- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2006

LONDON — One was an athletic teenager who had grown into a devout young man, another a soccer-loving convert to Islam. The youngest was 17, the oldest 35. Many were born in Britain and all were reared here.

As police held about two dozen young British Muslims accused of plotting devastating airline bombings, both the authorities and their neighbors sought yesterday to understand how ordinary communities apparently spawned a terrifying plot.

Police have not identified suspects, but 19 names were made public yesterday by the Treasury after the government froze their bank accounts.

They have names of Muslim origin, many of them common in Pakistan. At least 14 of them live in London, four in leafy High Wycombe, 30 miles away, and two in the central city of Birmingham.

It is not clear how the men met or who the ringleader is, although suspicion falls on the only one identified who is over 30 — Shamin Mohammed Uddin, 35, of East London.

At least nine of the suspects lived in Walthamstow, a typically polyglot London neighborhood of modest brick houses and small apartment blocks, halal butchers, pubs and fast-food restaurants. It is an ethnically mixed community with a smattering of affluent professionals and a large Muslim population served by several mosques.

“Walthamstow’s a happy, chilled-out community,” said resident Hajra Mir. “We weren’t expecting this.”

That sense of shock was repeated across the neighborhood. Residents said it is a friendly, quiet area where people respect their neighbors. Several of the suspects had lived there for many years and attended local schools.

But several men from the neighborhood have been linked to the Saviour Sect — an offshoot of a disbanded radical Islamist group, al-Muhajiroun, which was based in nearby Tottenham and gained notoriety for praising the September 11 hijackers.

A Walthamstow leader of the sect, Abdul Muhid, has been charged with soliciting murder during an angry protest earlier this year over the prophet Muhammad cartoons published in a Danish newspaper. He had previously been arrested for calling for the killing of British troops while proselytizing at a Walthamstow market.

Last fall, a rally planned by the group at a community center was banned by local officials after organizers distributed leaflets portraying an Islamic fighter holding a rocket launcher outside the prime minister’s Downing Street residence.

Local Muslim leaders say the area’s major mosques are vigilant about keeping radicals away. But several of the suspects appeared to fit the pattern of radicalization seen in the bombers who attacked the London transit system: young men born in Britain, reared in moderate homes, but drawn to militant Islam.

Suspect Assad Sarwar, 26, lived with his parents in a run-down house in High Wycombe.

Neighbor Nawaz Chaudhry, 17, said Mr. Sarwar had become increasingly strident after the July 7, 2005, transit system bombings that killed 52 persons.

“He started talking about terrorism and acting like it’s OK to blow up people,” Mr. Chaudhry said.

Waheed Zaman, 22, grew up in Walthamstow, across from the modern brick Masjid-e-Umer Mosque.

Neighbors remembered an athletic boy with plenty of non-Muslim friends who had grown increasingly devout in recent years, wearing traditional dress and growing a beard.

“As a kid, religion was never a problem for him,” said a childhood friend who gave only his first name, Darren. “I’m a Christian and it was never a problem for him.”

Residents said Mr. Zaman, a biochemistry student who headed the Islamic Society at London Metropolitan University, did community work, urging local youngsters to attend the mosque and stay away from drugs.

A few blocks away, Oliver Savant grew up with his English mother and Iranian father. Neighbors recall a youth who loved soccer but had become increasingly isolated from his neighbors after he converted to Islam a few years ago, changing his name to Ibrahim.

“Oliver started putting on Muslim robes and growing his beard long a few years back,” next-door neighbor Paul Kleinman, 66, told the Guardian newspaper.

He was one of at least three converts to Islam among the suspects. Neighbors identified one of the High Wycombe suspects as Don Stewart-Whyte, 21, a recent convert who had changed his name to Abdul Waheed.

Another High Wycombe suspect, Umar Islam, 28, had a West Indian background and changed his name from Brian Young when he converted two or three years ago.

“In my heart I don’t think this boy is bad,” said next-door neighbor Parkhash Dhanjal, 62. “He is a nice boy.”

One of the transit system bombers, Jamaican-born Jermaine Lindsay, was a convert, as was Briton Richard Reid, who was convicted of trying to blow up a trans-Atlantic airliner in 2001 with explosives hidden in his shoes.

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