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British cops say blast suspect is Islamic convert

A bombing suspect arrested after a blast in the English city of Exeter on Thursday is an Islamic convert with a mental illness who was taken advantage of and radicalized, police said.
This image from surveillance video shows a man identified by police as Nicky Reilly, who was later arrested in connection with an explosion in Exeter, England, Thursday. Devon And Cornwall Police / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A bombing suspect arrested after a blast in the southwest English city of Exeter on Thursday is a vulnerable Islamic convert with a mental illness who was taken advantage of and radicalized, police said.

Police evacuated a large part of Exeter city center after a small explosion at the Giraffe restaurant around lunchtime. Police said a man — identified as 22-year-old Nicky Reilly — was seen entering the restaurant's bathroom shortly before the blast.

Reilly was receiving treatment in a hospital under police guard for serious facial injuries received in the explosion. An additional explosive was found near the scene and defused by a bomb disposal team, police said.

"Our investigation so far indicates that Reilly, who has a history of mental illness, has adopted the Islamic faith," Deputy Chief Constable Tony Melville told reporters. "We believe that despite his weak and vulnerable state, he was preyed upon, radicalized, and taken advantage of."

He gave no details as to who he thought had radicalized Reilly.

It is extremely rare for British authorities to identify suspects by name before they are charged. Police explained that they needed more information on Reilly's movements before the incident.

"I am taking the unusual step of releasing his photograph because we want anyone who saw him today or can help us track his movements over recent weeks to contact us," Melville said.

Police have also given some details of Reilly's travels before the explosion, saying he took a bus from the nearby city of Plymouth to Exeter earlier in the day.

Local police said the incident did not appear to be part of a wider plot, although they cautioned that the investigation was ongoing. Officers were searching a property in Plymouth "connected to Reilly," Melville said.

London police said it had sent a small team of counterterrorism officers to provide support for the investigation. The British Broadcasting Corp. reported that the country's domestic intelligence service, MI5, was also involved.

Terrorism-related arrests have become regular in Britain since the Sept. 11 attacks and the July 2005 suicide attacks in London that killed 52 commuters. British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said last month that authorities were monitoring 2,000 suspects and 30 active plots, and that the threat was growing.