Militants questioned on bombings

Pakistani security forces detain 20, inquire about July 7 attacks in London

July 20, 2005|By Mubashir Zaidi and John Daniszewski | Mubashir Zaidi and John Daniszewski,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Pakistan's security forces detained yesterday 20 people belonging to various militant groups, and a senior police official said they were questioning some of them concerning suspected links with the July 7 London bombings.

The action comes as the investigation into the attack on the London transport system increasingly focuses on determining who outside Britain might have planned or helped facilitate the attacks that killed at least 52 people as well as the four bombers. About 700 people were injured.

Aside from the detentions in Pakistan, Egyptian authorities have detained and are interrogating an Egyptian biochemist in Cairo who knew at least one of the suspected bombers and in whose apartment in Leeds, England, authorities reportedly found chemicals that could be used in explosives.

British authorities have not identified the biochemist, Magdy el-Nashar, as a suspect in the bombings, and Egyptian authorities have said they are convinced he was not involved in the attack.

The Egyptian Cabinet issued an unusual statement yesterday seeming to exonerate El-Nashar. "The Cabinet ... took note of the report by the Interior Ministry which clarified that the Egyptian chemist had no link with the al-Qaida organization or with the bombings," the statement said, according to agency reports.

In London, Prime Minister Tony Blair served as host of a Downing Street round-table of 25 Islamic leaders, political leaders and members of parliament to discuss what actions could be taken to check the spread of extremism among disaffected Muslim youths.

At the meeting, the Muslim leaders pledged to reach out to young people and actively contest extremist ideas in their community.

"There was clear determination, a clear commitment from all of us, to really find those measures which will enable us to deal with the crisis," said Iqbal Sacranie, general secretary of the Muslim Council of Great Britain.

Speaking to the BBC after the session, Sacranie said it was "absolutely vital" that the Muslim community be regarded as part of the solution.

However, even before the meeting took place, a militant Muslim spokesman said it was useless for Muslims to talk to the British government unless it pulled its troops out of Iraq and changed other policies.

Anjem Choudary, a lawyer and Islamic activist, said there was a "very real possibility" of another attack. "You can't sit down and negotiate while you [the West] are murdering Muslims in Iraq," he warned.

Another militant leader, London-based radical Syrian cleric Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, the founder of the now-dissolved militant group al-Muhajiroun, told London's Evening Standard in his first interview since the bombings that he deplored violence but that Britain had brought the attack on itself.

"The British people did not make enough effort to stop its own government committing its own atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan," the sheik, who has praised Osama bin Laden in the past and celebrated the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, was quoted as saying.

Britain has been criticized by European security officials for tolerating militants such as the Syrian-born cleric, letting them put down roots in Britain and exhort followers to struggle against the West.

At a London news conference with visiting Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai, Blair and Karzai both vigorously rejected the argument asserted by a British think tank Monday that the war in Iraq was making Britain more exposed to attacks by al-Qaida and similar groups.

A poll published Tuesday in The Guardian newspaper showed that many Britons are convinced that their nation's participation in the war in Iraq has stirred up would-be militants.

According to the poll, 33 percent think Blair bears "a lot" of the blame for the bombing for deciding to go to war, and 31 percent "a little." Only 28 percent thought that there was no connection between the bombing and the war in Iraq, the newspaper said, based on a poll of 1,005 adults conducted over the weekend.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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