Sun, Jul 17, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Blair calls for hearts and minds war with al-Qaeda


British Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday called for a hearts and minds struggle against the "evil ideology" of al-Qaeda as the death toll from last week's London suicide bombings rose to 55.

Parents of one of bombers said he may have been brainwashed and appealed for new leads in a fast-moving investigation which has so far linked Britain, Egypt and Pakistan.

Pakistani security services detained two men overnight in the city of Lahore on suspicion of links with one of the four British Muslims who blew themselves up on July 7 on three London underground trains and a bus.

Blair called for a battle of ideas against what he called "the fanatical beliefs and perversion of religion" behind the London attacks and others around the world by the militant Islamist al-Qaeda network.

He said the opponent was an "evil ideology" and a strain within Islam that was altogether removed from the "essential decency and truth" of that religion.

"It is not a clash of civilizations -- all civilized people, Muslim or other, feel revulsion at it. But it is a global struggle. It is a battle of ideas and hearts and minds, both within Islam and outside it," Blair said.

"Why, if it is the cause of Muslims that concerns them, do they kill so many with such callous indifference?" he said.

As the death toll from Western Europe's first suicide bombings rose to 55, families of the attackers released statements expressing grief and disbelief.

"We are devastated that our son may have been brainwashed into carrying out such an atrocity, since we know him as a kind and caring member of our family," the parents of Mohammad Sidique Khan said.

"We urge people with the tiniest piece of information to come forward in order to expose these terror networks which target and groom our sons to carry out such evils," they said.

Khan, a primary school teaching assistant, was a 30-year-old married man with a daughter. He had visited the British parliament last year and met a Cabinet minister during a trip with his school.

Three of the bombers were young British Muslims of Pakistani origin, while the fourth was a Jamaican-born Briton.

Pakistani security forces detained two men overnight in Lahore on suspicion of links with another of the bombers, Shehzad Tanweer, bringing the total number of arrests in Pakistan to six.

Tanweer had visited Faisalabad and Lahore during two trips to Pakistan over the last two years. Security agents yesterday questioned teachers, students and other staff of a madrassah, or Islamic school, in Lahore which Tanweer was thought to have visited, which has connections with Jaish-e-Mohammad (Army of Mohammad), a group linked to al-Qaeda.

Two others bombers visited Pakistan last year, two top security officials said yesterday. Khan and Tanweer came together last November, arriving at Karachi Airport, and returned to Britain in early February, the officials said on condition of anonymity.

Hasib Hussain, 18, came separately last year, also to Karachi, and went back to Britain shortly afterwards, the officials added.

Meanwhile, in Egypt, Interior Minister Habib el-Adli told the al-Gomhuria newspaper that a biochemist, Magdy Elnashar, was not a member of al-Qaeda, and that Western and Arab media had drawn hasty conclusions about the arrested man.

Elnashar, 33, left England for a 45-day holiday before the bombings and intended to return, an Interior Ministry source said. He had denied any knowledge of the attacks.

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