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Bomb suspect might fight extradition to Britain, his attorney indicates

Los Angeles Times

ROME - A suspect in the botched London subway bombings made an initial Italian court appearance yesterday, and there were indications that he would fight extradition to Britain.

The capture of a man identified as Osman Hussain, an Ethiopian-born British citizen, in Rome on Friday afternoon climaxed an international manhunt for four suspects whose bombs failed to detonate July 21, in an act that would have reprised the devastating attacks of two weeks earlier.

Two of the last suspects were arrested in London on Friday, while Hussain managed to get as far as Rome, taking high-speed trains under the English Channel to Paris and down into Italy.

British and Italian police tracked him to his brother's apartment in a working-class suburb of Rome by monitoring his cellular telephone calls.

Antonietta Sonnessa, Hussain's court-appointed attorney, said after a brief meeting yesterday with her client that she did not think he wanted to return to London.

If Hussain fights extradition, he could delay his return by weeks.

But that would not impede Scotland Yard investigators from joining their Italian colleagues in interrogating the 27-year-old suspect. British police also continued yesterday questioning the three suspects arrested there last week.

Initial interrogation of Hussain, whose name police believe is an alias, sent Italian police on raids across the country yesterday. They executed 15 search warrants focusing on immigrants and others Hussain is believed to have been in contact with and who might have assisted his flight.

Italian authorities said yesterday that Hussain, whose real name is thought to be Hamdi Isaac, was able to navigate through Italy thanks to a network of Ethiopian, Eritrean and Somali immigrants, including the father of his fiancee, who lives in the northern Italian city of Brescia.

Hussain speaks Italian relatively well, they said, thanks to having lived earlier in Italy.

"It has been possible to identify a dense network of individuals belonging to the Eritrean and Ethiopian communities in Italy that are believed to have served as cover for the fugitive," Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu said yesterday.

Pisanu, appearing before Parliament, added that the "stateless lands" of the Horn of Africa countries, including former Italian colony Ethiopia, have become a fermentation point for the al-Qaida terror network "from where it tends in various ways to dispatch its followers to Europe."

Italy is frequently used as a transit point for immigrants from northern and eastern Africa, who arrive illegally on its southern shores or who come legally because of cooperation agreements Italy has with its former colonies.

Italian investigators are especially interested in determining whether Hussain might have been planning attacks in Italy, a prospect that the investigators said did not seem likely. Italy, whose government supported the U.S. war in Iraq, has been on edge since repeated threats from al-Qaida sympathizers.

At this point, investigators think the more likely case is that Hussain was planning to continue fleeing: He had obtained false documents through his brother, an Italian law enforcement official said. The brother is also under arrest.

The prosecutor said Italy expected to receive a formal extradition petition from Britain tomorrow that will avail itself of European Union rules that facilitate custody transfers.

Hussain was arrested in his brother's apartment, which neighbors said was frequented by a stream of Somali, Ethiopian and Eritrean immigrants. Neighbors who watched the huge police operation Friday evening said they were surprised by the arrests.

"They always seemed gentle," said Andrea Barbieri, a neighbor. "I'd never have thought I was talking to a terrorist."

The doorman at the building, who gave only his first name, Marco, said he had seen 10 different people, all East African, using the apartment in the past year or so.

He said they never received mail and spoke Italian surprisingly well.

Police are examining computer disks, papers, agendas, phone books and videotapes confiscated from the apartment.

Hussain's attorney said no formal charges had been filed as yet against her client. He had given statements to the police, she said, but she recoiled at the suggestion that he was "cooperating." The case is at "an absolutely delicate point," said Sonnessa, adding that no decisions had been taken about a defense strategy or how to fight extradition.

Raids also continued in Britain. Scotland Yard said yesterday that two men were arrested under counterterrorism laws in two raids in the Midlands city of Leicester about 4 a.m.

But a police statement said, "There is no reason to currently suspect that these arrests are in any way connected to recent terrorist activity in London."

Police had identified two of the suspected bombers arrested Friday as Muktar Said Ibrahim and Ramzi Mohammed. A Scotland Yard official, speaking without attribution under police rules, said a man arrested Friday in west London was called Wahbi Mohammed, 23, and may have been a fifth bomber. The official said he was possibly a brother of Ramzi Mohammed.

The capture of four men in the July 21 attacks, and of another in a possible fifth attack the same day that was apparently aborted, brought only the most cautious sense of relief to Britons, and police warned that the country still faced what Peter Clarke, London's top counterterrorism official, called a "very real" threat.

"The public must be watchful and alert," he said Friday.

Indeed, that seemed to reflect the mood among many Londoners on a day when their newspapers feted the capture of the suspected bombers with banner headlines like those in the Daily Express, "Thank God," and The Daily Mirror, "Got Them."

Riding a packed Victoria Line subway train yesterday from Finsbury Park to Stockwell, where the failed attacks began, Natasha Snell, 22, a dental nurse, said: "I think there's more people out there waiting to do it. It doesn't make it any less anxious. I said to my friend this morning as we were coming into the station, we'll go to the end of the train because it always happens at the front."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The New York Times News Service contributed to this article.

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