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UK airport bomber was 'shy, nervous student'

UK, Aug 8: HE WAS the face of the foiled terrorist attack on Scotland, a man engulfed in fire who raged against police and members of the public as flames consumed his flesh and sealed his fate.

The death of Kafeel Ahmed, after 33 days in hospital intensive care units is a blow to the authorities who have lost the opportunity to discover what drove a brilliant engineer to turn his car into a bomb and himself into a fireball.

Too ill to even be charged with his act of terrorism, Kafeel Ahmed, a 28-year-old Indian, was the driver of the Jeep Cherokee that smashed into the entrance of Glasgow Airport last month after he left a rented house in the village of Houston, a few miles from his final target.

Stewart Ferguson, an off-duty police officer who trained a fire extinguisher on Ahmed as he lay burning outside the terminal, later spoke of being taken aback at how little the suspect was moving, despite his body being engulfed in flames.

"He was well ablaze - clothing, hair, skin - and from the attitude that he was in, lying on his back, there was a kind of resignation about him," Constable Ferguson recalled.

In the days after the thwarted attack, the focus fell on a ring of young doctors, among whom Ahmed was believed to have worked.

In a welter of speculation, during which he was identified initially as being of Lebanese origin, Kafeel - or, as he was also originally referred to, Khalid - was thought to have been a doctor at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley.

But a week after the attack, his true identity and alleged part in the plot emerged.

The son of Maqbool Ahmed and his wife, Zakhia, both doctors, he was raised in a home in the wealthy Banashankari area of Bangalore, south-eastern India. His parents have now retired after closing down a nursing home they ran for several years.

Kafeel and his brother, Sabeel, were born in Saudi Arabia, where their parents worked for a few years.

Sabeel Ahmed has been charged with withholding information that could prevent an act of terrorism.

Kafeel was revealed to be a doctor, but of engineering, not medicine, and possessed the knowledge with which to construct explosive devices.

He initially obtained a degree in engineering at a college in Davangere, about 300 miles north-west of Bangalore.

Fellow students remembered him as a nervous young man, painfully shy, and who rarely mentioned religion, but wept when mocked. "He was always very nervous during that time and once or twice he even started crying," said KV Arun, a former classmate. "But no-one can deny that he was brilliant."

Ahmed provided false information for admission to the college, stating he was a Hindu rather than a Muslim.

His college record shows he ranked fifth in a graduating class of nearly 400, earning a degree in mechanical engineering in 2000.

He then travelled to Belfast where he completed a master of philosophy degree in aeronautical engineering at Queen's University in 2003.

He later specialised for a doctorate in computational fluid dynamics, gained at Anglia Polytechnic University, later renamed Anglia Ruskin University, in Cambridge. A complex subject, it involves using computers to simulate the flow of fluids and gases over structures.

Professor Derek Sheldon, who supervised Ahmed during his time at Anglia Ruskin and was cited by the young man as a referee, expressed shock at hearing of his alleged involvement in a terrorist plot, but suggested he may have been radicalised in recent times.

Prof Sheldon said: "I can't believe it is the same boy. He was a lovely person when I knew him. I was in constant contact with him until last December, then silence."

During Ahmed's time in Belfast, where he lived in Hampton Place between 2001 and 2004, he was a member of the Islamic Student Society of Northern Ireland.

Jamal Iweida, of the Belfast Islamic Centre, also put forward the image of a friendly, polite student. He said: "He was a very pleasant, very placid, and friendly guy. He was very polite, intelligent, and intellectual. He was one of the main people in the society who organised very good activities about multiculturalism, inter-faith integration, and the like. They would invite speakers from other religions."

It is believed the fight to keep Ahmed alive involved a pioneering skin graft procedure, using a skin substitute made from shark cartilage and cow tendons. The implants cost an estimated 20,000.

WHILE long expected, the death of Ahmed will render an already difficult investigation all the more problematic.

Police were unable to question him and in his final days his guard was reduced to a single officer.

It will now be more difficult to discover who and what converted a quiet, nervous young man into a radical terrorist who was prepared to sacrifice his life and that of many innocent travellers. There are, however, clues.

Police have already examined his computer and CDs seized from his house in Banashankari in India.

It is understood that information gathered so far from the hard disc and the CDs show that he was interested in Jihad literature and the plight of the Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan and Chechnya.

They will also have prepared a portrait of him by analysing his telephone records, his e-mails and from carefully scrutinising the contents of the burnt out Jeep as well as the house in Houston where he allegedly prepared the improvised bombs. Yet the anti-terrorism officers can now only speculate on what he might have provided had he lived and talked.
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