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Bombers were `normal' Britons; officials fear homegrown terrorism

LONDON—One loved cricket. Another was a young father. A third happily told his parents last week that he was off to London "with his mates." All three had a deep Islamic faith, but no one thought of them as radicals.

The emerging picture of London's mass transit bombers is of normal people leading normal lives, good people from good families—"Suicide Bombers From Suburbia" was the headline in London's Daily Mail.

As the uncle of one man noted Wednesday, the first time it crossed his mind that his nephew could possibly have been involved in the bombings "was when the police showed up at my door."

A week after four bombs killed at least 52 people on subway trains and a bus during London's rush hour, Britons are stunned that the presumed killers were British, born and bred. Anti-terrorism officials, who have always hoped that younger Muslims raised in Great Britain would reject radical teachings about Islamic holy war, worry about what the attacks mean about the future of security here.

"It's exactly what nobody wanted to hear in this case," said Paul Cornish, who heads the international security program for the British research center Chatham House. "These are normal people from normal lives who, as far as we know, woke up one morning and decided to blow up an underground train.

"That means not only that we didn't know about them, but that we couldn't have, at least before they acted. It means Londoners are going to have to get used to suicide bombings as a part of life."

Prime Minister Tony Blair told Parliament on Wednesday that police work alone couldn't solve the problem of homegrown terrorists. He said there was a need to "mobilize the moderate and true voice of Islam" if officials were ever to make real progress in overcoming radicalism.

"This is not an isolated criminal act," he said. "It is an extreme and evil ideology whose roots lie in a perverted and poisonous misinterpretation of the religion of Islam."

Police on Wednesday were still piecing together details of what led to the worst attack on London since World War II, questioning a fifth person detained Tuesday, searching for another they believe was involved in the bombing and searching a house in Buckinghamshire north of London believed connected to the bombing. The search was expected to "take some time to complete," police said.

Police described the alleged bombers as friends and said they suspect that someone else planned and arranged the attack, possibly someone from outside England who would have had the expertise to make bombs out of military explosives and who likely left the country before the attacks.

Police said they now believe the bombers drove from the city of Leeds in central England to Luton, where they parked a car that police later found still contained "potentially dangerous" substances. From Luton, they took a train to London's King's Cross station.

According to closed-circuit television evidence, the bombers arrived at King's Cross shortly before 8:30 a.m. They were dressed like campers, each with a backpack, and were talking easily as they gathered, before splitting off in four directions. The nearly simultaneous explosions aboard the subway trains occurred at 8:50 a.m.; the bus exploded at 9:47 a.m.

According to British press and police reports, Hasib Hussain, 19, is suspected of the bus bombing.

Hussain, who attended high school in Leeds, told his parents he was heading to London with "mates" for some time in the city. After the bombings, his brother tried to reach him on his cell phone. When he was unable to do so, Hussain's parents reported him missing to police, believing he may have been a victim in the attacks. The phone call helped police crack the case.

Police found Hussain's driver's license and credit cards in the wreckage of the No. 30 bus in Tavistock Square. More telling, the description his parents gave police of what he'd been wearing matched the clothes found on a decapitated body whose injuries led police to suspect it might have been the bomber's.

At 8 p.m. Monday, investigators spotted Hussain and three others on a tape from a closed-circuit surveillance camera at King's Cross, taken just minutes before the bombs exploded.

Hussain's family described him as having "gone off the rails," or getting wild, two years ago. But as his parents—his father is a factory worker—tried to figure out how to discipline him, he found Islam. He was known to wear white robes, but a brother noted that he hadn't been radical and hadn't seen any harm in the change.

Shehzad Tanweer, 22, who lived in Beeston, outside Leeds, is suspected in the Aldgate Station subway bombing, where his credit cards and license were found. His father owned a local "chippie," a fish and chips place, where Tanweer worked part time.

Outside the chippie, he was a sports science student at an area university and an avid cricket player. In fact, according to British newspapers, cricket is the only thing friends thought he was fanatical about. His uncle, Bashir Ahmed, noted, "If he was ever reading a newspaper, it would be the sports."

Tanweer did visit Pakistan in December, but his uncle told reporters that he returned seven months earlier than expected, disappointed at a perceived lack of respect for Englishmen.

Mohammed Sadique Khan, 30, is suspected in the Edgware Road bombing, where documents and "forensic evidence," meaning body parts, were found. Khan, who grew up in the Leeds area, was married and had an 8-month-old baby. His house was raided, as was that of his mother-in-law. He met his wife while he was a student at an area university, though whether he received a degree is unknown.

News reports here describe him as quiet, "a ghost" in the neighborhood. Friends said he'd been in Pakistan before, but while devout—he was known never to look at women in the street—he wasn't considered political or radical.

All that is known publicly of the fourth bomb suspect is that he is from the Leeds area and is thought to be a friend of the other three.

British police late Wednesday were still questioning a 29-year-old Leeds man who had been arrested Tuesday in connection with the bombings.

Police also said they were trying to figure out who was the mastermind and financial muscle beyond the bombing and if there was a fifth man still loose in the London area.

About 150 miles north of London, in and around Leeds, police continued to search a series of buildings connected to the bombings. They were focusing on a house in Burley that West Yorkshire Police Chief Colin Crumphorn described as "an operational headquarters." Others described it as a bomb factory.

Crumphorn said the house was in a residential area surrounded by people who had no idea what had been going on inside. He said 500 people were evacuated in the area until police could determine if materials in the house were a threat.

"If it can happen in this way here, it can happen in other locations," he said.

Dick Leurdijk, a security expert with the Dutch research center Clingendael Institute, said the fact that the men were committed enough to perform suicide attacks, and yet police had no profiles on them, are bad signs.

"Suicide bombings aren't known in Europe, and it really makes it clear that the jihad is now here and it's intense," he said.

Then he spoke the fear that is roiling Britain: "All organizations have limited resources. That whoever organized this was willing to spend four men in a single attack makes it pretty clear that there are others—and maybe a lot of others."


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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