- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 31, 2004

LONDON — Britons bracing for a terror attack like last month’s Madrid train bombings are coming to terms with the idea the attackers may not be foreign militants but the sons of friendly Asian families living next door.

Police yesterday were questioning eight young British-born Pakistanis arrested a day earlier in raids that officials said had foiled a major bomb plot. Half a ton of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer suitable for making bombs, was seized.

“Bombers of Suburbia,” declared one British newspaper’s front page.

“They’re all British, they live with their mums. And YOU could have been the target,” said the headline of the tabloid Sun newspaper. The potential bombers were described by the conservative Daily Express simply as “The Enemy Within.”

Three of the eight men involved came from the middle-class Khyam family, housed in a leafy London suburb.

Reports said Omar Khyam, 22, along his younger brother Shujah and cousin Ahmed Khan, had frequented the local pizza parlor, and Omar had excelled at cricket, representing his county in his final year at high school.

Omar Khyam reportedly had been attracted by hard-line Muslims dedicated to jihad, or holy war, and whose expert canvassers specialize in filling impressionable minds with contempt for the West.

Britain has only lately focused on this internal threat, and its attitude toward hard-line Islamists has led to the capital being dubbed “Londonistan” or “Jihad-on-Thames.”

Sources yesterday said Mr. Khyam had been persuaded as a teenager to join Al Muhajiroun, a group believing in the extreme form of Wahhabi Islam practiced by Osama bin Laden.

Though the group does not advocate terrorism in Britain, its leader, Sheik Omar Bakri Mohamed, said in an interview that Mr. Khyam had come to adopted positions more extreme than those of the sheik himself.

The youngster had grown up fatherless but as part of a close-knit extended family.

Around the time of the September 11 attacks in the United States, Mr. Khyam suddenly left for Pakistan. The sheik said he participated in a six-week search that resulted in the youth being returned to London after having spent time with the separatist fighters of Kashmir.

Ahmad Khan, meanwhile, fell under the influence of radicals at his local mosque, according to his father, Ansar.

“I said to him, don’t go to the mosque. I said, you read books by scholars. Those books are true. What they tell you at the mosque is not,” the elder Mr. Khan said yesterday.

The suspected bomb plot broken up yesterday appears to reflect a dispute among radical jihadists.

Sheik Bakri said he believes Muslims have an unwritten contract not to attack the countries in which they live and get social and educational benefits. But other extremists believe that Britain, like the United States, is now a “Dar al Harb,” or zone of war in which violence is permitted.

In a new twist last night, Omar Khyam’s uncle showed reporters a cell phone on which his nephew had made three calls to a man his phonebook showed as “Geoff MI5” — apparently a reference to Britain’s MI5 counterterrorist agency.

The uncle said “Geoff” had visited the house and advised the man to go to Pakistan because he was mixing in bad company.

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