Bombing suspects' identities shock Leeds
Acquaintances say they saw no signs
Boston Globe | July 14, 2005
By Kevin Cullen
LEEDS, England -- Shehzad Tanweer, the 22-year-old son of Pakistani immigrants, appeared to be the epitome of assimilation into British society, an ambitious college graduate with a degree in sports science who excelled at cricket and just about any other sport he tried.
Instead, it appears that Tanweer secretly rejected his family's pursuit of respectability, the immigrant dream of acceptance in middle-class England. Tanweer has been identified in news reports as one of the four suspected bombers who blew up three subway trains and a double-decker bus in London last week, killing more than 50 people and wounding more than 700.
If Tanweer and his three alleged accomplices indeed carried out the first suicide attack in Western Europe, they were the perfect ''sleepers." No one in this old industrial city who knew them saw it coming. And no one here can believe they would kill themselves, much less dozens of fellow British citizens.
Tanweer was hardly among Britain's poor, disaffected youth. His father, Mohammed, arrived here from Pakistan 30 years ago without a penny to his name, and went on to become a man of some prestige and considerable property. He owns a small but lucrative fish-and-chips shop on the main street of Beeston, a neighborhood that is home to many of the sizable Muslim population. He also has a butcher shop and a curry take-out business. His white semidetached house on Colwyn Road is bigger and better maintained than most homes in the area.
Sitting on some steps at Cross Flats Park, Malik Abdul Shabaz pointed to the tennis courts where Tanweer played pickup cricket, and to the grassy field where he and others played soccer with Tanweer a couple of weeks ago.
''If you met Shezzy, you'd love him," said Shabaz, 24, who works at his family's fruit and vegetable store. ''He was really calm and humble. Very intelligent. All them boys was. That's why this is so shocking."
People here were equally surprised to learn the identities of the other two suspected bombers from Leeds, Tanweer's 18-year-old friend Hasib Hussain and their 30-year-old apparent mentor, Mohammed Sidique Khan. A fourth suspected bomber, also believed to have died in the attacks, has not been identified.
Police said last night that they were hunting for a fifth suspect who could be the mastermind of the attacks and had raided a house in Aylesbury, about 40 miles northwest of London. They made no arrests but were searching a house there for evidence.
Residents of Leeds say that Khan, the oldest of the three known suspects, was a primary school teacher in the city, and that he taught martial arts at a community drop-in center, where Tanweer and Hussain were among his students. They said Khan was the only one of the three Leeds suspects who was born in Pakistan.
Khan and his wife had a daughter last December. ''You wouldn't think a man with a little baby would blow himself up, would you?" Shabaz asked.
At South Leeds Fisheries, the tiny fish-and-chips shop that Tanweer's father has owned for 15 years, employee Iftika Hussain was busy keeping up with a line that at one point stretched out the door. He said Shehzad was ''a real good guy" who would nip in for a piece of fish every once in a while.
In Holbeck, about a 10-minute walk from Beeston, Hasib Hussain's contemporaries searched for photographs of the factory worker's son to sell to the British tabloids. They described Hussain as a tall, loping, long-haired young man, who went from being a belligerent, beer-drinking adolescent who started fights and chased girls to a teetotaling, devout Muslim whose bushy beard belied his 18 years. They said his parents did not consider his suddenly fervent beliefs a cause for alarm -- just the opposite, given his hell-raising earlier teenage years.
Dale Bingham, 18, who had gone to school with Hussain since they were 11, said Hussain grew much more devout after the young man visited Pakistan, his parents' birthplace, last year. ''He was there six or seven months," said Bingham, shirtless in the afternoon sun, a can of beer in his hand. ''He grew the beard a lot longer. He wore the robes. Still, I'd see him out there jogging all the time."
Police officials say privately that they believe the men's penchant for exercise was part of a training regimen meant to keep them in top physical shape for their mission, which could have been in the planning stages for months, if not years. Keeping fit is also a tenet of devout Muslims.
Shehzad Tanweer's friends say he too visited Pakistan last year, and attended a madrassa, a school devoted to study of the Koran. His family is originally from the city of Faisalabad; his father emigrated to Britain in 1974. His friends recall Shehzad as someone who attended mosque regularly but eschewed the clothing of the devout even after his return from Pakistan.
Beeston and Holbeck are dominated by two-story, brick, row houses. On the streets, some strewn with empty plastic bottles, there is nothing to suggest that Leeds is a breeding ground for Islamic militants. The word ''Hamas" is scrawled sloppily in paint on a traffic sign, looking more like the work of a bored vandal. A few Muslim teens stand around, drinking beer.
Hussain Al-Katib, a Muslim community leader, rejected claims by some, especially in the British conservative press, that relatives and neighbors should have seen signs of the men's drift toward extremism. ''We're not aware of any radical elements in our community," he said.
Neither, apparently, was Hasib Hussain's family. About 12 hours after police say Hussain blew up a double-decker bus, killing himself and 12 other passengers, his mother, Maniza, called the police, saying Hussain was missing and that she feared he had been a victim of the bombing. She said he had traveled down to London that day with his friends.
She later gave police a photograph of him, and on Monday night, when detectives combing through some 2,500 different pieces of closed-circuit camera film came across an image of Hussain standing in the middle of King's Cross station with three other young men of Pakistani descent, each of them holding backpacks, police had their big break. The next day, antiterrorism police burst into the homes of the Hussains, the Tanweers, and four other families in Leeds.
People here say they were shocked but also sad for what happened in London, for the hurt and shame of the bombers' families and for their inability to do anything about it beforehand.
''From now on, we will always be known as the place where the suicide bombers came from," said Shabaz.
Surrounded by reporters yesterday, Shehzad Tanweer's uncle, Bashir Ahmed, had the look of a defeated man. He said the family would probably have to sell their businesses and move.
Police are still trying to figure out why some of the bombers appeared to be carrying pieces of identification not just of themselves but of at least some of their three accomplices. But in Beeston, some think they know why.
''They wanted to be known, man," said Shabaz. ''And we'll always know their names, won't we? For all the wrong reasons."