Britain's enemy within
THE 10 o'clock news was drawing to a close. Huddled in front of their TV set in the tidy front room of their house in Leeds, where they have lived for over 30 years, the Hussain family - mother Minza and father Mahmood - were wracked with worry. One story was dominating the air waves: the crushing revelations that London had been attacked by Islamist extremist terrorists as the G8 summit was getting underway for the day in Scotland.
The Hussain family, devout Muslims all, would have felt like millions of others that night: dismayed that, once again, their centuries-old faith was being corrupted by the twisted mind-set of a few radical maniacs. More than that, however, they were afraid. Their eldest son Imran, a gregarious, popular young man was there that night, but 18-year old Hasib, the younger, quieter, low-achiever, had not come home.
The last Minza Hussain had seen of him had been the previous day, July 6, when her son had told her he would be going to London for the night. Now his mobile phone was ringing out. As with more than 50 other families in Britain and across the world that dreadful Thursday evening, the Hussain's began to think the worst. Had Hasib been caught up in the blasts? On the TV, news presenters were offering help. A phone number had already been set up by police in London for worried relatives to call. Minza picked up the phone and dialled.
At the Metropolitan Police's casualty bureau in Hendon, north London, the call was one of thousands of others that had arrived that day. An officer took down Hasib's details: 6ft 2ins tall, heavy build, wearing a casual jacket and jeans. So began the trail which last week led to the naming of those responsible for Britain's worst-ever ground-based terrorist outrage. Hasib was not a victim, as Minza feared. He was, a shocked nation discovered, one of Britain's first ever suicide bombers.
It would be four days before the reality behind Hasib Hussain's visit to London would emerge. When it did, the dam burst quickly. The breakthrough began with forensic officers picking their way through the carnage of the number 30 bus at Tavistock Square on Thursday and Friday. Amid the bloodstained wreckage of the Stagecoach bus, they recovered one particularly disfigured body in which the force of the explosion had led to decapitation.
None of the other victims, it is understood, had met such an end. The injuries were noted: suicide bombers are often decapitated by the force of the explosives they strap to their bodies. Together with eye-witness claims of a young man rummaging around in his rucksack moments before the bomb had exploded, it seemed to indicate a pattern. But who was he?
The body met Hussain's description, which had been sent out from Hendon. Officers stepped up the line of inquiry. The task now would be to track his movements back, hoping that his distinctive blue jacket would reveal his presence.
It would be an enormous task as the police were in the process of recovering no less than 5,000 tapes from CCTV footage from and around the bomb sites. Yet on Monday, astonished officers made an incredible discovery. Studying the footage from a camera located high above the dark, grubby station forecourt at King's Cross they noticed, at 8:20am, 20 minutes before the three tube bombs exploded, a man matching Hussain's description. And he was not alone. With him were three other men: 22-year-old Shehzad Tanweer, 30-year-old Mohammed Sidique Khan, and Germaine Lindsay, believed to be 19. All had large military-style rucksacks on their backs, as if preparing for a few days' backpacking.
They spoke for several minutes, their heads close together. There are reports that the footage even shows them laughing. Then, with no elaborate farewells, they split up and entered the tube station.
Within minutes, three 10lb bombs had ripped through the tube network and just over an hour later, Hussain blew himself up in Tavistock Square. Khan and Tanweer were quickly identified from the personal effects they had left at Edgware Road and Aldgate, respectively. It took a further two days to discover Lindsay - whose body was among those trapped 100ft below London's streets on the narrow Piccadilly line. By the end of the week, the sickening truth had become clear: the men who had willingly embraced death were not the crazed demonic terrorists of popular imagination, but apparently ordinary young men who enjoyed cricket and loved their families.
While police this weekend continue to pursue the men behind the crime, Britain is left with a series of uncomfortable questions, the most obvious of which is: how did this normal foursome become transfixed by the idea of killing themselves and their fellow Britons?
Disturbingly, the answers lie within a community which, up until last week, had prided itself on avoiding the kind of extremism that persuades men that suicide bombing is martyrdom.
The poor Leeds suburbs of Beeston and Holbeck, as well as the nearby town of Dewsbury, were never supposed to be the kind of place where radicalism could take root. The school where both Khan and Hussain had studied, Matthew Murray High School, had recently won the Stephen Lawrence Standard, an award given to the school which had most successfully achieved racial harmony. Students and staff are running a wide-ranging project to celebrate the multicultural diversity of life in the city. Third-generation Muslims, who arrived here after the Second World War from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, now speak with broad Yorkshire vowels and staff chip shops, as Tanweer's father does, which serve old-fashioned British fare to fellow Anglicised Asians.
This is the kind of assimilated Muslim Britain for which most politicians yearn. Yet beneath the surface, there is also a burning resentment that the prosperity of the city has largely passed them by. Leeds has long cast off its image as a dour northern capital. Its centre now boasts a Harvey Nichols store, smart boulevards and rocketing house prices.
Yet in Beeston and Holbeck, a rundown community of shabby, red-brick Victorian terraces which has become an international melting pot of at least seven different ethnic groups, the outlook is very different. Only 10% of youngsters go to university, compared with 44% in more affluent areas. Unemployment is high and misuse of drugs is widespread. Anger bubbles under the surface and, within the Muslim community, another tension exists - evident, according to experts, in every similar community in the country.
Leeds and Dewsbury's Muslims are divided across the generations. Dr Sean McLoughlin, an Islam expert at Leeds University, who has visited all the mosques in the area, says: "An important point about mosques both in Leeds and elsewhere is that they were set up by first-generation Muslims, and although some of them are becoming a bit more dynamic and open to younger people, they are not that accessible to the young. Many are almost like old men's clubs."
The result is that many young people meet outside the confines of the mosque for more radical activities. "These radical groups exist on the fringes of the community," McLoughlin said. "They may be outside meetings of quite moderate speakers and be leafleting them. They're a bit like the Socialist Workers Party."
Mohammed Khan had known this community all his life. In many ways, the 30-year-old typified the apparent harmony within the area and was, at first glance, the perfect illustration of Britain's successful multicultural society. He worked as a "learning mentor" or "buddy" to pupils in the Hillside Primary School in Beeston, where, given the fluidity of the local community, 75% of pupils could change in a single year.
Parents at the school warmed to his smiling, pleasant manner. Tina Head, 33, a local parent described him as a father figure. "His baby was due three months before mine last year and we used to talk about that. He seemed a lovely person," she said.
Equally popular was 22-year-old Tanweer. His uncle, Bashir Ahmad, pointed out last week that he had declared himself "proud to be British". A pupil at Wortley High School in Leeds, he excelled at sports, especially cricket and football, and was a star midfielder for Holbeck FC. Trophies line the family home's display cabinets in Beeston. Clever too, he had easily earned the grades this spring to study sports science at Leeds Metropolitan University.
The third local resident, Habib Hussain, 18, was a different character - quieter, less confident, and deemed a problem child by his parents. Over-shadowed by his older brother Imran, his main outlet for expression was his first love, football. But when the local team's pitch was closed two years ago,
he withdrew into himself; his grades plummeted. His attitude was also a concern for teachers - there are claims he was involved in an incident in which he had hit out at a group of girls in the playground. This may have contributed to the decision by teachers to recommend he be withdrawn with only a GNCQ in business studies to his name. Yet he was still well liked by friends and neighbours.
All with common backgrounds, all from stable Muslim family backgrounds, all with bright futures ahead of them. Yet within months, all had apparently become radical Islamist extremists. As the days went by last week, a patchwork of facts built up gradually, offering possible explanations as to why. And the image of ordinary, decent boys who showed no inclinations towards extremism and violence began to crumble.
Behind Khan's outwardly charming exterior lay a more complex character. It is understood that his marriage, to Hasina, was under strain, with his religious zeal worrying her. Khan may have been deeply involved in Beeston's multicultural society, but his religious views were hardening.
Hasina is believed to hold more liberal views on Islam, particularly on the role of women, but her husband was veering in the opposite direction. He plunged deep into his faith and, like thousands of other British Muslims exploring their beliefs, decided to visit Pakistan to further his studies.
It is thought that one of the schools Khan studied in was Darul Uloom Haqqinia, one of Pakistan's leading institutions of Islamic learning near Peshawar. The radical seminary, known as a madrassa, is often described as the "University of Jihad". Offering a bitterly harsh regime, which punishes poor pupils by placing them in heavy iron fetters, it teaches pupils to fight for the cause of Islam. Many of the Taleban military who ruled Afghanistan for more than five years are known to have studied there. Khan is understood to have combined his visits to the school with trips into Afghanistan for military-style training.
It changed his outlook on life entirely - and the contrast between his Western life and his religious views appears to have boiled over. Last summer, he became severely depressed and quit his job. He refused to worship at mosques in Dewsury, instead travelling to the Stratford Street mosque in Leeds. Some friends
claim he told them he wanted to become known as a "martyr".
As with Khan, the change in Tanweer took place following his own trip to Pakistan. The devout, studious young man who, according to friends, wanted to learn the Koran off by heart, planned a nine-month study trip to a madrassa near Lahore. He set off last December and when he arrived, a far more radical version of Islam was awaiting him.
The school he attended was being run by the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, founded by Hafiz Saeed, a former professor at Lahore University, who has publicly stated he believes suicide bombing to be the "best form of jihad [holy war]." Pakistani intelligence experts say that among those believed to have stayed there previously was Ramzi Yousef, who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993.
It emerged yesterday that, while there, Tanweer met a British-born militant, Zeeshan Siddiqui, who had previously been
arrested for terrorist offences. Pakistan officials say Siddiqui is a close aide of al-Qaeda operational commander Abu Farraj al-Libi, who was detained earlier this year in Pakistan and is now in US custody. He told US investigators in May that the group wanted to "do a Madrid in London".
The experience appears to have been overwhelming for Tanweer. He returned in February after only three months, telling his friends he had not enjoyed the company of his fellow Muslims at the school. But this excuse was a cover for his true feelings.
Likewise, Habib Hussain's transformation can be traced to the same source. Worried by his behaviour, and the dread that he would fall into licentious western ways, his parents decided he should go to Pakistan for religious training and he, too, is thought to have studied at a madrassa.
The experience changed him entirely. His parents were delighted; their listless son was transformed into a disciplined, alert young man who was consumed with religious zeal. He grew a beard and began dressing in Islamic clothes. The trip to Pakistan had given him a new and chilling purpose.
The end to which the three would put that purpose began to take shape 16 months ago in a mountain village in the frontier region of Waziristan, north-west Pakistan, on the border with Afghanistan.
Many experts believe it is within this wild mountainous area that Osama bin Laden and a host of al-Qaeda operatives remain in hiding. What is clear is that, in early 2004, al-Qaeda chiefs finalised a list of targets in the west. London would almost certainly have been among them.
The exact details of how the group of bombers were groomed for their mission in London is still unclear, but there remains little doubt they were the instruments of an al-Qaeda mastermind. What will be crucial to the police investigations is the role played by a shadowy figure who was also arrested last week, an Egyptian post-graduate student called Magdy Elnashar. It is Elnashar who is thought to be responsible for completing the cell, by introducing the fourth member of the group, and the only one to have come from outside Yorkshire.
Jamaican-born Germaine Lindsay, whose own bomb killed at least 21 people in the tunnel near King's Cross, came from the small town of Mandeville. After moving to England, he converted to Islam, changing his name to Abdullah Shaheed Jamal.
Originally, he lived in Bradford, where he first met Elnashar; they both attended the Grand Mosque in Leeds. The youngster - he was believed to be only 19 - then moved to Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire where he married a local woman, Samantha Lewthwaite.
Lindsay was something of a mystery to his neighbours in Northern Road, the residential street where he lived. A carpet-fitter with a passion for boxing, he seemed to be a playful character. He and Lewthwaite soon had a son and were expecting a second child. His widow, who is heavily pregnant and currently under armed guard at a local maternity unit, is refusing to believe he was a bomber and demanding DNA proof that he was one of the four terrorists.
Lindsay was often seen doting on his son. At mosques, fellow worshippers recall him taking delight in playing with the youngsters. Yet few in the neighbourhood ever got close to him, and none was aware of just how extreme his Islamic beliefs had become.
Back in Leeds, Khan, Hussain and Tanweer had begun meeting one another over the course of the last year. It is thought the group were not welcomed at any of the mosques in the area - indeed, there are suggestions from Muslim leaders they had all been banned from attending.
It is thought they began meeting at a Muslim youth centre in Leeds. Members of staff complained last week the centre was being used to promote extremist views, and one leader of the centre is believed to have been taken to London for questioning.
Police believe it was in early June that the pace of the bomb plot began to pick up. It was then that Elnashar rented a flat in Alexandra Grove in the Hyde Park area in Leeds. Up until then, the house had been used by a man called Samir Al Ani, 44, who has since flown to Iraq.
Neighbours report seeing men come and go at unusual times of the day and night, acting suspiciously. Forensic tests are believed to have established that all four bombers visited the Alexandra Grove house which became the "bomb factory" during this time.
When police raided the building last week they found a bath filled with explosives. Some reports claim another 10lb package had been neatly parcelled out - suggesting that there may have been a fifth bomber due to attack London that day but who lost his nerve.
Contrary to initial reports that the bombs were military-style devices, the bombers manufactured them themselves, concocting a favourite al-Qaeda explosive known as "Mother of Satan" - or the unstable acetone peroxide. Made from common household items, it was also used by British-born shoe bomber Richard Reid, along with a plastic explosive.
At around the same time as the Alexandra Grove house was rented, it appears the man police believe to be the mastermind behind the operation entered the country. Known only as 'K', he is believed to be British-born and was thought to have been present at the 2004 meeting in Afghanistan when the attack was first planned. It emerged on Friday, however, that 'K' was not put under surveillance, even though he was on a watch list of terrorist suspects. He was not considered a high enough priority.
Shortly before the bombers converged in London, Elnashar disappeared from the house he was renting in St John's Terrace, near Alexandra Grove. He told flatmates he would "see them soon", but never returned. Claims that he had fled to Egypt were confirmed on Friday when he was arrested in Cairo.
Then, a day before the bombings, it is understood that 'K' also managed to leave the country. The scene was set for the four bombers - and their deadly cargo - to do their job. What remains bewildering to many is how the group continued to act as if nothing unusual would happen soon.
Khan, meticulous as ever, booked time off work for his trip to London. Perhaps most hauntingly, the intelligent young Tanweer spent his last evening before blowing himself up going, as usual, to cricket practice at the Cross Flatts Park in Beeston. Team-mates say he was "laughing and joking" with friends.
He, Khan and Hussain then drove down to Luton station that night in time to meet Lindsay, who had driven there after hiring a red Vauxhall Corsa. Carrying their bombs on their backs, they then caught the 7:20am Thameslink train to King's Cross. The city's day of carnage was about to begin.
More detail on how the bombers planned their atrocity will continue to emerge over the coming weeks - but the police investigation is already moving on. Senior officers have little doubt that they will uncover a clear al-Qaeda link, which will lead all the way back to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Specifically, they are now looking for three groups: the men who trained the bombers, the groups who encouraged them, and the chemist who manufactured the bombs. Intelligence expertise from across the globe is being pooled, as the arrest of Elnashar on Friday in Cairo demonstrates. The search for him involved the FBI, Interpol and French intelligence officers.
Back in Leeds, the shock of a dreadful week remains. On Friday night, more than a week after they had picked up the phone to call the police, Minza and Mahmood Hussain, hiding away in a safe house, spoke for the first time: "We had no knowledge of his activities and, had we done, we would have done everything in our power to stop him," they said.
Among the mysteries remaining to be uncovered is whether their son really thought he was going to die along with his victims 10 days ago. The intelligence services are probing the theory that the bombers were duped into killing themselves to protect the shadowy network supporting them.
Two of them, with young families of their own, appeared to have every reason to live. They bought return rail tickets to Luton and pay-and-display car park tickets at the station.
They were carrying their bombs in easily discarded rucksacks, not strapped to their bodies as is normal with suicide bombers, and there were none of the usual cries of "Allah Akhbar" - God is great - at the time of detonation.
There was very little effort even to disguise their identities, as is normal in Middle East suicide operations. The bombers were carrying wallets containing driving licences and bank cards.
One security service source said yesterday: "If the bombers lived and were caught, they probably would have cracked. Would their masters have allowed that to happen? We think not."
This raises the greatest fear of all: that somewhere in Britain, there lies another cell waiting to pounce. What is unknown at present is how many other British Muslims have returned radicalised from religious study trips to Pakistan.
Ali Jarvis, interim director of the Commission for Racial Equality in Scotland is blunt. "We would be very foolish to assume it couldn't happen here," she said. "The people in Leeds were shocked by this and it could just as easily happen in Scotland."
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