An Egyptian chemist freed Tuesday after three weeks in custody for questioning about deadly bombings in London said he casually knew two of the attackers. He called one of them "very kind and very nice."
After his release, Magdy el-Nashar told reporters outside his home that he had nothing to do with the July 7 mass-transit attacks, which killed 52 people and the four bombers.
"I am innocent, my country is innocent," said el-Nashar, who had been studying at the University of Leeds in northern England. He was detained in Cairo on July 14 after Britain notified Egyptian authorities they suspected he may have had links to some of the attackers, three of whom were from Leeds.
The 33-year-old chemist said he met one of the bombers, Jamaican-born Jermaine Lindsay, in Leeds during the last month of the Muslim period of fasting, Ramadan, which was in October and November.
Egyptian helped bombers find a place to live
El-Nashar said that in June, Lindsay asked for help finding a place to live in Leeds, saying he wanted to move there from London with his wife and child.
He said he located quarters for Lindsay through his landlord and was then introduced by Lindsay to a man called Mohammed, who turned out to be Hasib Hussain, another of the July 7 bombers.
Hussain said he had a van and would help Lindsay move his belongings from London.
El-Nashar said he helped Lindsay because he was a "new convert (to Islam). He was very kind and very nice."
The Interior Ministry said el-Nashar was freed after authorities found no evidence against him. London police had no comment on the release.
The chemist said his release was held up by the failed mass-transit attacks in London on July 21 and deadly bombings at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik two days later.
El-Nashar said he has a ticket to return to Britain on Aug. 14.
El-Nashar: ‘I am afraid’
"I want to go back again. But I am afraid, honestly, I am afraid. Propaganda against me made people think I am terrorist. My picture is everywhere. Some said I am the first man (behind the attacks). The most-wanted man. If I walk down the street and someone recognizes me, he might kill me," el-Nashar said. "I am innocent."
He returned home before dawn Tuesday — to the surprise of his family, which had not been informed of his release.
"We heard the knock at the door, and his father went down to answer. He started screaming, 'Magdy! Magdy is here!'" said his mother, with tears in her eyes. "You can imagine, a mother's heart when her son comes in after what happened."
She said she had only been able to speak to her son once by telephone since his detention and that the family hadn't been allowed to visit him. She would only give her name as Umm Magdy — Arabic for "Magdy's mother," a traditional way for conservative Egyptian women to identify themselves in public.
"My heart was torn every day (he was gone). I wasn't eating or sleeping. Since he was taken I've felt there was a knife stuck in my heart," said Umm Magdy. "I was always sure of his innocence, but I was always afraid of the unknown."
Neighbors cheered upon Egyptian's release
El-Nashar's neighbors gathered outside the house Tuesday, cheering his release.
"He is in good health, thank God," Magdy's younger brother, Mohammed el-Nashar, said. "There were never any charges against him."
But his mother insisted, "I won't let him go to London now unless the British government officially announces he is innocent."
El-Nashar had just completed his doctorate in biochemistry at Leeds when the attacks occurred. He returned to Egypt to submit his certification to the government research center that sponsored his studies in Britain.
At the time of the bombings, British media reported that traces of TATP were found in el-Nashar's apartment during raids in Leeds. That was the material used by failed shoe-bomber Richard Reid in 2001. The reports linking TATP to el-Nashar were never confirmed.