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London Investigation

July 15, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT
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SIMON ISRAEL: The fast and furious international hunt for those behind the London suicide bombers moved to Cairo today and to the home of this man: Magdy el-Nashar. He’s a 33-year-old biochemist who allegedly facilitated the renting of the flat in Leeds to one of the four bombers three weeks ago.

The postgraduate, described by a Leeds University colleague as a brilliant chemist, was awarded a Ph.D. in May and left London for Cairo a fortnight ago. His arrest was confirmed by the metropolitan police commissioner.

METROPOLITAN POLICE COMMISSIONER IAN BLAIR: I can only tell you that I am aware of the development, as you’d expect me to be. We will be monitoring the developments in Egypt very carefully, and if it’s necessary, we will send officers there or we will seek extradition or whatever other processes are necessary.

SIMON ISRAEL: A statement from the Egyptian interior minister said the biochemist denied any involvement. It may all be coincidence, but anti-terrorist officers are planning to fly to Cairo tonight to question him about the bombers’ trail which has emerged in Leeds and West Yorkshire over the past week.

Number 18 Alexandra Grove was rented by Magdy el-Nashar. It was the bomb factory where explosives were assembled in the bath before the attacks. Forensics at this property link all four bombers to the flat. But Magdy el-Nashar did not live there; his home was just around the corner at Number 22 St. Johns Terrace, which has also been searched by police.

It’s thought that el-Nashar met the fourth bomber, Lindsey Jamal, in the Islamic prayer room at Leeds University sometime ago. The pair then regularly attended Leeds grand mosque on Hyde Park Road, which is just around the corner from where the bombs are believed to have been constructed. Lindsey Jamal, seen here with his wife and baby, is thought to be the Russell Square bomber and the one who rented the flat. He left Jamaica at the age of one, moved to Huddersfield with his mother, and both later converted to Islam. His wife reported him missing after the bombs went off.

What’s resulted from the continuing forensic examination of all the scenes in Leeds is a different theory of how the bombs were made, with chemicals readily available over the counter. Intelligence sources have confirmed to Channel 4 News that the highly unstable acetone peroxide formed part of the rucksack bombs that each suicide bomber wore last Thursday. It was originally thought that only high explosives could have done the damage like this to the bus. But that is now being revised in the light of what’s come out of the searches in Leeds.

But this inquiry is rapidly becoming a series of concentric circles, one of which now encompasses the House of Commons. It emerged tonight Mohammed Sidique Khan had visited parliament a year ago on the invitation of his local MP before, by all accounts, he turned from a children’s learning mentor into a radicalized mass murderer.

RAY SUAREZ: Schoolteacher Mohammed Sidique Khan was one of three native-born Britons of Pakistani descent named as the suicide bombers, along with the earlier-mentioned Jamaican immigrant.

Add to that the possibility of an Egyptian mastermind, and the four reported arrests today in Pakistan in connection with the investigation, and a picture starts to emerge of a homegrown and international conspiracy to attack London.

We look now at the complex assembly of a terror attack with Jessica Stern, who served on the National Security staff in the Clinton administration and is now a lecturer at the Belfer Center in Harvard, and Bruce Hoffman, director of the Rand Corporation’s Washington office; his latest book is “Inside Terrorism.”

Bruce Hoffman, did the fruits of the investigation so far, this narrative as we saw that’s starting to fall into place, fit or not fit with recent bomb plots and terror attacks worldwide in recent years?

BRUCE HOFFMAN: Well, it certainly fits exactly with recent bomb plots that the British police were successful in derailing over the past two years. And there what we see is the genesis of the plot at least being directed or ordered from Pakistan with British Muslims, homegrown terrorists in Britain actually being entrusted with carrying out the operations.

RAY SUAREZ: And do we have a profile here that also is familiar: Young men with an older mentor, a more established fellow who may be the leader of the cell?

BRUCE HOFFMAN: I think there may be a general pattern to the recruitment process. But what makes this particular type of attack and these adversaries so threatening is there is no one profile.

Since 9/11, we’ve seen an array of individuals in the United Kingdom become involved in terrorism, ranging from people who were juvenile delinquents who were converted to Islam, for instance, in prison, to graduates of the London School of Economics and now potentially from the University of Leeds, so very educated people but also jailbirds.

RAY SUAREZ: Jessica Stern, Britain has long been talked about, long before this most recent attack, as a center for radicalized Islamic cells, for clerics, for open speaking against the government. Why — is that an accurate depiction and why is it so? How did it become so?

JESSICA STERN: Yes. That is certainly the case that the United Kingdom has become a center of Islamist ferment, and partly it started as a result of the very lax asylum laws.

But now we are seeing a radicalization within the Pakistani/British community. And this is a very, very troubling development, of course. Including Pakistani Britons going back and forth from Pakistan, getting exposed to radical ideologies, possibly attending madrassas; and now we see them actually successfully carrying out an attack.

RAY SUAREZ: A Muslim member of the British parliament, Mohammed Sarwar, said young British Muslims are open to persuasion by radical Islam because they’re alienated from the mainstream and from their own communities. How did they end up caught in between like that?

JESSICA STERN: I think that’s a very common — a common feeling among European Muslims. They are integrated in many ways but psychologically not integrated. They are living between two communities. They have very confused identities.

This is especially true — I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Netherlands and there it’s extremely dramatic, where Moroccan Dutch youth are referred to as Moroccans when they’re in the Netherlands. But when they go to Morocco, they don’t speak the language, they know nothing about contemporary Morocco and they’re considered, rightly, to be Dutch.

RAY SUAREZ: Bruce Hoffman, today it emerged in a Reuters report that one of the men said to be one of the London bomb team met with an already jailed bomber in Pakistan, a man now convicted and serving time for bombing churches in Pakistan. How is it that they’re able to find each other?

BRUCE HOFFMAN: Generally, I think that they all travel in a very broad circle and that once one becomes enmeshed in this jihadist radicalism, they’re then put in contact with one another and particularly on an opportunity, for instance, to go to Pakistan.

This may not only have been for training or for information but also for reinforcement. In other words, the person who has made the sacrifice and is serving in prison now may be held up as an exemplar, an example to another young individual to follow in his footsteps, to dedicate his life to this particular cause.

RAY SUAREZ: And I guess it is important to point out that a lot of people travel to Pakistan to study without being involved in anything like this, right?

BRUCE HOFFMAN: No, absolutely. But I think this is an important point. We’re not talking necessarily about a bottoms-up process where people who are alienated, frustrated are immediately sucked into this vortex of terrorism.

Rather, I think there are talent-spotters and recruitment. It’s an organizational process where individuals are selected and then dispatched on these overseas training missions or religious study or educational missions. In other words, become further inculcated but also to be tested to see how determined they are to actually go down this path of violence and terrorism.

RAY SUAREZ: So Jessica Stern, does that mean the fairly optimistic reports we’ve heard in recent years since the Sept. 11 attacks, for instance, about networks being smashed, rolled up, made no longer operational has been, well, a little overstated or a little too optimistic?

JESSICA STERN: Yes, I think it probably is a little too optimistic because I think it’s not — we not only see the kind of talent scouts that Bruce is talking about but we’re also seeing cases of self-radicalization where individual Muslims are radicalizing themselves as a result of what they read on the Internet.

And then they want to join these organizations, in some cases not recruited by an imam but actually recruiting their own imam to provide support for the violence they hope to perpetrate.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, help me out a little bit to understand how that happens. You’re in your room in a midlands town somewhere in Britain typing away, surfing the Internet at night, you decide you’ve got these political convictions.

Then what do you do if you’re an older teenager, a young university student? How do you hook up with the people who can get you to the people who eventually get you on a team?

JESSICA STERN: By asking questions, by actually sending e-mails to the manager of the Web site. People are brought into networks in that way.

RAY SUAREZ: Bruce Hoffman, do you agree with that? Is it as easy as that?

BRUCE HOFFMAN: It is as easy as that, but again I think it’s a two-way process. You have many talent-spotters or recruiters looking for people who respond as Jessica described, to postings on bulletin boards, who enter into Internet chat rooms — in other words, to find some of the most sensitive al-Qaida phantom Web sites your acquire them through contacts on bulletin boards.

And then, through that association, those affiliations, you’re drawn deeper into this process, often for an association with individuals who you then meet up with, places of worships, schools, youth associations. And then you’re repeatedly tested and you’re repeatedly questioned as to how far you’ll be willing to go, how deep your commitment is to the struggle.

RAY SUAREZ: Let’s talk a little bit about the use of the explosive TATP. Does this also fit into a profile, and would you have to be an expert, someone who understands the use of chemicals well, to be able to handle this?

BRUCE HOFFMAN: Well, I think any bomber, for example, doesn’t want to blow themselves up assembling the bomb so you would turn perhaps to someone with greater technical knowledge to actually assemble the device and arm it. The material TATP can be– it’s three or four different ingredients that can be readily purchased at the equivalent of a Home Depot or the pharmacy shop that can be put together.

It’s one of the main explosives that’s used in Palestinian suicide bombs. It’s so widespread this was the explosive material that this was in the shoe of Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber who attempted to blow up an American Airlines flight in December 2001.

RAY SUAREZ: Jessica Stern, are there lessons here for the United States? As we’re told, these agencies learn from each other and immediately are in contact after any terrorist incident. What should American agencies be taking away from the British experience?

JESSICA STERN: Well, I actually think this is very bad news for the United States. Europe is a very important leaping-off point for terrorists that might like to attack the United States. The European jihadi is a very important asset to the international jihadi movement because of the possibility that such a person could travel easily throughout Europe and also more easily into the United States.

RAY SUAREZ: Bruce Hoffman?

BRUCE HOFFMAN: Well, on the one hand it’s not a precise comparison because as Ian Blair, the head of the London police has said, some 3,000 British Muslims were trained by al-Qaida during the 1990s. I don’t think we have quite that problem in the United States.

But at the same time, I think we shouldn’t think we can remain aloof to this particular threat. And now really is the time, before suicide terrorism materializes in this country, where law enforcement and the authorities should be paying attention to training and preparing for it so that their responses are in place should, in fact, the sort of tragedy come to this country.

RAY SUAREZ: And the graduate work and U.S. experience of today’s Egyptian arrestee, just a circumstantial part of the story or one that should really attract a lot of attention?

BRUCE HOFFMAN: Well, I think one that has to attract a lot of attention. He’s certainly not the first terrorist nor the first al-Qaida operative that has either lived in the United States or studied in the United States. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, for example, was a student at North Carolina as well, but at a different university. So this is why I don’t think –

JESSICA STERN: I want to point out that never at Harvard University.

BRUCE HOFFMAN: This is, I think, why we can’t see that we will be held completely immune from this threat as well.

RAY SUAREZ: Bruce Hoffman, Jessica Stern, thank you both.