What turned Mohammad Sidique Khan, a softly spoken youth worker, into the mastermind of 7/7?by Shiv Malik / June 30, 2007 / Leave a comment
The suburbs of Leeds, unlike those of other British metropolises, have not been cowed by the centre. The centre of Leeds is actually quite small, so the suburbs are not just points on the spokes of a giant wheel, but are integral to the city. Horsforth, Adel, Belle Isle, Harehills: these are distinct small towns, each with its own character. Headingley is famous for its cricket ground, Kirkstall for its medieval abbey, and so on.
One of the most isolated and undistinguished suburbs of Leeds is Beeston. It is situated on a hill overlooking the city, and although it is only a 25-minute walk into town, few people do walk because the M621 separates Beeston from the rest of Leeds like a trench. Before the events of 7th July 2005—with which Beeston will forever be associated—outsiders had few reasons to have heard of it. Nor is it a desirable place to live. It is one of the poorest places in England, and partly for that reason it has always attracted immigrants—formerly the Irish, more recently Pakistanis. But while the centre of Leeds has developed rapidly, Beeston has remained a ghetto of relative deprivation.
Nonetheless, people who have lived in Beeston for years say that until the drug dealers moved in five to ten years ago, the appeal of the area was its strong sense of community. But after hard drugs arrived, neighbourliness was abandoned as people scurried home past the crack dens and wrecked houses. Heroin and crack helped to sustain a certain level of racial segregation too—it’s hard to be nice to strangers when you’re living in a drugs warren.
I had come to Beeston in September 2005 on assignment with the BBC. Jim Booth, a producer with the Manchester news and current affairs department, had asked if I would like to help a research team and a scriptwriter put together a factual drama based on the lives of the four 7/7 bombers—three of whom came from Beeston—that the BBC was planning to air on the first anniversary of the bombings. I had lived in Leeds for many years, and so I was familiar with Beeston’s shabbiness. Many journalists who landed there after 7/7 saw its poverty and assumed that there must be a direct link to the bombings. But the more we learned about Beeston and its bombers, the more this hypothesis turned out to be…