London bombmaker who studied in U.S. and U.K. source of pride to family and friends in Egypt
July 17, 2005
MIM: As usual the family of the bombmaker can do no wrong according to his friends and family in Egypt. Described in reverential terms as "Dr.Magdy" neighbors gushed over how "his mother was so happy"that he had received the chance to study abroad. Friends said he was"so romantic " when they recalled the German girls which he used to "befriend" and bring home from the Christian school he attended. But one friend sounded an unintentionally ominous note when he recalled that Magdy had written him while studying in the U.S.and had described the country "as a big joke".
Egyptian Suspect a Source of Pride to Family, Friends
By Megan K. Stack, Times Staff Writer
CAIRO — In a stuffy stucco housing project overlooking the railroad tracks, neighbors continued to fret Saturday over the fate of the man they called, with some reverence, "Dr. Magdy."
Magdy el-Nashar, a 33-year-old biochemist, had arrived at his parents' home on vacation from Britain on June 30. Glowing with pride, his mother walked him door to door to greet the neighbors. El-Nashar, seized last week as a suspect in the July 7 suicide bombings in London, wore Western slacks and button-downs instead of traditional dress, and his face was shaven clean, friends said.
His mother was so happy," said Om Karim, a 38-year-old woman who lives one floor beneath the El-Nashars. "She said he'd just received his PhD from abroad, and we were also very happy."
Life is arduous in the tumbledown tenements and slapdash shacks of Cairo's southern slums, and in the scruffy corridors of the apartment building, El-Nashar's story had shone as a flash of hard-sought upward mobility.
In El-Nashar's neighborhood, the dirt roads are prone to sewage overflows and heaped with decaying tires and broken bits of rusting machinery. Roosters strut, and emaciated dogs poke in the garbage. Even the scrawny trees are streaked with dust.
But El-Nashar, whose father is a retired office worker at a large construction firm, was determined to get ahead, neighbors said.
He attended a French school. He even impressed neighbors by bringing home German girls he'd befriended while growing up.
"He was romantic," said Hisham Abdel Hamid, a 34-year-old friend. "He had affairs with girls. He'd stay up late and go to parties. He didn't have any political affiliations."
Like other longtime neighbors, Abdel Hamid described El-Nashar as religious but not a religious extremist.
During his college years at Cairo University, he practiced kung fu and tutored neighborhood boys in English and French, they said. He also was said to have joined a moderate Islamic student organization that held prayers and lectures.
"He was so smart," Abdel Hamid said. "He could look at a book and memorize it by heart."
After college, El-Nashar won a government scholarship, enabling him to earn a master's degree in chemistry. He completed his work at the National Research Center in Cairo, where he specialized in developing anti-corrosive paint, friends said. After that, they said, he won another government scholarship, which he used to pursue doctorate studies in the United States.
"He's very shy. When you talk to him he looks down, always down," said Ahmed Faizallah, a biochemist who has been a close friend of El-Nashar since the two were students.
El-Nashar didn't last at North Carolina State University, leaving a few months after beginning his studies in 2000. "He didn't like the situation there," Faizallah said. "He sent me an e-mail that I never forgot. He said that the United States was a big joke."
El-Nashar transferred to the University of Leeds, where he studied controlled-release antibiotics. In contrast to his melancholy in the United States, he appeared to thrive in his new environment.
"He liked Britain very much. He said he'd like to stay there forever," Faizallah said. "He found it a very multicultural society. He was living in an almost Islamic city. He didn't feel a stranger there."
El-Nashar married an Egyptian woman in 2001, his friends said. Faizallah was surprised to learn of the wedding. "Magdy is very secretive," he said.
She, too, was religious, friends said. The couple has a daughter, a 3-year-old who lives with her mother, the friends said, adding that the marriage didn't last.
"He had a lot of trouble in the marriage. They were fighting all the time," Faizallah said. "Nobody expected that Magdy would have this trouble. He's a very cool, calm guy."
El-Nashar lost "a lot of money" in the divorce, Faizallah said, but was hoping for a fresh start. He planned to spend the coming years working in Britain. He had already bought a return ticket for Aug. 10 and had a job offer from a British pharmaceutical company, he told Faizallah.
"He looked great," Faizallah said. "He'd gained some weight. His face was glowing. He looked very happy."
Staffers at the National Research Center seemed so convinced of El-Nashar's innocence that they spent hours Saturday discussing how they might lobby the government for his release, Faizallah said If you talk to him, really, I am sure you'll say he's innocent," he said. "He is just living a religious life, and this is not a crime."
El-Nashar was arrested Thursday afternoon after praying at a mosque a stone's throw from his parents' house, friends and relatives said.
Refaat Abdel Hamid, who works cutting marble blocks at a local factory, also was at prayers that day. Three unmarked cars parked outside the mosque and about a dozen plainclothes agents were inside.
"They waited until the prayers were over, and then some of them went into the mosque and politely escorted Magdy into one of the cars," he said.
Lawyer Mamdouh Ismail said he would soon file a request to the public prosecutor for El-Nashar's release. If there are charges against him, the government should announce them and allow defense lawyers to attend the interrogations, the Cairo attorney said.
"I'm sure he is innocent," the lawyer said. "I've been following closely Islamic groups in Egypt for 25 years, and his name never surfaced in any case or among any militant circle. I've never heard of him before the attacks."
Besides, Ismail said, "if he was a militant, he would have never come back to Egypt. This is the most cooperative country in counter-Islamism. It's no secret they would have arrested and tortured him, and even handed him back to the British."
Times staff writer Hossam Hamalawy contributed to this report.
Cairo in dilemma over Egyptian national probed in attacks
By Dan Ephron, Globe Correspondent | July 17, 2005
CAIRO -- The possible involvement of an Egyptian national in the London bombings has presented Cairo with a dilemma over how closely to cooperate in the investigation at the expense of its own laws and security practices.
On Britain's request, authorities have for three days been interrogating 33-year-old Magdy el-Nashar, a biochemist who completed his doctorate in Leeds, England, earlier this year. Media reports in London say police found traces of explosives in the bathtub of Nashar's Leeds apartment and suggested he might have known one of the bombers.
An Egyptian security official said yesterday that Cairo was not prepared to hand over the suspect to Britain, while human rights lawyers said his liberties were already being violated.
The security official told the Associated Press that interrogating Nashar was a matter "of sovereignty" and would take place on Egyptian soil. He said there was not enough evidence yet to conclude whether Nashar had played a role in the July 7 attacks in London.
In Britain, Commissioner Ian Blair of the Metropolitan Police has said he wants Nashar brought to London.
Egyptian police arrested Nashar Thursday outside a mosque near his parents' home in Bassateen, a lower-middle-class neighborhood in Cairo. He has had no contact with family members or lawyers since the arrest, and the site of his incarceration was being kept a secret, relatives said. They said Nashar had not been involved with radical Islamic groups.
Egyptian media reports said British officers had arrived in Cairo to participate in the investigation, though it was not clear whether they were interrogating the suspect.
Public comments by Egyptian officials have mainly cast doubt over Nashar's involvement in the attacks. Interior Minister Habib el-Adly, in remarks published yesterday, said the suspect had no connection with Al Qaeda, which British authorities believe is behind the bombings. He said making such a connection was a "hasty conclusion."
A statement issued by the Interior Ministry Friday focused on what the suspect had told investigators in professing his innocence. It said Nashar had arrived in Egypt days before the bombings for a six-week vacation. He traveled on a round-trip air ticket and left his belongings in his Leeds apartment, the statement quoted Nashar as saying.
Attorney Amir Salem, who heads the National Association for Human Rights and Development in Egypt, announced Friday he was ready to represent Nashar in legal proceedings. He said that under Egypt's criminal procedures law, Nashar should have been brought to a judge for a remand hearing by yesterday, 48 hours after his arrest.
"We have a criminal procedures law that states clearly what can and cannot be done," said Salem, who has handled other high-profile cases in which the government's interrogation procedures are an issue. "For instance, foreign security people are not allowed to question him, only Egyptian police," he said, adding authorities also were obliged to disclose where suspects are held.
Nashar completed undergraduate and graduate degrees in the sciences in Cairo and spent a semester at North Carolina State University before moving to Leeds for his doctoral studies. He has lived there for the past five years.------------------
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
LEEDS, England -- Worshippers at a mosque Saturday described the Egyptian biochemist detained in Cairo in connection with the London suicide bombings as a compassionate man incapable of harming anyone.
The Grand Mosque where Magdy Mahmoud Mustafa el-Nashar prayed is across the street from the apartment building where he lived until a week before the July 7 attacks.
Police maintained a cordon of blue and white tape around the brown-brick building as they continued searching his apartment in the Hyde Park neighborhood of the northern city of Leeds, where British media reported that police had found evidence of explosives inside a bathtub.
But El-Nashar's co-worshippers said they were certain he eventually would be vindicated.
"I'm certain Magdy was not involved in terrorism in any way," said Fat'hi Salameh, 44, a Palestinian who emigrated here 13 years ago.
"He's very polite. He's academic. He committed all his time to his research," said Salameh, speaking during a peace march in Hyde Park following the London attacks.
Salameh's 11-year-old son, Suhayb, spent a great deal of time with el-Nashar when he attended religious studies during the summer holidays. He considered him his "best adult friend."
"He made me laugh, told me a lot of jokes," said Suhayb. "I personally think he's innocent. I believe it when he says so."
During interrogation, el-Nashar, 33, who was arrested in Cairo on Thursday, denied any role in the attacks and said he was planning to return to Leeds after a vacation in Egypt, the Egyptian Interior Ministry said in a statement.
An Egyptian security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because a final decision has not yet been made, said there was still not enough evidence to link el-Nashar to the attacks.
Zahir Birawi, chairman of the mosque, said it wouldn't comment on people who pray there.
"We are cooperating with the police," he said.
Birawi said that in the aftermath of the attacks carried out by at least four British Muslims - three of Pakistani descent, the fourth born in Jamaica - the mosque will need to educate the community that "we are part of the society ... and that we have common values.
"We will convey the message of peace to everyone. We have to integrate in the community. We will tell our community to keep calm, not to react emotionally against any hate crimes," said Birawi, who is of Jordanian origin.
Meanwhile Saturday, hundreds of English, Arabs and Asians marched in the streets of Hyde Park, calling for harmony in their multiethnic community of about 30,000.
Chanting, "Peace, Unity - in our community," residents marched down the narrow streets.