LEEDS, England (AP) – Amear Ali remembers how the film images clicked by in rapid-fire sequence to a soundtrack of pounding drums: dead Iraqi children, Palestinians under siege, Guantanamo prisoners, snippets of President Bush repeating the word “crusade.”

“You could see how it could turn someone to raw hate,” said Ali, recalling his brush last year with the hard-edged marketing of extremism at an Islamic bookstore operated by his brother-in-law.

“It even started working on me. Then I said to myself, “Get out. This stuff is poison.”‘

The shop was drawn deeper Saturday into the international investigation of the July 7 London bombings, and Ali’s introductions into the militant messages could help explain the possible recruitment tactics used in the neighborhood where the suicide mission apparently took shape.

Attempts to discern the motives and mind-set of the suspected bombers remain among the murkiest parts of the probe. But Ali – a 36-year-old father of four boys – claims hardline Islamists had been quietly making contacts and spreading propaganda for years in the Beeston area, a hillock of one-room stores and red brick row houses dominated by families with roots in Pakistan.

Three of the four alleged bombers came from this seesaw world: born in Britain but influenced by the values and traditions of a motherland they barely know; watching new skyscrapers rise in central Leeds but feeling excluded from the opportunities in this former mill town.

“So someone comes along and says, “Muslim are oppressed, Muslims are being killed by the West,’ and so on,” said Ali, whose late father emigrated to Britain from Pakistan. “For some young lads who are confused and feel alienated, it’s a powerful thing to hear. If it happened with young Muslims here, it’s happening everywhere.”

Ali said he first noticed outsiders coming into Beeston in the late 1990s speaking about Muslim causes and identity. He said they were always well-spoken, fluent in English and often dressed in the traditional shalwar kameez, a loose tunic-and-trouser outfit common in Pakistan and across South Asia.

Ali said the men were always vague about their affiliations – never mentioning al-Qaida or any of the Muslim groups in Britain – and first offered only generalities about the importance of prayer and following Islamic codes.

“We used to joke that they were like the Muslim version of the Mormons or born-again Christians,” said Ali. “They would ask if anyone wanted to attend lectures or just talk further. A few would go, but we didn’t pay them much attention.”

It began to change shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. His sister’s husband, Mohammad Tafazil, 38, opened a corner bookshop with the idea of offering an alternative for young Muslims who were drifting into drug use and a gang culture, said Ali.

Gradually, Tafazil became more radicalized and aloof from his old Western-oriented crowd, said Ali. He grew a beard, became estranged from his wife and began allowing visiting Muslim speakers to use the shop – the Iqra Learning Center – for gatherings. The shelves increasingly included videos, DVDs and books outlining conspiracies against Muslims and denouncing the West.

“I remember telling him once, “This kind of stuff may get you in trouble if the police see it,”‘ said Ali. “He told me that I was weak.”

Ali said Tafazil also had some financial links to a storefront site known as the Hamara Youth Access Point, where the suspected bombers also were known to meet.

Both the bookstore and youth site have been searched and sealed by police.

“They were always talking about the same thing: how the West is out to destroy Islam,” said Ali.

Among those who became part of the shop’s inner circle was Shahzad Tanweer, 22, one of the suspected London bombers, said Ali. Another suspected attacker, 30-year-old Mohammad Sidique Khan, reportedly used the two sites for diatribes against U.S. and British foreign policies.

It’s unclear what – if any – connections were made by the bombers to wider terrorist networks. But senior Pakistani intelligence officials said authorities were looking into a possible links between Tanweer and two al-Qaida-linked militant groups.

On Saturday, meanwhile, police intensified their search of the street-level bookstore. Investigators wearing white protective suits also were seen on second floor, but it was unclear whether it was a residence or part of the bookshop operations. Police covered the shop windows with gray plastic sheeting and the immediate area was cordoned off.

Tafazil was not at his home or answering his cell phone on Saturday. In London, the Metropolitan Police said he was not the one unidentified person from the Leeds area who was being questioned in the British capital about the terrorist attacks. But police declined to say whether Tafazil was being held in Britain for any other reason.

Ali said he was approached by Tafazil last year for discussions about Islam. At first, Ali said he received instructions on proper Muslim prayers, which he never learned when younger. Then came lectures about injustices to Muslims around the world. Finally, on the day Ali and his family returned from their father’s funeral, Ali said Tafazil played him a DVD on a laptop computer.

“It started off with scenes of Muslims being killed or persecuted: Iraq, Palestinians, Chechnya. It had Bush saying the word “crusade.’ It was slick and really made you feel angry,” said Ali. “I know it was propaganda and was made to make you feel this way. But what about young guys who see this material as a call to do something?

“I’m convinced something like this was the first step for the bombers.”

The families of Khan and the third suspected bomber from Leeds, Hasid Hussain – the 18-year-old believed to have blown up the double-decker bus – condemned the attacks and claimed they had no idea what they were planning.

Khan’s family insisted he must have been “brainwashed” and urged all efforts to “expose the terror networks which target and groom our sons to carry out such evils.”

AP-ES-07-16-05 1603EDT


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