Egyptian biochemist jailed in London bombings; police raid bookstore
LEEDS, England – Police in Cairo detained a biochemist who studied in the United States and taught at a university in Leeds – the home base for at least three of the London bombers. Investigators in Britain raided an Islamic book shop and the Egyptian’s home, searching for explosives and other evidence Friday.In another sign of the investigation’s widening global reach, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair said authorities were trying to determine whether any of the four “foot soldiers” – suicide bombers who ranged in age from 18 to 30 – had ties with Pakistan-based cells of the al-Qaida terror network.In an interview with BBC radio, Blair said the inquiry was focusing on the organizers of the four London suicide attacks, which killed 54 people, and confirmed police were focusing on a Pakistan connection. Three of the bombers – Shahzad Tanweer, Mohammed Sidique Khan and Hasid Hussain – were Britons of Pakistani origin. At least two had traveled to Pakistan.Two senior Pakistani intelligence officials said Friday that authorities in that country were looking into a possible connection between Tanweer and two al-Qaida-linked militant groups, and specifically a man arrested for a 2002 attack on a church near the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.The July 7 suicide bombings had political ramifications at home as well: the British government announced plans Friday to make it a crime to provide or receive training in the use of explosives in new anti-terror legislation being considered in the wake of the attack.Home Office Minister Hazel Blears, in a letter to opposition parties, said the proposed legislation would also outlaw “indirect incitement” of terrorism, including praising those who carry out attacks. The bill will also propose outlawing “acts preparatory to terrorism,” she said.Police on Friday raided a shop called Iqra Learning Centre in Beeston, a Leeds neighborhood. The shop appeared to sell Islamic books and DVDs and offer seminars and presentations.The Learning Centre is about four miles from Egyptian chemist Magdy Mahmoud Mustafa el-Nashar’s town house, where British news media reported that police found evidence of the explosive TATP inside a bathtub.
TATP was used by shoe bomber Richard Reid, whose attempt to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight from Paris to Miami in December 2001 was thwarted. Reid pleaded guilty to U.S. charges and is serving life in prison.Egypt’s Interior Ministry announced Friday that Egyptian authorities were interrogating el-Nashar, who studied at North Carolina State University and the University of Leeds. It said el-Nashar denied having any connection to the attacks.In Cairo, a government official said el-Nashar, 33, was arrested in the Egyptian capital on Sunday or Monday after British officials informed Egypt of their interest in him. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was giving information not in the official ministry announcement.But el-Nashar’s youngest brother, Mohammed, said he was arrested Thursday when he went to a local mosque to pray but didn’t return.It was unclear why there was a discrepancy between the two accounts.In London, Blair said British authorities would seek his extradition, if need be, although the two countries do not have an extradition treaty.A security official in Cairo said Britain was pressuring Egypt to hand el-Nashar over, but that Egypt was trying to determine if there was enough evidence against him to do so. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not authorized for official release.Britain’s Foreign Office had no comment on the security official’s statement.The Egyptian Interior Minister said el-Nashar came to Egypt from London on vacation and had intended to go back to Britain to continue his studies.
“El-Nashar denied having any relation with the latest events in London,” the ministry said. “He pointed out (to questioners) that all his belongings remained in his apartment in Britain.”In Leeds, authorities searched el-Nashar’s town house in a complex of two-story brown brick apartments. The home was surrounded by blue and white police tape and covered in scaffolding draped in white plastic sheeting. Forensic teams in white coveralls carted out material.TATP, or triacetone triperoxide, is a highly unstable explosive made from commercially available chemicals. Earlier media reports had suggested the London bombers used military-grade explosives.Andy Oppenheimer, an explosives expert with Jane’s Information Group, said TATP is strong enough to have caused the damage wreaked by last week’s bombs. But he said making such a highly volatile explosive stable enough to carry out closely synchronized attacks would have required advanced knowledge of chemistry. Police say the three subway blasts happened within a minute.El-Nashar’s research at Leeds focused on biocatalysis and enzyme immobilization, according to a biography of him at the university’s Web site.That kind of research “wouldn’t have anything directly to do with explosives” or with biological weapons, said Constance Ann Schall, an associate professor at the Chemical Engineering Department at the University of Toledo in Ohio.The Pakistani investigation is focusing on at least one trip that Tanweer, 22, made to that country in the past year, the senior intelligence officials said. The officials, who work at two separate intelligence agencies and are involved in the investigation, spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the secretive nature of their jobs.One of the officials said that while in Pakistan, Tanweer is believed to have visited a radical religious school run by the banned Sunni Muslim militant group Lashkar-e-Tayyaba.
The school in Muridke, 20 miles north of the eastern city of Lahore, has a reputation for hostility. Journalists who have gone to the school in the past have been threatened and prevented from entering. Lashkar-e-Tayyaba was banned by Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf for alleged links to a 2001 attack on India’s Parliament.Khan, the 30-year-old who detonated the bomb on the subway train near Edgware Road, left for Pakistan in December to look after his ailing father, former students at the Hillside Primary School in Beeston said. It was not clear when he returned to Britain.On Friday, Jon Trickett, a member of the British Parliament, said Kahn visited the House of Commons in July 2004 as part of a school trip.”I was shocked to learn that someone who had grown up in the area of Beeston where I lived and which I represented on the Leeds City Council for 12 years should turn out to be one of the London bombers,” the lawmaker said.Kahn and others in the field trip were screened before being admitted into the building.Meanwhile, the family of Hussain – the 18-year-old believed to have blown up the double-decker bus – released a statement saying they were devastated by the attack and had no idea he could have been involved.”We had no knowledge of his activities and had we … we would have done everything in our power to stop him,” the statement said. “We urge anyone with information about these events, or leading up to them, to cooperate fully with the authorities.”It was Hussain’s mother who gave investigators a key break in the case when she called them the night of the bombings to report him missing.