An In-Depth Look at the London Bombers

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 15

Security camera footage of one of the suicide bombers on the morning of July 7

Terrorist attacks on civilians in the heart of London have long been considered inevitable by the UK’s police and intelligence services. For them, the London bombings represent the ultimate security nightmare: young men from Britain’s 1.6 million strong Muslim community willing to kill themselves and their fellow citizens in the country in which they were born. All but one of the men involved in the July 7 attacks were of Pakistani extraction, the other being a Muslim convert of Jamaican descent.

The West Yorkshire Scene

The bombers and their support network hailed from in and around the city of Leeds, West Yorkshire. Leeds lies at the heart of the industrial north of England and like many UK cities with an industrial past, has instituted regeneration programs over the last decade that, on the surface at least, have revitalized its image as a center of culture and business. However, within the Pakistani community – the city’s largest minority group – in excess of 40% possess no qualifications and unemployment is double that of the white population. The city, with its population of 715,000, hosts more than 70 nationalities and one of its most culturally diverse communities is Beeston, an area in the southwest. [1] It is from there that western Europe’s first suicide attacks were planned.

Pakistanis constitute 11 per cent of Beeston’s population and are the largest non-white group in the area. The district is visibly deprived and has 7.8 per cent unemployment against a city average of 3.3%. [2] However, it is not a “sink estate” but a working class district typical of northern England’s industrial cities, with its tight streets and rows of terraced redbrick houses. The area has three mosques, which attract worshippers from all over south Leeds. Beeston, and Leeds in general, has a history of peaceful cross-community relations. This stands in contrast to those in the nearby city of Bradford, and a number of other northern towns, which have experienced race riots involving disaffected Pakistani youths in recent years. The invasion of Iraq and the onset of the “war against terrorism” have challenged members of the wider Muslim community and their disparate and often divided leadership with fundamental questions concerning issues of identity, representation and religious interpretation.

The Terrorist Cell

Mohammed Siddique Khan, a mentor by profession, is regarded by the security services as the senior, dominant figure with operational command over the bombing team – a common attribute of terrorist cells. He was responsible for identifying, cultivating and supporting the three younger men. Khan also took charge of liaising with contacts outside the area and in Pakistan, including the alleged “mastermind”. He was employed as a “learning mentor” at a local primary school between March 2001 and December 2004. Dedicated to his job, he was perceived as a father figure to the disenfranchised young men of Beeston. In a chance interview given to a national newspaper in 2003, he described with disdain how the deprivation in Beeston remained untouched by the city council’s “regeneration” strategy. [3]

The thirty-year old Khan lived with his pregnant wife and 18-month-old daughter and had studied at Leeds University. He had been off work on sick leave since September 2004 and resigned from his job last December. Khan had recently relocated from Beeston to Dewsbury, a small town near Leeds. [4] Back in February 2000, he established a gym with local government money under the rubric of the Kashmiri Welfare Association, which was associated with the Hardy Street mosque in Beeston. [5] The group aimed to keep youths off the streets by involving them in weightlifting. He continued his voluntary youth support activities following his appointment at the local school. However, in the past 18 months he was expelled from the mosque on suspicion of preaching extreme interpretations of Islam to young people. [6]

In 2004, he set up a second gymnasium on Lodge Lane in Beeston in the name of the youth program of the nearby Hamara Centre charitable foundation. [7] In the two months prior to the bombings, the building was closed for renovations, but locals have reported its continued use. All of the bombers are known to have frequented the Lodge Lane building. [8]

Shahzad Tanweer, 22, was a successful sportsman who received good grades at school before going on to study Sports Science at Leeds Metropolitan University. Son of a successful local businessman, Tanweer’s family was relatively prosperous and well respected, though he was effectively unemployed. [9] In November 2004, Tanweer and Mohammed Siddique Khan took the same flight to the Pakistani port city of Karachi. Tanweer had gone to the country, according to his uncle, to learn the Qur’an by heart. Their precise movements upon arrival cannot be confirmed, except that Tanweer traveled to his family’s home village in rural Faisalabad and spent most of his two-month stay there. He studied the Qur’an in the local mosque and spent the majority of his time indoors as he did not feel welcomed as a Briton. His aunt confirmed that his only visitor during his stay was Khan. [10]

They flew back to the UK together in February of this year. At this stage, Tanweer’s relatives noted that he had become more religious; he now had a beard and prayed five times a day. According to his family, Tanweer despaired of UK policy in Kashmir, Iraq and Afghanistan, and he idolized Osama bin Laden. [11] Upon his return from Pakistan, he worked intermittently for his father and both he and Khan volunteered in an Islamic bookstore in Beeston, which also acted as a local drop-in center for youths. [12]

Eighteen-year-old Hasib Hussein left school in July 2003 after five year’s education with no formal qualifications. [13] A keen sportsman, he was unemployed and frustrated by both his lack of options and local facilities to pursue his love of football. He smoked marijuana with his friends and got into occasional fights with white youths. Hussein had performed the Hajj and had become increasingly devout, but remained normal to his friends, although he had shaved his beard prior to the attacks – a common preparatory act amongst Islamists. His father, a devout Muslim who suffered from poor health and had been unable to hold down full-time work, had expressed concern at his relationship with Khan. [14]

Jamaican born 19-year-old carpet fitter Germaine Lindsay recently relocated to his English wife’s hometown of Aylesbury in the south of England. He grew up in West Yorkshire, in the small working class town of Huddersfield, close to Leeds. Lindsay lacked a father figure and converted to Islam following his mother’s relationship with a Muslim. School friends portray him as an intelligent young man “fascinated by world affairs, religion and politics” who changed markedly after his conversion during the summer of his final year at school. Lindsay’s deepening religiosity became increasingly obvious: he studied Urdu, wanted to be known as Jamal, and condemned those who drank alcohol. His sister said that “he was not my brother anymore.” Lindsay’s young wife, also a convert to Islam, was 8 months pregnant with their second child. [15]

A local politician stated that “we know Lindsay used to travel, because the local mosques were too moderate for him.” Lindsay, who was a fitness fanatic, is believed to have met his fellow bombers while attending one of the gyms set up by Khan. Moreover, his best friend revealed that he “had been going to a mosque in London and spoke of the teachings of someone down there.” [16]

Terror Connections

According to various reports, Khan’s name had emerged following a foiled plot to detonate a truck bomb in London in 2004. However, the intelligence services did not further investigate as he was only indirectly linked to one of the alleged plotters. In addition, Israeli reports have alleged that Khan spent a day in Israel in February 2003, leading to speculation that he was linked to the suicide attack perpetrated that April by two British born Pakistanis. An unnamed acquaintance of Khan told a local newspaper that he had traveled abroad frequently. [17]

Two other individuals linked with the investigation have been named as Haroon Rashid Aswad and Majdi al-Nashar, but their alleged roles remain unconfirmed. On July 21, it was reported and later denied that Aswad, 30, who was originally from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, had been arrested by Pakistani authorities in Islamabad. Police allege that he is the mastermind of the operation and is said to have made around 20 phone calls to the bombers Khan and Shehzad Tanweer in the months leading up to the attacks before flying out of London before July 7. [18] Aswad’s family stated that he had not lived in the family home, nor had they had contact with him, for around ten years. He is believed to reside in London. [19] One local press report said that he is a former aide to the radical London cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri. [20]

Egyptian national Majdi al-Nashar is linked to a flat in which the homemade explosives were manufactured. A devoted Muslim, he headed the Islamic Society at Leeds University, though one of its members said that he did not propagate extreme views. [21] The Islamist community in both Egypt and London also stated that they had never heard of him following his arrest in Cairo. [22] Although suspicion initially fell upon Al-Nashar, who was awarded a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Leeds University this year, he claims to have let the flat out to someone from London. This may have been Germaine Lindsay, whom he knew through attendance at a central mosque in Leeds, or Aswad, who local press allege visited the Yorkshire area after entering the country from abroad in the weeks before the attacks. [23]

Islamists and Counterterrorism

The attacks were claimed in two separate statements, one by the hitherto unknown Secret Group of Al-Qaeda of Jihad Organization in Europe and another by the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, who have previously threatened European states. Occurring as they did on the day of the G8 summit, the bombers would have wanted to convey their fury at UK and U.S. policy in Iraq. This makes the first statement more credible. Yasser al-Sirri of the Islamic Observation Centre in London discredited this claim as “it contradicts the language and literature of al-Qaeda” with its poor Arabic, misquotations of the Qur’an and its use of terminology. [24] Yet these very elements of the posting, which are usually written in the erudite Salafi-Jihadi language of al-Qaeda, indicate that even at the planning stage, and although there are connections with Pakistan, this was an all-British affair. On top of this, the claim stated that Britain is on fire in its “northern, southern, eastern and western quarters” reflecting the bombers intended direction on the London Underground, before Hasib Hussein discovered the Northern Line was temporarily suspended and took a bus. [25]

The reaction to the blasts among the UK’s Islamist community has reflected the fact that the attacks will severely affect their future status in this country. Hizb ut-Tahrir condemned the bombings, as did Yasser al-Sirri, who stated that the goal was “illegitimate” and that “God says if anyone wants to do something [against a country] he must leave that country and fight them outside. He can go to Iraq and fight the American forces there, or British forces, but he shouldn’t kill [British civilians].” [26] Other prominent London-based figures refrained from comment, though the website of Muhammad al-Massari’s Islamic Renewal Organization later posted one of the claims of responsibility and was promptly disrupted.

The only tacit endorsements came from Anjem Choudary, former UK secretary of the now defunct al-Muhajiroun – whose spiritual leader recently claimed that the “covenant of security” between Islamists and the British state had expired – when he refused to condemn the attacks, and from Hani al-Siba’i, Director of the Al-Maqrizi Centre for Historical Studies. Hani al-Siba’i stated on al-Jazeera television that if al-Qaeda was responsible for the attacks, which he did not believe was the case, than “it would be a great victory for [al-Qaeda] and it would have rubbed the noses of the heads of eight countries [G-8] in the dirt.” [27]

The UK’s counter-terrorism policy is now under heightened scrutiny with demands for robust action. In response to the attacks, the government has announced an extra £10 million for the police, who will increase the number of Special Branch officers. MI5, the domestic intelligence service, had already been steadily increasing its numbers back to Cold War levels before the attacks and may receive an additional monetary injection, particularly following some well-calibrated comments to the press. It recently established a Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre to smooth cooperation between the different intelligence services after the debacle over intelligence related to the Iraq WMD claim. It is has also launched an Urdu language version of its website and, in recognition of the threat, is in the process of establishing eight regional offices, including one in Leeds, which it hopes will attract young Asian recruits. [28]

Current UK anti-terrorist legislation is already rigorous and controversially allows the detention of terrorism suspects without trial. High court judges regularly review such cases and suspects can now be released and made subject to “control orders” that limit their movements and contacts. In the wake of the London attacks, a global list of terrorism suspects has been proposed and new counter-terrorism laws aimed at further squeezing the Islamist community in London and its communications network are being drawn up for fast-tracking in the upcoming parliamentary session.

Intelligence officials admit that they are at the same “level of penetration” amongst the Muslim community now as they were with the Irish republican community in the early 1970s, when the Provisional IRA acted with impunity. It took twenty years to effectively infiltrate the IRA, but that was a structured organization supported by a tiny community with distinct and realistic political goals. Now the potential pool of recruits is massive and the enemy is young British Muslim “clean skins” who are engaged in what appears to be a global struggle.


1. Leeds City Council Website, 23 July 2005

2. Ibid.

3. Interview reproduced from The Times Educational Supplement, 14 July 2005

4. Ibid, 14 July 2005

5. Leeds City Council website, 23 July 2005

6. Yorkshire Post, 16 July 2005

7. Leeds City Council website, 23 July 2005

8. Yorkshire Post, 16 July 2005

9. Leeds City Council website, 23 July 2005

10. BBC News report, Faisalabad, 24 July 2005; Yorkshire Post, 20 July 2005

11. BBC News report, Faisalabad, 24 July 2005; Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 21 July 2005

12. Yorkshire Post, 16 July 2005

13. Leeds City Council website, 23 July 2005

14. Yorkshire Post, 16 July 2005; Observer, 17 July 2005

15. Huddersfield Examiner, 16, 18 July 2005

16. Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 18 July 2005

17. Yorkshire Post, 16 July 2005

18. Yorkshire Post, 21 July 2005

19. Dewsbury Today, 22 July 2005

20. Yorkshire Evening Post, 22 July 2005

21. Yorkshire Post, 15, 16 July 2005

22. Al-Misri al-Yawm, 16 July 2005

23. Yorkshire Post, 19 July 2005

24. Lebanese satellite television, 7 July 2005

25. None of the bombers could speak fluent Arabic

26. AP, 11 July 2005

27. Al-Jazeera Television, 8 July 2005; British Channel 4 News, 20 July 2005