Friends Describe Bomber's Political, Religious Evolution
Friday, July 29, 2005
LEEDS, England -- The day before Shehzad Tanweer strapped on a backpack filled with explosives and made his way into London, he took part in a cherished British pastime: a pickup soccer match in a park here.
It was a ritual he carried out most days, if he wasn't playing cricket. Whites, blacks, Asians -- everyone in the neighborhood would come out. For a couple of hours, they would forget their races, religions and prejudices and play only as Britons.
On that day, Tanweer's black hair was showing some fashionable brown streaks, recalled several friends who were there. Apart from that, there was nothing unusual about him -- not a sign that he would soon be killed by a bomb he carried onto a London subway train.
"He was laughing and joking like normal," said Saeed Ahmed, 29, downcast eyes reflecting the shock that still lingers.
Of the four men investigators have concluded were the London bombers, Tanweer, 22, seemed the most unlikely to commit such a fanatical act against the nation where he was born and bred, friends said. He seemed to enjoy everything British and Western, and had the means to do so.
That's why three weeks after the July 7 bombings, many friends, relatives and elders in Tanweer's community still dwell in a realm of denial. "I think there was somebody else behind it," Ahmed said. "If you saw Shehzad on the street, he wouldn't even say boo to you."
Tanweer came from a Pakistani family who had toiled their way to prosperity and given him every opportunity. They were a classic immigrant success story, seeming proof of the multiculturalism that Britain often boasts is woven into its society.
But friends say that at around age 18, the slim and boyish-looking Tanweer underwent a political and religious transformation. He began to feel secretly distant from things British. He hung around with people who were convinced that Islam was under siege around the world.
Tanweer and the other bombers are an aberration: The majority of Britain's 1.6 million Muslims are law-abiding and Muslim leaders have condemned the attacks as violating the tenets of Islam. Yet recent events have brought back to the surface old questions about the nation's ability to embrace and assimilate Muslims.
"Who is responsible?" asked Mohammed Arshed, 44, a Muslim community leader in the Beeston neighborhood, where Tanweer lived. "These young men have been raised in the British education system. They ate British food. They were exposed all their lives to British culture.
"Our community is looking at itself for answers. But we're also looking for answers from the government," he said, referring to failed social policies and lack of opportunity.
'A Very Genuine Family'
"They are just a normal family, like any other Pakistani family," said Mohammed Iqbal, a Leeds City Council member. "They are respected, a very genuine family." Everywhere you go in Beeston, a scruffy patch of red-brick rowhouses and corner shops in south Leeds, you can hear the Tanweer family described this way.