Bomb made only of flour, says suspect's Italian lawyer

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The Independent Online

In a report in Corriere della Sera, Antonietta Sonnessa quoted Hussain Osman, now in custody in Rome, as saying: "I would never have killed anyone, let alone did I even dream of committing a suicide bombing. I value my life, I've never even considered dying. It was a demonstrative action, as I've told you many times.

"I swear to you: in that bag there was a detonator but the rest was flour. It would have made a bang and scared people. That was all I did."

But Mr Osman's claims were dismissed last night by Scotland Yard. A spokesman said: "These devices were designed to kill and maim on a devastating scale."

Ms Sonnessa made it clear her top priority in defending Mr Osman was to foil efforts by the Crown Prosecution Service to extradite him to Britain. The bedrock of her argument against extradition is that his bomb was merely "a demonstrative action", intended to scare the British public but not meant to hurt anyone.

With the help of his lawyer, who according to one Italian paper "has become a sort of diva in Britain", Mr Osman has been at pains to paint himself as a young man with nothing in common with hardcore Islamist terrorists like those who died in the July 7 bombings. It is claimed he is not a Somali but an Ethiopian called Hamdi Isaac who adopted a false name and nationality to obtain refugee status in Britain.

In Rome, where he lived for several years as a teenager before coming to Britain, his "big dark eyes, like those of a fawn, and his long thick eyelashes" earned him the nickname Bambi, said a former girlfriend quoted in La Repubblica.

"He didn't mix in bad company," she said. "If a fight broke out, he'd always step in to make peace...He was obsessed with America ... He dressed rapper-style, with a dropped crutch and a basketball vest. He danced really well. Everyone knew he was a Muslim and a believer but he never talked about it with me, nor did he have any problems going out with those of us who were not Muslims. It was just that he didn't eat pork."

Mr Osman's brother Remzi, arrested with Mr Osman after the fugitive was found in his flat on the outskirts of Rome and now locked up in prison with him, went some way to confirming the image of the failed bomber as an innocuous charmer. In comments leaked by Ms Sonnessa, he said: "Hamdi was the baby of the family, and we always loved him." He said he gave him shelter "because I know he's not a terrorist, and certainly I'm not one either. It's true I'm a Muslim, I pray. But I hate the extremists, and it's not right I have to stay in jail just because of my dark skin".

Ms Sonnessa said Mr Osman was terrified at the prospect of being extradited to Britain. "I'm scared of what I could suffer in jail there, I'm scared of having to spend the rest of my life in a cell," she quoted him as saying to her during a three-hour interview in Rome's Regina Coeli prison. "I beg you, do everything you can to enable me to stay here."

The lawyer said: "We are examining every possibility to avoid him being handed over to the British authorities. I am convinced here Isaac could get a fair trial and prove that what he did was just a demonstration."