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HITMEN who shot dead a born-again Muslim in a packed gym may have been hired by angry drug dealers, it emerged last night.

Former kickboxing champion Azmat Yaqub, 35, was murdered in an execution-style killing while he worked out at Chic Physique Health in the Sparkhill area of the city last July.

The shooting happened in the weights room next to an area where a group of youngsters were having a kick-boxing class but no one else was shot.

A lone gunmen burst into the building and fired about 10 rounds before escaping in a car with an accomplice.

Now murder squad detectives are investigating claims that Mr Yaqub, known as Tony, had upset local drug dealers with his anti-drugs stance.

A close friend of the family said: 'Azmat turned to Islam about ten years ago and was becoming more and more active in the local mosque.

'Before he found Islam he was like a lot of young Pakistani lads in the area getting into trouble and hanging with the wrong crowd.

'Azmat began working with local youths teaching them kick-boxing and encouraging them to keep fit.

'He was very anti-drugs and would go around telling youngsters not to mix with dealers.

'He even began confiscating drugs and money off petty dealers which upset afew of the main drug suppliers in the area.'

The friend added: 'Azmat was a popular man and everyone knew him as a man who was not to be messed with because of his size and connections.

'Some people have been portraying him as modern-day Robin Hood type of figure and say that is what lead to him being targeted.'

Last year, the Sunday Mercury revealed how Mr Yaqub had previously survived a murderous attack which killed his best friend Shaham Ali just weeks before his death.

Police probed a possible link to the drive-by shooting in which Mr Yaqub and Mr Ali were shot at when two groups of Asian men clashed in Waverley Road, Small Heath.

Mr Ali was blasted in the head and later died while Mr Yaqub was shot in the shoulder and is believed to have been wearing a bullet-proof vest.

It is thought that the shooting wasthe terrifying conclusion to a huge bust-up between two factions at Birmingham Central Mosque.

Six men were arrested over the earlier shooting, including Sheik Abu Yusuf Riyadhul-Haq, 34, a former imam at the mosque. Two of the accused, Mohammed Arshad Khan and Mohammed Sharafit Khan, were later cleared of murder and attempted by a jury at Birmingham Crown Court.

The court heard that Mr Riyadhul-Haq had secretly married a woman who became his second wife.

But problems arose from that relationship which led to Shockat Lal, a mosque secretary and friend of Mr Yaqub and Mr Ali, having an affair with the woman and making her pregnant.

Last week detectives renewed their appeal for help in catching Mr Yaqub's killers.

They are particularly interested in tracing the occupants of a light-coloured five series BMW seen leaving the murder scene. One of the gunmen is desribed as white in his late 20s, between 5ft 9ins and 6ft, of medium build with a thin face, short hair and clean shaven.

His accomplice is black, similar age and build and wearing a black baseball cap and dark-framed glasses.

West Midlands Police are offering a pounds 5,000 reward for information and can be contacted at the incident room on 01922 439107


APPEAL: the two men ploice want to speak to about the murder and a CCTV image of the BMW getaway car; SHOT DEAD: Azmat Yaqub
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jul 31, 2005
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