Page last updated at 12:20 GMT, Thursday, 8 May 2008 13:20 UK

7/7 bomber 'popular with young'

Waheed Ali, Sadeer Saleem and Mohammed Shakil
Waheed Ali, Sadeer Saleem and Mohammed Shakil deny the charges

The leader of the 7 July suicide bombers was a popular figure who commanded the respect of young Muslims in his local area, a court has heard.

Kingston Crown Court was told that Mohammed Siddique Khan ran fitness classes for youngsters after a misspent youth of smoking cannabis.

Leeds man Waheed Ali told police Khan was approachable and fellow bomber Shehzad Tanweer was not "judgemental".

Mr Ali and two other men deny helping the bombers months before the attacks.

Prosecutors say that Mr Ali, Sadeer Saleem and Mohammed Shakil, all of Leeds, scouted for possible locations, and visited the Natural History Museum and the London Eye in December 2004.

The men admit they visited London but say there was nothing suspicious about the trip or their other associations with the four suicide bombers.

In August 2005, a police officer visited Mr Ali at his Leeds home to ask him what he knew about the bombers. Police were tracing friends of the bombers, partly from numbers recovered from sim cards at each blast location.

Mr Ali, also known as Shippon Ullah, said that he had been close friends with Shehzad Tanweer, another of the four bombers, because they grew up on the same road in the Beeston area of Leeds.

Through Tanweer, he had got to know Mohammed Siddique Khan, he told police. The men and others used to go to weight-training sessions at a mosque in the Beeston area and other youth activities at a community centre.

Mr Ali said that at this time he did not know Siddique Khan very well, but he was "very approachable".

He told the police that on one occasion the future bomber was in a local takeaway and was approached by local youngsters because he was a popular figure.

In a separate conversation with police, Mohammed Shakil said that he had been friends with Mohammed Siddique Khan through his twenties when the pair had drunk alcohol and smoked cannabis together.

Mr Shakil told Detective Constable David McIntyre that he "could not think in his wildest dreams" why his friend had gone on to become a suicide bomber.

Khan had expressed resentment about the situation in Pakistan and Iraq, but not in an extreme manner, said Mr Shakil. The Leeds man said that Khan had not been a particularly devout Muslim. In contrast, he considered himself a practising Muslim who denounced suicide bombings.

Surveillance footage

The jury later saw surveillance footage of the three defendants from the weeks before their March 2007 arrest.

Neil Flewitt QC, prosecuting, told the jury that Waheed Ali and Mohammed Shakil were making plans to travel to Pakistan, including buying equipment from camping or outdoor shops. Items included a Swiss Army knife, water purification tablets and secure body wallets, described by the observing police officer as a covert body pouch.

The men obtained visas from the Pakistan consulate in Bradford and plane tickets for 850. The pair were arrested separately at Manchester Airport shortly before their flight.

When police officers stopped Mr Ali near a shop in the departures terminal, he replied: "I was only going to get some chocolate."

The case continues.

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