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Suspect in UK terror plot was shy, brilliant — and teased, teachers and fellow students say

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Posted: July 12, 2007 3:17 p.m.
Updated: July 27, 2007 5:00 a.m.
    DAVANGERE, India — Kafeel Ahmed didn’t seem the least bit angry as a young engineering student.
    Instead, according to former teachers and students, the 28-year-old Indian engineer — who today is in a Scottish hospital with critical burns after ramming a Jeep into the Glasgow airport — was a brilliant but shy young man who could be reduced to tears by teasing.
    Ahmed was painfully nervous during his first month at the University Brahmappa Devendrappa Tavanappanavar College of Engineering, said K.V. Arun, who studied at the school with Ahmed and now teaches there.
    The first weeks of school are a time when many Indian college students face hazing, known here as ‘‘ragging.’’ In some schools the hazing can be brutal, ranging from physical assaults to sexual abuse, but there was nothing like that in this south Indian town.
    ‘‘The ragging here is not very serious ... mostly asking new students to sing or dance. But he was always very nervous during that time and once or twice he even started crying,’’ said Arun. ‘‘But,’’ Arun added, ‘‘no one can deny that he was brilliant.’’
    Ahmed’s college record shows he ranked fifth in a graduating class of nearly 400, earning a degree in mechanical engineering in 2000.
    In most ways, though, he wasn’t memorable.
    ‘‘He was very quiet and didn’t really mingle much with students or teachers outside the classroom,’’ said D. Abdul Budan, head of the school’s mechanical engineering department.
    ‘‘He was a simple and well-behaved boy ... really there were no signs that he may turn to terror,’’ said P.M. Prabhuswamy, who taught Ahmed in the second of his four years at this tree-lined campus.
    He seemed innocuous, and the photograph on his college application shows a serious, bespectacled young man just shy of his 18th birthday.
    Ahmed’s religious views may have turned radical later, but people saw no sign of it here.
    ‘‘I didn’t even realize he was Muslim initially ... only later, when I learned his name, I found out that he was Muslim,’’ Prabhuswamy added.
    British prosecutors say Ahmed is suspected of crashing a Jeep Cherokee loaded with gas canisters and gasoline into the Glasgow airport June 30 — a day after police found two unexploded car bombs in London. Ahmed set himself on fire after crashing into the airport. No one else was badly injured.
    His alleged accomplice in the Jeep, Bilal Abdullah, is a 27-year-old doctor born in Britain and raised in Iraq. They are alleged to have carried out the attempted bombings in London before returning to Scotland — where Abdullah worked — and attacking the airport.
    Abdullah remains the only person charged among eight suspects detained in the failed attacks in London and Glasgow, accused by prosecutors of conspiring to set off explosions.
    Kafeel’s brother, Sabeel Ahmed, 26, a doctor, was arrested in Liverpool and is being questioned by police. A third Indian, Muhammad Haneef, was arrested in Australia on July 2 as he was boarding a flight to India. He is a distant cousin of the Ahmed brothers.
    Kafeel and Sabeel Ahmed were raised in a cosmopolitan and moderately religious family, but after the brothers moved to Britain to study they stopped going to their neighborhood mosque during visits home, local religious leaders said.
    Media reports say the brothers had become members of a more radical Muslim group, the Tablighi Jamaat.
    British police have not formally arrested Ahmed. British law dictates that after being arrested, a terror suspect can be held for a maximum of 28 days before being charged or released.

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