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Views split about 3 freed from Guantanamo

TIPTON, England -- The years three local men spent in US military detention at Guantanamo Bay have been hard on this run-down former industrial town in central England.

Illustrating tensions between Muslim Pakistanis and Tipton's white residents was an effigy of a prisoner in the main street the night they returned to England.

The three, among five Britons returned to Britain Tuesday after more than two years at Guantanamo, were friends from Tipton. They were arrested when they landed, but were freed Wednesday night. No charges are pending.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said British authorities did not know whether the five were innocent. He said the decision by London police to release them did not mean the Americans had not been justified in holding them for two years.

Camera crews and reporters were camped yesterday outside the family home of Rhuhel Ahmed, one of the freed prisoners, but there was no sign of him.

All were believed to be with their families at undisclosed locations; none has spoken publicly.

"They should never have come back from Cuba," said John Whitehouse, a 50-year-old builder who was drinking beer yesterday in The Union pub. "I think they were there [in Afghanistan] to fight in the war against the Americans and the British."

Asif Iqbal, 22, a mail worker, reportedly went to Pakistan to meet a prospective bride. Ahmed, 22, reportedly went with him to help his friend prepare for a possible wedding. Shafiq Rasul, 26, went to Pakistan about the same time to take a computer course, his family has said.

Iqbal and Rasul were plaintiffs in a case to be heard by the US Supreme Court challenging the indefinite detention without trial of terrorist suspects at the Cuban naval base.

How they wound up in Afghanistan has not been explained. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, which brought the Supreme Court case, they were detained Dec. 17, 2001.

Mohammed Naseem, chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque, said: "I think back to the times of Stalin and Hitler, when people were being taken away somewhere where no one knew where they were."

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