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London terror attacks

Chemist held in London bombings

Egyptian officials say he is being interrogated; investigators also are looking for links between bombers and al-Qaida.

Associated Press
Published July 16, 2005

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 bookshop 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.

Blair said that a man who was on Britain's terrorism watch list had entered the country but was not put under surveillance.

In an apparent slip by British intelligence, the unidentified man was able to leave the country in the days before the bombings.

"With this particular man there is nothing at the moment that links him directly," Blair said.

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 antiterror 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 4 miles from Egyptian chemist Magdy Mahmoud Mustafa el-Nashar's townhouse, 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 Nashar, who studied at North Carolina State University and the University of Leeds. It said Nashar denied having any connection to the attacks.

The Associated Press reported that an unnamed government official in Cairo said that Nashar, 33, was arrested in the Egyptian capital on Sunday or Monday after British officials informed Egypt of their interest in him.

But Nashar's youngest brother, Mohammed, said he was arrested Thursday when he went to a local mosque to pray.

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.

The Egyptian Interior Minister said 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 Nashar's townhouse in a complex of two-story brown brick apartments.

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.

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 Associated Press reported that the Pakistani investigation is focusing on at least one trip that Tanweer, 22, made to that country in the past year, citing unnamed senior intelligence officials, who work at two separate intelligence agencies and are involved in the investigation.

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.

[Last modified July 16, 2005, 00:25:11]

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