AS INVESTIGATIONS continued yesterday into the extent of the links between al-Qaeda and last week's attacks, intelligence officials in Pakistan confirmed that one of the bombers did visit a radical religious school run by a banned terrorist organisation.
They believe that Shehzad Tanweer spent four or five days at the large Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) complex in Muridke, 20 miles north of the eastern city of Lahore, as first reported by The Scotsman. LeT has extensive links with al-Qaeda and a history of extreme violence.
The Pakistani officials also believe that Tanweer, 22, was in contact with another terrorist group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, which is also linked to al-Qaeda. The investigation is focusing on at least one trip - and possibly two - that Tanweer made to Pakistan in the past year.
One official said that while in Pakistan, Tanweer is believed to have visited the 60-acre LeT complex - called Markaz Taiba - which includes a mosque, religious school, housing and farmland. The short nature of the visit is thought to indicate that he went to meet someone or receive instructions.
But yesterday Mohammed Azam, who is in charge of the complex, denied that Tanweer had ever been there. "This is a pack of lies," he said. "They want to malign Islam. They want to target the religion of Islam and Muslims."
And Yahya Mujahid, a spokesman for the terrorist's associated fundraising arm, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, claimed that the group did not condone attacks on civilians.
"It is nothing more than a propaganda of the British press," he said. "We consider attacks on civilian and public places as unislamic."
Yesterday it emerged that three men arrested by Pakistani authorities in 2003 in connection with the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen confessed that Osama bin Laden had asked LeT to recruit Pakistani volunteers for suicide missions to be undertaken on behalf of al-Qaeda and that LET had provided an initial 12 volunteers.
Intelligence analysts suggest that LeT has been moving into areas previously dominated by al-Qaeda because of the pressure concentrated on that organisation since the attacks of 11 September, 2001. It has boasted of access to nuclear and biological weapons.
Tanweer's uncle, Bashir Ahmed, has said that his nephew travelled to Lahore, Pakistan, earlier this year to study Islam.
However, the Pakistani officials said they believed Tanweer also made a trip in the latter half of 2004, in which he met Osama Nazir, a Pakistani militant arrested last year for helping plan a grenade attack on a church in Islamabad that killed five people, including two Americans, in March 2002.
Nazir, a member of the al-Qaeda-linked Sunni militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, told authorities on Thursday that he met with Tanweer last year in Faisalabad, 75 miles south-west of Lahore.
The revelations came as General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, urged the authorities to root out extremism from his country. "We owe it to our future generations to rid the country of the malaise of extremism," he said.