For many in Leeds, radicalism no shock

Conflict: As Britain tries to come to terms with the bombings, a suspect's neighbors say anger is common amid poverty and ethnic tensions.

July 14, 2005|By Robert Little | Robert Little,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LEEDS, England - They gathered just down the road from Shahzad Tanweer's house yesterday, the spiritual and political leaders of the downtrodden little community of Beeston, to assure residents that there are no bombers living among them.

"We've never come across any radical element whatsoever," said Hanif Malik, manager of a community center, echoing what the Muslim councilman, the Anglican bishop, a Methodist minister and others had to say.

They were talking almost in sight of Tanweer's house, which is still taped off from Tuesday's police raid to determine why he might have blown himself up last Thursday in London's Aldgate Road subway station.

Just a block from where the ministers and councilman offered reassurances, people living in the slate-and-brick rowhouses whispered their disagreement.

A bomber in Beeston?

You can find anger and depression and radicalism in Britain wherever you find poverty and racial and religious tension, they said. So, it's little wonder that police believe they have found a bomber in Beeston.

"If they think like that, then they will see more of this, more attacks," said Asad Qayyum, a 53-year-old insurance adjuster who emigrated from Pakistan.

"If you had come to me before and asked if there was a terrorist sleeper cell here in Beeston, ... I'd have to have said, `Yeah, it's certainly possible,'" said Jonathan Hawkins, an unemployed computer technician who was smoking and watching the television cameras outside his home. "People around here feel like they've been done wrong."

The sentiments in Beeston were starkly different yesterday from those around much of Britain, which was still coming to terms with the discovery that last week's bombings in London appear to have been carried out by men who were born and raised in England. British officials said yesterday that the four suspects, each of whom is believed to have died in one of the explosions, lived in the West Yorkshire area, in and around Leeds.

They were "cleanskins" with no arrest records, officials said, denying French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy's statement that some of the suspects had been detained in 2004 but were released in the hope that they would lead police to a larger radical network.

Worries large and deep

The fact that the suspects were British points to bigger worries for the country: Their deciding to carry bombs suggests a troublesome socioeconomic imbalance and fertile ground for nurturing extremists.

"This is not an isolated criminal act we are dealing with," Prime Minister Tony Blair told Parliament yesterday. "It is an extreme and evil ideology whose roots lie in a perverted and poisonous misinterpretation of the religion of Islam."

Charles Clarke, the home secretary, said investigators assume that the bombers were trained and guided by others.

"We have to understand that these foot soldiers who have done this are only one element of an organization that is bringing about this kind of mayhem in our society," he told the British Broadcasting Corp. "And we have to attack the people who are driving it, organizing it, manipulating those people. And that's where the police investigation is going just at this moment."

"I think what's really a bad sign is that ... the fact the bombers were homegrown shows that the recruiting is becoming easier," said Johnathan Stevenson, senior fellow for counterterrorism at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Washington. "A whole pool of people who may not have done something like this in the past is now energized."

Authorities have identified two other suspects in the London bombings as Mohammed Sadique Khan, 30, and Hasib Hussain, 18. Such is the surprise at the suspects' English heritage that local newspapers published copies yesterday of Tanweer's birth certificate, showing that he was born Dec. 15, 1982, in the neighboring city of Bradford. Leeds' Evening Post ran an editorial titled "The Day that Brought Shame to Yorkshire."

`Extremist elements'

Yet in the community of Beeston, where Tanweer's father runs a small fish and chips shop, and where teenagers on the street say they never knew Tanweer to care about anything but cricket, residents who never knew the suspect are not so surprised at their community's new renown.

Qayyum sat in a barbershop with other Muslims, drinking tea and pondering the community's new place in the spotlight, and said he would not be shocked to find a bomber in his midst.

"If you go ask the ordinary people, they will tell you there are these elements, these extremist elements," he said. "You see it every day."

A casual visitor to Leeds might never see anything but the posh City Centre, whose broad pedestrian boulevards carve a grid through imposing 19th-century buildings. The boutiques and coffee shops and outdoor performers make it hum with an urban energy that draws visitors from across England. Yet, it is noticeably mono-ethnic compared with its environs.

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