LUTON (England) Nov 1: Friends and neighbours of two British Muslim families whose sons were reported to have died fighting in Afghanistan closed ranks on Thursday as police launched a probe into a radical group that claimed the young men were fighting for the Taliban.

The families of Aftab Manzoor and Afzal Munir, both 25, were keeping out of sight, scared by the threat of a racist backlash after media conjecture that their sons were traitors to their country.

Among their neighbours in Luton’s 20,000-strong Muslim community, people drew their curtains shut and refused to respond to door-knocks.

“They won’t answer their doors, they won’t talk to you. I am the only one who will say anything,” a friend of the Munir family said.

Speaking of Afzal Munir, the neighbour said: “He was such a nice kid. I was sitting on the wall talking to him three weeks ago.”

“They are a really good family, beautiful people,” said the neighbour, who asked not to be named.

Earlier in the week a spokesman from a radical London-based Islamic group said Manzoor and Munir were among six westerners killed by US military action against the Taliban.

“All of them had gone to Afghanistan in early October to wage jihad, (holy war) against the unjust policies of America,” said Hassan Butt, al-Muhajiroun leader in Lahore, Pakistan.

“We have learned from our contacts that they were martyred by the American bombing,” he added. Al-Muhajiroun’s claims, however, are met with much scepticism here.

“We have had no official reports of any British deaths in Afghanistan,” the Foreign Office have said.

Friends and relatives of four of the men named by al-Muhajiroun as “martyrs” denied they had any link with terrorism.

They had gone to Pakistan to find a wife, or to help with the humanitarian effort, or to visit family, they insisted, quoted in the press.

“The first we heard was when we read in the newspapers he had been killed in a car crash,” the Manzoors’ neighbours and key-minders said.

Munir’s neighbour said that news of his death in Afghanistan had taken him completely by surprise.

“No-one knows why he went to Afghanistan. I was shocked, totally shocked, he was a great kid and I never expected anything like that. I would really like to know who brainwashed him,” he said adding he had known Munir for years.

Comments made by an al-Muhajiroun spokesman were being investigated as possible racist incitement, Scotland Yard announced Thursday.

“A full investigation has been launched by police and we are in close contact with the Crown Prosecution Service.”—AFP

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