THE three Blackburn men arrested under the terrorism act are devout Muslims who travel abroad to “teach” their faith, according to friends.

And it is believed two of the suspects were on their way to Iceland when they were arrested at Manchester airport on Thursday evening.

It has also emerged that the final man arrested was taken into custody at his workplace, Express Gifts, Church.

Police have declined to name the three men, aged 21, 22 and 23, who all live in Blackburn. Last night they were granted permission to hold the men for seven days.

It is understood two of the suspects are from Percival Street, off Whalley Range, and the third is a friend of their’s from Cromwell Street, off Audley Range.

Salim Mulla, senior vice chairman of the Lancashire Council of Mosques, said he knew the family of the Cromwell Street resident, who is a Hafiz - a name used for people who have memorised the Koran.

It is believed the other two men are a mufti - an Islamic scholar - and a Maulana, which means a religious leader.

Coun Mulla said: “I know the family very well. The father of one of the boys comes and sees me regularly at my advice surgeries.

“He doesn’t really speak English that well, so he comes to see me for help with his letters.”

He said the group had been travelling to Iceland to perform prayers at night-time during Ramadan. They also went to the Scandinavian country the previous year, he said, adding: “There’s nothing wrong with that whatsoever.”

Asked about the Cromwell Street resident who has been arrested, Coun Mulla said: “He is only a young lad. He is very quiet and doesn’t have much to say. He just practices his faith.

“I have asked to speak to the father. He must be in such turmoil, and he will need some support.

“He doesn’t speak very good English and he comes to my advice surgeries at least once a month.”

Bastwell councillor, Lib Dem Sajid Ali, said he was shocked by the news.

He said: “The people who have been arrested are very well-known in the community and this has come as a shock to us all.

“The men are well-known and we used to see them playing football. It is very close-knit community and I have known them since they were in nappies.”

Yesterday people living near the men gave their reaction to news of the arrests as police guarded the houses.

One Whalley Range resident, who did not want to be named, said he knew one of the Percival Street residents.

He said: “I heard he was flying to Europe when he was arrested. I grew up with him but we went our separate ways.”

Former councillor Parwaiz Akhtar, 47, of Percival Street said: “When we came back we saw the police were everywhere.

“The parents are brilliant. We don’t have any problems with them.

“The police have been helpful in telling people what they are doing by posting a letter to everyone concerned on the street. I personally feel people in the community should not mind because the police have a job to do.”

Ismail Mulla, who lives in Cromwell Street, said he had known the family for ‘a few years’ and was ‘surprised’ by the arrests.

He said: “There has never been any unusual activity from them. They go shopping, to mosque and work - they’re a normal family. They’ve never been in trouble before.”

Martin Clough, 32, a school caretaker from Cromwell street said: “They seem like a nice normal family and there had never been any trouble from them before.”

Police have written to people living near the arrested men explaining what had happened.

And yesterday afternoon council bosses held a meeting with local councillors to discuss how to preserve community relations.

Council leader Colin Rigby said: “We are all supporting the residents in the area, who are decent, law-abiding citizens.”

Yesterday Muslim worshippers gathered throughout the town for their Friday prayers.

One man at the Darul Uloom mosque in Moss Street confirmed one of the men arrested had studied there about three years ago.

Lord Patel, chairman of Bicknell Street mosque, said it was important to remember the men had not been found guilty of any offences.

He added: “When I heard the news I was totally shocked.

“Blackburn is a town where the community relations are excellent, and this sort of incident is a blot on the town. If these men are guilty, they are ignorant of their own religion.”

And former Lancashire Council of Mosques chairman Ibrahim Master added: “If people are involved in terrorism they should be arrested and locked up “Mosques shouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence as terrorism. They do not radicalise young people, they teach them.”

Indirect flights run between Manchester and Icelandic capital Reykjavik twice a week, including on Thursday evenings.

Police declined to give any further details about their investigation, but said updates would be given to the community when appropriate.

A spokesman for Express Gifts confirmed a man was arrested at their warehouse in Henry Street, Church, on Thursday evening.