CAIRO (AFP) â€” Scotland Yard investigators were in Cairo Sunday attempting to determine whether or not an Egyptian biochemist detained earlier this week was the bomb-maker behind the deadly July 7 London attacks.
“Anti-terrorist experts from Britain are at work to follow the investigation but not take part in the interrogations,” Egyptian security sources said, without elaborating on Scotland Yard’s activities.
Magdy Nashar, a 33-year-old biochemist who lives in England, returned to Egypt four days before the quadruple bombings that left 55 people dead and wounded hundreds.
British authorities said they found signs in Nashar’s home in the northern city of Leeds that quantities of a compound called TATP, or triacetone triperoxide, had been converted into a powerful explosive.
Three of the suicide bombers, all of them of Pakistani origin, also lived in the Leeds area.
TATP was also used by Richard Reid, who is serving a life sentence in prison for attempting to blow up a Paris-Miami flight three months after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
But the suspect’s family and friends, as well as the Egyptian authorities, have insisted Nashar had no links with terrorist groups and could not have been the mastermind of the devastating bombings.
Interior Minister Habib Adly stressed that Nashar had “”no links with Al Qaeda network.”
The son of a southern Cairo blacksmith, who obtained a PhD in biochemistry from Leeds University, is thought to be detained at a state security facility in Cairo.
The Egyptian authorities argue that the foreign media is drawing a hasty parallel between Nashar and Mohammed Atta, who masterminded the September 11 attacks and had also studied abroad.
Egypt has signalled it would resist pressure to extradite Nashar, whom they arrested late Thursday.
But a prominent Egyptian Islamist lawyer who claims to head his defence team voiced his concern Sunday that the young biochemist might be handed over to the British authorities anyway.
“I volunteered to be his lawyer because he is an Egyptian citizen and I am afraid that he will be handed over to the British and I want to make sure his rights are upheld,” Mamduh Ismail told AFP.
Ismail, who rose to fame during Islamist trials in the mid-90s, said he was seeking to recruit a team of lawyers to organise Nashar’s defence.
“I am sure he has no connection with the bombings in London,” he said.
Friends and relatives of the suspect were adamant he could not have been involved in the attacks and described him as pious but open-minded and caring.
“Magdy couldn’t have done such a thing, he was not the type to throw his life away. In fact, he was on a break in Cairo to get married to a girl he had loved since his high school days,” said childhood friend Hisham Abdel-Hamid.
A Christian neighbour in Cairo’s working-class Abu Breik area in the southern Maadi district where Nashar grew up described him as “a lovely human being whom we consider family.”
“If he was an extremist, he wouldn’t socialise with us Christians. In fact, I can’t say a single bad thing about him,” added Marzuq Riad, a man in his 70s.