LEEDS, England – Worshippers at a mosque Saturday described the Egyptian biochemist detained in Cairo in connection with the London suicide bombings as a compassionate man incapable of harming anyone.
The Grand Mosque where Magdy Mahmoud Mustafa el-Nashar (search) prayed is across the street from the apartment building where he lived until a week before the July 7 attacks.
Police maintained a cordon of blue and white tape around the brown-brick building as they continued searching his apartment in the Hyde Park neighborhood of the northern city of Leeds, where British media reported that police had found evidence of explosives inside a bathtub.
But El-Nashar's co-worshippers said they were certain he eventually would be vindicated.
"I'm certain Magdy was not involved in terrorism in any way," said Fat'hi Salameh, 44, a Palestinian who emigrated here 13 years ago.
"He's very polite. He's academic. He committed all his time to his research," said Salameh, speaking during a peace march in Hyde Park (search) following the London attacks.
Salameh's 11-year-old son, Suhayb, spent a great deal of time with el-Nashar when he attended religious studies during the summer holidays. He considered him his "best adult friend."
"He made me laugh, told me a lot of jokes," said Suhayb. "I personally think he's innocent. I believe it when he says so."
During interrogation, el-Nashar, 33, who was arrested in Cairo (search) on Thursday, denied any role in the attacks and said he was planning to return to Leeds after a vacation in Egypt, the Egyptian Interior Ministry said in a statement.
An Egyptian security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because a final decision has not yet been made, said there was still not enough evidence to link el-Nashar to the attacks.
Zahir Birawi, chairman of the mosque, said it wouldn't comment on people who pray there.
"We are cooperating with the police," he said.
Birawi said that in the aftermath of the attacks carried out by at least four British Muslims — three of Pakistani descent, the fourth born in Jamaica — the mosque will need to educate the community that "we are part of the society ... and that we have common values.
"We will convey the message of peace to everyone. We have to integrate in the community. We will tell our community to keep calm, not to react emotionally against any hate crimes," said Birawi, who is of Jordanian origin.
Meanwhile Saturday, hundreds of English, Arabs and Asians marched in the streets of Hyde Park, calling for harmony in their multiethnic community of about 30,000.
Chanting, "Peace, Unity — in our community," residents marched down the narrow streets.