revealed last night to be the son of a respected Labour councillor.
Waheed Ahmed, 21, was arrested with eight relatives–including four children–in a remote Turkish border town.
The politics undergraduate is the son of a local politician photographed with Labour leader Ed Miliband just weeks ago.
Shakil Ahmed, 45, spoke of his shock after being told that his son is suspected of being a militant Islamist.
He told the Daily Mail: ‘All I know is that they were on holiday and then the next thing I am told is that they have been arrested.’
The nine Britons, who include three men, two women and four children aged between one and 11, were seized in Hatay province, in southern Turkey.
It shares a border with part of Syria controlled by rebel factions including those linked to Al Qaeda and IS.
All those held are from Rochdale and are the biggest family group caught attempting to enter the unstable territory.
Counter terrorism officers at Greater Manchester Police began an investigation into their movements.
A senior officer questioned why anyone would take anyone so young ‘and vulnerable’ into a warzone. The extended family group were detained at a checkpoint in Ogulpinar on Tuesday.
The three men and two women, aged between 21 and 47, were taken to a hospital with their children, aged one, three, eight and 11.
Officials said they will be photographed and fingerprinted before being deported back to the UK.
Photographs showed Waheed Ahmed, dressed in traditional robes and wearing heavy boots, leading the group from a minibus into a police station.
Several women, all wearing headscarfs which covered their faces, could be seen carrying children. Most of the party were wearing walking boots, perfect for trekking across the rugged region.
Last night, family members were holding a crisis meeting at the family’s £150,000 semi-detached home in Rochdale.
Shakil Ahmed, a bakery delivery driver, is a councillor in Kingsway and served alongside Karen Danczuk, wife of Rochdale MP Simon Daczuk, until her resignation in January.
Speaking as he delivered election campaign leaflets yesterday, he said he recognised his son in online newspaper reports of his arrest.
Councillor Ahmed said the others arrested included Waheed’s aunt, Zadia Bi, 50, and two of her sons and one of their wives. He said: ‘I don’t know why they have been arrested. We have no information. Until they ring we will not know what has happened.’
He said that he had seen his son’s photograph and when asked about one picture of his son laughing, he replied: ‘Well, they went on holiday so they shouldn’t be crying on holiday should they?’
He added: ‘I don’t believe my son was on his way to join Islamic State. I was shocked, worried and extremely upset to hear that my son has been arrested.
‘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. If I thought for a second that he was in danger of being radicalised, I would have reported him to the authorities.’ The councillor added: ‘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.’
Waheed apparently called his devastated father at 2am to break the news he had been arrested.
Neighbours described the former pupil at Rochdale Sixth Form College who is now an undergraduate, as ‘very religious’.
He is particularly close to his brother, Moin, 22, who is still at home and was not among the group in Turkey, and the pair wore similar traditional Islamic clothing. Neighbours said he has not been seen ‘for some time’.
Former Conservative councillor, Mohammed Sharif, who lives two doors down from the family, said: ‘I know the family quite well. They are really quite normal so this is very shocking. The boys are both quite religious and have beards but their father is just normal and their mother is also very nice.’
Mr Sharif said that Waheed prayed five times a day at the Gungol Sharif mosque, in Derby Street, Rochdale. He said: ‘He always seemed quite polite. I can’t believe this has happened.’
Mr Sharif added: ‘This is a very shocking development in our community. It seems that the internet has a big part to play in what is happening to these children.
‘We need to warn parents about the dangers of this radicalisation.’ Waheed was last spotted in the area three weeks ago.
His grey Toyota Auris remained outside his house.
Another neighbour, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: ‘He was very religious and always walked around in traditional dress. He didn’t really mix with anyone and was very quiet.’
His older brother Moin follows many Islamic extremist preachers on his Facebook page, including Dr Bilal Philips, who has condoned suicide bombers in the past and is banned from the UK for holding extremist views.
Police now face the task of investigating exactly what the fugitives’ motives were and whether they have committed terrorist offences.
Turkey is a key staging ground for foreign fighters and others hoping to reach Islamic State-held areas of Syria and Iraq.
Earlier this week Yahya Rashid, 19, was charged with preparing acts of terrorism after flying into Luton Airport from Istanbul.
He is suspected of acting as an Islamic State smuggler, paying for four men and a woman to join the terrorist group.
Assistant Chief Constable Ian Wiggett, of Greater Manchester Police, said: ‘Officers have commenced an investigation to establish their reason for travel and apparent attempted entry into Syria. At this time officers have uncovered no evidence whatsoever of any imminent threat to the communities of Rochdale or indeed the UK.
‘What is obviously concerning is why a family were seemingly attempting to take very young and vulnerable children into a warzone, such a volatile and dangerous environment is no place for them whatsoever,’ he added.
It is understood that social workers in Rochdale are already preparing to interview parents on their return.
Imam 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, 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 warzone is despicable and we condemn those adults who have done this.’
The Ahmed family are originally from Kashmir but settled in Rochdale in the 1980s and have lived in their current home since 2006.
Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk tweeted last night: ‘I’ve been in touch with the father of one of young men who was there & he’s shocked & confused as to why his son was trying to enter Syria.
‘At this stage I don’t want to say too much until I receive more information from the police on whether a criminal offence has been committed.
‘Rochdale stands united against any terrorist activity and we are constantly vigilant about any signs of radicalisation.’