Wed, Aug 16, 2006 - Page 7 News List

UK airline plot suspects remembered at home as both harmless and sinister

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , LONDON

The profile that has emerged of Nabeel Hussain, one of the two dozen suspects arrested five days ago in an anti-terrorism sting operation, is rife with contradictions.

On the one hand, Hussain, 22, and his two brothers raised money for charity earlier this year by climbing some of the highest mountains in England, Scotland and Wales, a family representative said on Monday. On the other hand, Hussain was barred from using the Internet at a school not too long ago after administrators accused him of gaining access to a terrorist Web site with a student computer, a former classmate said.

The family's de facto spokesman, Hanif Qadir, described Hussain as a "humble and helpful" person who would not want anyone to be harmed and did not differentiate between Muslims and others. But his school friend said Hussain had become increasingly fanatical over the war in Iraq.

"The last time I saw him was about six months ago, and he said that both countries would get paid back by God and others for carrying out the war," the friend, who declined to be identified because of the continuing investigation into the suspects, said in an interview on Monday.

Since making the arrests last Thursday, British authorities have disclosed hardly any information about the detainees.

Most of the suspects, if not all, are British-born Muslims. They lived either within walking distance of one another in East London, which is heavily Muslim, or in the ethnically diverse city of High Wycombe, in a hilly region west of London.

The police conducted more searches on Monday at a number of East London homes that were targets of last week's raids, including the Albert Road home of Muhammed Usman Saddique, 24.

Bshart Ali, who attended primary and secondary school with Saddique, said that his friend, who worked at a pizzeria, had struggled with his Islamic faith.

"He was in and out of religion and his appearance would change," Ali recalled. "He tried religion once and then gave it up two or three years ago, and then he started again. At that point, he would say to me, `Why don't you pray more?' But just five months ago, he did not have a beard or wear any of the clothes."

On Folkestone Road, where another suspect, Ibrahim Savant, 26, once lived with his parents, their next-door neighbor, Paul Kleinman, said that Savant had converted to Islam eight years ago.

"He became more introverted after his conversion," Kleinman said. "Once he became Muslim, it was just `Good morning' and he would nod."

In front of a mosque on Queens Road, an elderly Muslim man said that one suspect, Waheed Zaman, 22, was a medical student who would often confront representatives from militant "anti-Western" groups trying recruit youngsters.

"He had no tolerance for these extremist groups," the man said. "He would tell them to go away and he would stand there until they did."

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