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UK bomb suspect a "normal, average guy"

Katherine Baldwin / Reuters | August 11 2006

Ibrahim Savant, named on Friday as a suspect in an alleged suicide bomb plot on U.S.-bound aircraft, had a regular job and loved soccer, just like many other young Britons, his neighbors said.

Neighbors and friends in the ethnically mixed eastern London suburb where the 25-year-old spent his youth said he was well-known.

"We grew up together. He was a normal, average guy," said Assad, who declined to give his surname. "Everyone around here will be amazed and dismayed" at his arrest, he added.

Assad said Savant converted to Islam in 1997 or 1998, began wearing traditional Muslim dress and grew a beard. He attended a local mosque, one of several in the area of Walthamstow, which has a high Asian population.

Savant was one of 19 people named on Friday by the Bank of England in connection with the alleged plot to blow up numerous transatlantic flights. The bank, acting on instructions from the government, ordered their assets frozen.

U.S. authorities said all those arrested were British Muslims.

The neighbors' surprise at Savant's alleged involvement reflect growing fears about home-grown Islamist militancy in Britain and the difficulties faced by police to track it down.

The four British Muslim suicide bombers who killed 52 people on London's transport network in July last year had appeared to live similarly unremarkable lives. One loved cricket. Another was a classroom assistant.

Savant grew up with his brother Adam and his parents in a modest, white terraced house not far from Walthamstow's railway station and just across from a mosque.

"We called him Oliver when he was a little boy but he changed his name," said Paul Kleinman, a 66-year-old firefighter who lives next door to Savant's parents' house, raided by police on Thursday.

"He loved football and used to play the trumpet when he was small. All of a sudden he started to put these white robes on," he said, adding he had known Savant's parents for some 25 years.

Assad said Savant had worked at a central London department store: "He was always sleeping on trains," he joked.

The 19 named suspects are aged between 17 and 35. Police are holding 24 people after raids in other parts of London, Britain's southeast and Birmingham.


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