'Bomb plot' is linked to suspect detained in Canada 12 hours before British raids

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A plot by suspected al-Qa'ida supporters to carry out a bomb attack in London was linked yesterday to a computer specialist in Canada charged with terrorist offences.

A plot by suspected al-Qa'ida supporters to carry out a bomb attack in London was linked yesterday to a computer specialist in Canada charged with terrorist offences.

Mohammad Momin Khawaja, 29, who is of Pakistani descent, has been charged with conspiring to carry out a terrorist attack in London and the Canadian capital Ottawa.

He was arrested in Ottawa on Monday by officers from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who searched his home for bombs. Relatives said that the Canadian-born man had recently visited London to see relatives.

The dramatic international development came the day after eight men were arrested in London and the Home Counties as part of MI5's biggest operation against suspected Islamic extremists. Half a ton of fertiliser, which could be used to build a bomb, was seized in west London. The security services and police believe they have foiled a plan to build a large vehicle bomb. Potential targets are understood to have included a shopping complex on the M25.

Mr Khawaja was arrested in Canada 12 hours before the 6.30am raids in Britain. He was charged on Tuesday with participating in or contributing to the activities of a terrorist group and facilitating terrorist activity.

Mr Khawaja's father has written a number of books critical of American foreign policy and of western influence on Middle East politics since coming to Canada more than 30 years ago from Pakistan.

Mr Khawaja was remanded in custody until Friday. The charges state that between 10 November 2003, and 29 March this year, Mr Khawaja "did knowingly participate in or contribute to, directly or indirectly, an activity of a terrorist group, for the purpose of enhancing the ability of a terrorist group to facilitate or carry out a terrorist activity" in Ottawa and London.

He is also accused that in the same period and in those same cities, he "did knowingly facilitate a terrorist activity".

Mr Khawaja was arrested during an operation that included armed police at the Canadian government's department of foreign affairs where he was doing private work as a software developer.

Qasim Khawaja, 26, the suspect's brother said the police searched bombs and bomb-making material at their house.

"The door was blown open and guys with masks and guns came in, told us to get down on the ground," he said.

Two other brothers, Tanzeel, 20, and Mohsan, 18, were arrested, but released. Their mother, Azra, and a sister, Sabeen, 27, were questioned.

Khawaja's father, Dr Mahboob A Khawaja, the director of a polytechnical institute in Saudi Arabia, is the author of a book about Islamic fundamentalism Muslims and the West.

He has written academic essays on conflict resolution in which he accuses the West of decrying Islamic fundamentalism without attempting to understand it. Dr Khawaja said his son's arrest was "nothing more than a hoax to create embarrassment".

The family of three of the eight men arrested during the British raids - all of whom are British citizens of Pakistani descent - claimed the suspects were innocent.

One of the men held yesterday was Omar Khyam, 22, a computer student, who had captained the Sussex under-18s cricket team.

His brother Shujah Khyam, 17, and their cousin Ahmad Khan, 18, were held in raids in Crawley, Sussex.

The suspects were questioned yesterday at the high security Paddington Green police station in London.

Ansar Khan, 48, the father of Ahmad and the uncle of Omar said there was "absolutely no truth" in the allegations against his son and nephews. He said: "These boys are the cricketers, the Manchester United fans. Fish and chips is their favourite food."

Mr Khan accused the police of acting "like terrorists" when they raided his home. Mr Khan said his son was a "very quiet boy" and a "good Muslim" who prayed five times a day.

Mr Khan claimed that operatives from MI5 had recently approached his nephews, Omar and Shujah, and told them they should leave the UK and go to Pakistan.

Mr Ahmad said an MI5 agent told him that Omar and Shujah had been associating with the "wrong sort of people" and wanted them to leave the country in order to free up manpower. The claim has been denied by anti-terrorist sources.

In 2000, when Omar was 18, he told his mother he was going to France on a study trip but instead travelled to Pakistan. His family flew out and brought him back to Crawley after about six weeks.

Relatives in the Pakistan army helped in the search.

At the time Mr Khan said: "This was not a boy who was political. He loved Britain. He talked of playing cricket for England."

Police have taken five computers and eight or nine laptops from an internet cafe in Crawley, the proprietor said.

The eight suspects, aged 17 to 32, are being held under the Terrorism Act 2000 on suspicion of "being concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism".

The ammonium nitrate fertiliser - the same explosive ingredient used in terror attacks in Bali, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Africa and the United States - was found at a self-storage unit in Hanwell, west London.

Among the addresses raided by New Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch were the Luton homes of Aftab Manzoor, 25, and Afzal Munir, 23.

The two men were reported to have been killed in Kabul while fighting with the Taliban during the war in Afghanistan.

In Spain Angel Acebes, the Interior Minister, said a possible connection to one of the British suspects and the Madrid bombings was being investigated. Scotland Yard has said there is no link between the two.

On the streets of Crawley: 'Everyone seems to think you are a terrorist'

By Arifa Akbar

Two teenagers dressed in England football strips and prayer hats sat on the steps of Broadfield mosque in Crawley yesterday and fended off the charges of fanaticism aimed at their West Sussex town's Muslim community.

"We're just ordinary people and this is an ordinary town. Everyone knows everyone else and we feel safe. Everything else you hear is rubbish."

Worshippers attending prayers a few miles away in Langley Green, where three men were arrested inanti-terror raids on Tuesday, were quick to distance themselves from Islamic extremism and play down the impact of the arrests on the town's large Asian community. But more vocal British Pakistanis said this was the latest setback in an increasingly hostile community with a growing sense of unease and alienation.

Sadia Raja, 20, and Maryam Bhatti, 21, from Langley Green, where 22 per cent of the town's Asian community lives, spoke of the disaffection - and a culture of hyper-vigilance - caused by the arrests.

"It is difficult being a Muslim in this town. Everyone seems to think you are a terrorist. You are always being fingered and it could drive people to become more extremist. We are considered to be bad all the time. Most of the Muslim lads have had enough of the attitude towards them. They are more hot-blooded now and some of them are likely to be influenced by extremist imams," said Ms Raja.

Imran Ali, 22, and Abdul Ali, 26, who are cousins, said the raids and heavy police presence would further marginalise them from mainstream society.

"If people didn't already feel a growing unrest, they definitely will now. This gives people an excuse to judge us. They are trying to say these men are Muslim fanatics when they might or might not be," said Imran.

While both worship regularly at Broadfield mosque, they dress mainly in Western clothes and say they are modern, British-born Pakistanis. Yet they believe they are also soft targets for over-suspicious police. "I can't tell you how many times I have been searched by the police because I have lost count. You can't walk past the police without getting a dirty look," said Imran.

Abdul said he was exasperated by the number of times he had been stopped, and was offended by the suggestion he had terrorist links. "I returned from a holiday in Pakistan in autumn 2001 and the police searched me and tried to accuse me of having links with training camps in Afghanistan. They were even looking for blisters on my hands as some sort of proof. I was searched again only a few weeks ago when I went to Mexico. I can only assume it is because I look like a Muslim," he said.

Mohammed Hussein, 22, said he was proud of his Pakistani roots but was reluctant to express his culture overtly for fear of being targeted by police.

"I wear shalwar kameez sometimes and I'm growing my beard but I know I will be stared at... as if this makes me some sort of mad terrorist. Even the men they have arrested are not guilty until they are convicted. So why are we made to feel like criminals?"