Interrogation of Osman Hussain in Rome.
Behind the scenes. Speaking good Italian, Osman Hussain [Hamdi Isaac] describes the do-it-yourself planning of the 21 July attempted bombings in England.
"We did not want to strike Italy"
by Claudia Fusani
The London basement, the leader, Muktar, the videocassette showing dead Iraqi women and children. "Hate" is aroused for American and British soldiers. It is in this cellar where the bombs meant to sow fear but not to kill took form--the bombs of 21 July which did not go off because it was pre-planned that they would be only duds.
The confession--Hussain tells everything he knows. Above all he was not in Italy to plan a bombing. The young 27 year-old man from the Horn of Africa, originally a Somali but then Eritrean but maybe also Ethiopian, puts his hands in the air, surrenders and begins to talk. It comes as a surprise to police when they find out he speaks good Italian. He lived in Rome for five years as an adolescent fleeing misery and famine in the Horn of Africa. As a nine year-old, Hussain arrived as a political refugee thanks to a falsified Somali passport.
He gives a ten-page confession that he then signs in front of Roman magistrates Franco Ionta and Piero Saviotti in which he describes himself as a do-it-yourself terrorist on the lam. A chilling narrative--because just like the conspiracy in Hussain's basement, there could be such meetings organized by anyone anywhere in Italy and in the West. It means, says an investigator, that there are dozens and dozens of timebombs in circulation which could go off at any time.
The interrogation begins at eight in the evening in the Rome offices of the Divisione Investigazione Generali e Operazioni Speciali, DIGOS, on the second floor in via San Vitale. But it is held up for procedural reasons concerning the type of arrest. There are three possibilities: Arrest for extradition, arrest for murder of Benedetta Ciaccia, killed in the bombings of 7 July, or arrest for international terrorism. This has not yet been resolved.
Osman begins his story a few months ago, in the Notting Hill neighborhood of London when Muktar, our leader, told us that he has some material for us to see but that we should be careful and not talk to anyone about it. Saeeed Ibrahim Muktar is the bomber who was to detonate his payload in Bus No. 26. In the photo distributed by Scotland Yard, Mukta is wearing a white cotton cap and is the most heavily built of the four. He is the deviser and the orchestrator of the cell. The cellar is a basement apartment in Notting Hill. Here Mukar summons Osman, Mohammed, Yassin Hassam and the others, all Muslims, all British citizens, and all barely making ends meet between subsidies and part-time jobs in English Londonstan.
More than praying we talked about things relates Osman, work, politics, the war in Iraq. Muktar always had some new film on the war in Iraq. We mostly viewed films showing women and children killed or wiped out by British and US soldiers, or weeping widows, mothers and children. He never spoke about Al Qaeda, Bin Laden and his lieutenants or the network. We never had contacts with Bin Laden's organization. We know it exists, we've read about it on the Internet, but nothing direct. This information worries investigators more than anything else. Actions are spontaneous and emulated. The facility with which a cell can form makes interception impossible.
The hatred felt in the Notting Hill basement begins with the political conviction that it is necessary to send a message, to do something. The bombings of 7 July, according to Osman's story, take him by surprise. We had no links to any Pakistanis, he repeats. But the bombings of 7 July were a message that the Pakistanis were doing their part by acting. Our leader, explains Osman, taught us how to make explosives by mixing fertilizers. It's child's play to get a backpack, fill it with explosive powder and regulate it with a timer. We did not want to kill, we only wanted to spread panic, he repeats.
Then came the escape. I came here only because I didn't know where to go and that here I would find a place to stay and some friends. I'd spend some time here and then move on. Italy and Rome were only stops on his journey. I know nothing of any planned bombing in Italy, he swears. In the apartment along the Casilina, police found no trace of explosives. But there are many questions to which Osman has not supplied an answer. Investigators are convinced that if they had more time, if they had been able to eavesdrop before making the arrest, they might have gathered important information without rushing. During the night, friends and acquaintances of Hussain are bought into police headquarters.