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4 plead innocent in attempted attacks



Published: Tue, August 9, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Cameras filmed three suspects with knapsacks containing bombs that didn't go off, police allege.

LOS ANGELES TIMES

LONDON -- Four top suspects in the attempted attacks on the London transport system July 21, including a previously unidentified man linked to a knapsack bomb found in a park, pleaded innocent Monday in an appearance at a high-security court.

Also appearing in court was an alleged Al-Qaida operative deported a day earlier from Zambia, where he had been questioned by British counter-terror agents about a previous spate of bombings. Those attacks, on July 7, killed 56 people, including four suspected bombers.

But British authorities did not pursue charges in that case Monday against the suspect, Haroon Rachid Aswat, a Briton of Indian descent. They deferred instead to a U.S. extradition request based on allegations that Aswat, 30, conspired to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon five years ago.

Aswat, who wore a black traditional robe and has shoulder-length black hair, said through his lawyer that he was "baffled" by the allegations against him. Asked if he would consent to extradition, Aswat replied: "At the moment, no."

The proceedings suggested that British investigators no longer regard Aswat as a potential suspect in the July 7 case. The interest in him was based largely on suspected phone contact between at least one of the dead bombers and a phone associated with Aswat. However, officials had cautioned that it was not clear whether Aswat had been using the phone or whether the calls were related to the plot.

As police helicopters circled above, the top-security courtroom at Belmarsh Prison also became the stage for the first appearance by three suspects, all East African refugees or immigrants, whose faces became internationally known during a manhunt last month. Police say security cameras filmed the three, whose knapsack bombs failed to fully detonate.

A fourth suspect caught on video remains in custody in Rome, where he had fled by train and was found hiding at his brother's apartment.

The charges

Muktar Said Ibrahim, 27, an Eritrea-born Briton who frequented the mosque, has been identified as the ringleader in a confession by the suspect held in Rome, Italian investigators say. Ibrahim pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of attempted murder, conspiracy to murder and using explosives in connection with the attempted attack on a double-decker bus.

The same charges have been filed against Ramzi Mohammed, 23, captured with Ibrahim in a raid on a housing project in Notting Hill July 31, and Yassin Hassan Omar, arrested in Birmingham two days earlier. Mohammed and Omar denied trying to bomb subway trains. Like Ibrahim, they remained impassive in court.

The hearing also featured appearances by Mohammed's brother, Wharbi, and two Ethiopian-born men. All three are accused of helping the fugitives.

Monday's hearing also gave a first glimpse at Manfo Kwaku Asiedu, who was arrested July 26 in a North London neighborhood close to where Mohammed and Hassan lived. He allegedly has been linked to a knapsack bomb that was found abandoned in Little Wormwood Scrubs park in West London two days after the failed attacks.

A fifth person?

The find led to the theory that the original plot included a fifth bomber who never reached his intended target. Prosecutors did not specify Monday why the fifth bomb was not used or explain Asiedu's alleged role.

Asiedu, 32, pleaded innocent to charges of conspiring to murder passengers using explosives.

Asiedu was accompanied by an interpreter of the Twi language of Ghana. Police did not disclose his birthplace, but said he has lived in the Finsbury Park area. The suspects worshiped at a radical mosque in that north London neighborhood, Italian investigators say.

In keeping with strict rules about disclosing evidence, prosecutors provided few details.

Questions persist about the bomb-maker and mastermind of the attacks. Authorities said nothing about whether the July 21 suspects had ties to the bombings two weeks earlier. The suspect in Rome, Hamdi Issac, has insisted to Italian interrogators that his group hatched a separate, copy-cat plot to emulate the July 7 bombers.




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