CAIRO, Egypt - Egyptian police were interrogating a 33-year-old biochemist last night who was seized in connection with last week's London bombings, as relatives denied that he had anything to do with the deadly suicide blasts.
Cairo police seized Magdy el-Nashar at his parents' home in Bassateen, a poor suburb of the capital, the Egyptian Interior Ministry said in a statement.
The doctoral graduate, who had once studied chemical engineering in North Carolina, denied any connection with the London attacks and said that he was in Cairo on vacation, the ministry reported.
The Leeds University biochemistry teacher has been identified in British news reports as the man who rented a Leeds apartment that police say was a "bomb factory" where the explosives for the London attacks were thought to have been assembled.
Police sources quoted in British newspapers said investigators believe the explosive used was TATP, or triacetone triperoxide, a compound that could be made from easily purchased chemicals, similar to the material used by attempted "shoe bomber" Richard Reid.
El-Nashar was tied in a separate news report yesterday to one of the four suicide bombers described by police here as "foot soldiers" in an international plot they believe will be traced to al-Qaida.
Three of the militants who police believe to have perished in the bombings of Underground trains and a bus were British-born Pakistanis from Leeds. El-Nashar was said to be a friend and former roommate of the fourth, Lindsey Germaine, a Jamaican convert to Islam who lived in Aylesbury, about 140 miles away from the other suspects.
British newspapers also reported yesterday that the three Leeds bombers had been banned from their local mosque and that authorities were investigating links between the bombers, who took at least 50 lives in the July 7 attacks, and al-Qaida figures in Pakistan.
As el-Nashar underwent questioning by Egyptian authorities, it was unclear whether there were immediate plans to extradite him to Britain.
"We are aware of an arrest made in Cairo but are not permitted to disclose who we may or may not wish to interview in connection with this investigation," Scotland Yard said in a statement. "This remains a fast-moving investigation with a number of lines of enquiry, some of which may have an international dimension."
In Cairo, el-Nashar's brother Mohammed, 28, said last night that el-Nashar had been taken into custody Thursday afternoon as he walked to the neighborhood mosque to pray.
Police then stormed the family's third floor walk-up and seized el-Nashar's computer, papers and dissertation, he recounted.
El-Nashar had arrived home from Britain on June 30, his brother said. He had come to visit his family and to register his doctoral degree with the Egyptian government.
He was staying with his parents, brother and sister on a dirt road of fading tenements, a scruffy street with no name that is lit by bare bulbs strung on wires.
Neighbors on the southern edge of Cairo described el-Nashar as a quiet homebody who shied away from sports and spent little time mingling in the streets.
He was the oldest of the three children; his father is a retired office worker for Arab Contractors, one of the region's largest construction companies.
Neighbors and family members here rejected the idea of el-Nashar as a religious extremist. His brother, a keyboard player who sometimes provides accompaniment for belly dancers, argued that el-Nashar wouldn't have allowed him to keep his job if he were a strict fundamentalist.
"The furthest extent of his religion is that he prayed," Mohamed el-Nashar said. "That's all our family does, and there's nothing wrong with prayer."
El-Nashar had told his family that he would return to Britain in another month, his brother said, and that he planned to continue his academic work.
"If he were here, you'd probably like him," his brother said. "Ask anybody. Muslims and Christians liked him. He was a peaceful man."
El-Nashar, it was learned yesterday, had been awarded a $58,000 government grant to study in England.
"We can confirm that Dr. Magdy el-Nashar was awarded a Bioscience Yorkshire Fellowship, supported by Yorkshire Forward in 2004," the government-funded local development agency said in a statement.
"The fellowship was to assist his investigation into developing a new biocatalyst and to take such a product to market for industrial use."
The Leeds suspects
The three Leeds suspects of Pakistani descent, at least two of whom traveled to Pakistan in recent years for Islamic studies, might have met an al-Qaida recruiter and mastermind while there, The Times of London reported yesterday.
The Leeds-area suspects had been identified earlier in the week, with police tying two of them to blast scenes through forensic evidence from recovered remains.
The third Leeds suspect, Mohamed Sidique Khan, 30, is believed to have carried out the deadliest of the four blasts, the Piccadilly Line subway explosion, but authorities have yet to find forensic evidence to confirm that.
The suspected fourth bomber was identified late Thursday by a high-ranking British anti-terror investigator as Germaine, a 19- or 20-year-old Briton of Jamaican descent who converted to Islam four years ago.
The Los Anglees Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.