ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Three of the four Britons identified as the London bombers visited Pakistan this year, two traveling together, Pakistani officials confirmed yesterday. Investigators are trying to find out whether their trips were connected with planning for the attacks now blamed for killing 56 people.
The information released yesterday adds to suspicions that the three bombers, who grew up in or around the same neighborhood in Leeds, England, might have received instructions or assistance from militants based in Pakistan and tied to al-Qaida.
Shahzad Tanweer, 22, and Mohammad Sidique Khan, 30, two of the bombers of Pakistani descent, flew to Karachi on Nov. 19 on a Turkish Airlines flight and remained there until February, Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency said.
Tanweer had told his family that he was going to Pakistan to study religion.
Investigators are trying to determine whether he and Khan met in Pakistan with Hasib Hussain, 18, another of the suspected bombers who was already there.
Khan, Tanweer, Hussain and the fourth alleged bomber, Jamaican-born Briton Germaine Lindsay, 19, are all thought to have died in the July 7 blasts on three subway trains and a double-decker bus.
Officials initially believed all four had no previous involvement in terrorism, but authorities have since said that Khan had come to their attention in relation to a plot foiled last year by British detectives who found a large amount of explosive materials in a west London warehouse. Khan was not considered enough of a threat then to be put under full-time surveillance.
British Muslims have appeared in disguise on British television several times over the past year speaking of their desire to become suicide bombers to defend Islam, which they say is under attack from the West.
The existence of extremist preaching has spurred Prime Minister Tony Blair's government to prepare new anti-terrorism laws, including a provision that would bar "indirect incitement" such as praising suicide attacks and acts that prepare for terrorist attacks.
In a show of unity, Home Secretary Charles Clarke met yesterday with opposition Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaders to get a consensus on the new law, expected to be passed quickly when Parliament returns to session in October.
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw responded angrily to a think-tank report suggesting that Britain's participation in the war in Iraq alongside the United States had left the country more vulnerable to terrorists.
The report, issued by Chatham House and the Economic and Social Research Council, said Britain's unequal partnership with the United States had left it vulnerable to attacks.
Straw said it was time to stop making "excuses" for terrorism. "The terrorists have struck across the world, in countries allied with the United States, backing the war in Iraq and in countries which had nothing whatever to do with the war in Iraq," he said.
In Leeds, authorities searched an Islamic bookstore for a fourth day. Residents of the Beeston neighborhood said the Iqra Learning Center had become a meeting place for militant young men. They also continued to search the Leeds home of Egyptian biochemist Magdy el-Nashar, where police say they found explosive materials. El-Nashar is in custody in Egypt.
Egyptian authorities say el-Nashar, who was an instructor at the University of Leeds, has denied any involvement in the attacks, although his phone number was found in Hussain's mobile telephone.
In Pakistan, immigration records show that Tanweer and Khan stayed in Pakistan for almost three months and departed Feb. 8 from Karachi.
Hussain arrived in Karachi from the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on July 15, 2004, Pakistani authorities said. It is not known exactly when he left Pakistan, but he appeared to have returned home to Britain about the same time as the other two.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.