Monday, March 26, 2007

England: Arrest of Muslim terror suspects of Pakistani descent sows more discontent

Jane Perlez:

At their formal best, West Yorkshire police officers in tall dark helmets adorned with a silver badge and wearing neon yellow vests stood outside five run-down terrace houses. Behind closed doors plainclothes detectives searched the property of three South Asian Muslim men and their relatives.

For Beeston, a maze of working-class streets on the fringes of this prosperous British city, the police accentuated a sense of siege and of stigma, a sentiment that first came, residents said, after three young neighborhood men attacked the London transit system, killing 52 people and themselves. A fourth suicide bomber in the deadly 2005 assault lived farther south.

"These people had such narrow-minded ideas and give everybody a bad name," said Mohammed Miah, 26, as he did a brisk dinner trade in chicken wings and pizza at his Hot 'N Krispy store.

"I have no sympathy for them. If they want to kill themselves, O.K. But why kill someone else?"

On Thursday, three men of Pakistani descent were arrested in Beeston, a mixed-race neighborhood of whites, Asians and Africans, on suspicion of being accomplices of the July 2005 London suicide bombers.

The arrests were the first in the case, and brought home to Britain the home-grown nature of its terror threat, which has been heavily investigated by the British authorities but has left a host of unanswered questions.

Among them: Who were the masterminds? Did they live in Britain or in Pakistan? Who paid the £8,000, or $15,700, that the British government said in an official account had been the cost of the overseas trips, homemade bomb-making equipment, apartment and car rental, and local travel that went into the operation?

From the sketchy backgrounds of the three men taken into custody late last week, it did not initially appear that they were major players themselves, analysts said.

But given that the young men of Beeston all know each other - everyone in Beeston, a small enclave, knows everyone else, people said - it was well understood that the three men arrested Thursday knew the four men who blew themselves up in July 2005.

Like the four suicide bombers, the three men were of Pakistani descent, the second- or third-generation sons of Pakistanis who came to Britain in the 1960s to work in the mills.

The eldest of the men arrested Thursday was Mohammed Shakil, 30, a cabdriver, who lived on Firth Mount in a tidy, two-story attached house on the more affluent side of Beeston. He was stopped at Manchester Airport before boarding a plane to Pakistan where, he had told his boss at the taxi company, he planned to take an extended vacation to look after his sick father.

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