POLICE believe that they have identified the British-born man who masterminded the suicide bomb attacks on London. It also emerged yesterday that one of his recruits was a primary school teaching assistant.
The leader of the terrorist cell is believed to be in his thirties and of Pakistani origin. He arrived at a British port last month and is understood to have left the country the day before four suicide bombers murdered at least 52 people.
Security sources believe that he has been involved in previous terrorist operations and has links with al-Qaeda followers in the United States. It is also believed that he visited the bombers in Leeds and identified targets on the Tube.
Security chiefs say that he is also likely to have schooled his recruits on how to trigger their rucksack bombs at the same time. There were also suggestions that the cell may have decided against using foreign help to reduce the chances of being discovered.
Detectives were trying last night to track two other possible members of the cell. The first was seen on CCTV cameras on the platform of Luton station near the four bombers as they set off on July 7. There are fears that the man, also believed to be of Pakistani origin, could be a fifth bomber, still at large in the London area.
Police are trying to discover if he lives in Luton, where the bombers are thought to have stayed before the attack and where explosives were found in the boot of a hire car. Fingerprint and DNA experts are still examining the Nissan Micra.
Security sources said that there may well be “sixth and a seventh” members of the cell, providing a support network.
MI5 was piecing together the double life of Mohammad Sidique Khan, the oldest of the bombers, who worked at a school in Beeston, Leeds.
Khan, the father of a 14-month-old daughter, was a “learning mentor” for children of immigrant families who had just arrived in Britain. Staff described him as gently spoken, endlessly patient, and immensely popular with children who called him their buddy.
Three years after this photograph was taken at the Hillside primary school, Khan triggered a 10lb bomb at Edgware Road Underground station.
Two of the bombers wereknown to the police, despite claims that they were “clean skins”. Shehzad Tanweer was arrested for disorderly behaviour and Hasib Hussain was questioned over shoplifting, both last year. The two were cautioned but not charged.
Police sources also admitted that the name of one of the bombers had emerged during a major anti-terrorist operation last year. But he was neither arrested nor questioned.
Every recent phone call and e-mail linked to the three known bombers is being investigated by the security and intelligence services. Working backwards from July 7, they will trace every call made from the bombers’ homes in Leeds and plot all their movements and associations with other people, in an effort to trace the bomb-maker. MI5 is focusing in particular on any trips they may have made abroad in the past year.
Credit cards were discovered with the bombers’ bodies, and checks on financial dealings over recent months could provide vital information. One security source said: “We are checking if anyone was seen with any of this circle in the weeks up to July 7.
“The men who orchestrated this attack, obtained the explosive and assembled the devices would have been well away from Leeds and London by the time the bombs exploded.”
Scotland Yard were also looking last night for an Egyptian-born chemistry lecturer who was teaching until recently at Leeds University. M. Asdi el-Nashar, 33, is understood to have rented one of the Leeds addresses where explosives were found. He left Britain recently after telling neighbours of difficulties with his visa. The lecturer, who studied in the US, is understood to have known some of the bombers.
The fourth bomber was named unofficially last night as Ejaz Fiaz, thought to be in his early thirties. His home in Leeds was still being searched. Officers were given more time to question a relative of one of bombers. Police also carried out raids in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, last night.
There will be a two-minute silence to remember victims of the bombs across Europe at noon today, London time.
How much police knew about the bombers sparked a row between Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, and his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, during a meeting on terrorism in Brussels yesterday.