LONDON (Reuters) - MI5 last year vetted one of the bombers behind the London attacks and judged he was not a threat, a report said on Sunday, as police searched for a support network of planners, bomb-makers and financiers.
The Sunday Times, citing a senior government source, said intelligence agency MI5 had assessed the eldest of the bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan, but concluded he posed no threat and failed to put him under surveillance.
The government refused to be drawn. "We never comment on the activities of security services," one official said.
Investigations into the July 7 bomb attacks which tore through London's transport system, killing 55 people, have fanned out across the world.
Police have said they expect to find clear links to al Qaeda.
Three of the bombers were young British Muslims of Pakistani origin, while the fourth was a Jamaican-born Briton. Two of them were teenagers, one was 22 and the oldest 30.
In Pakistan, security forces have detained eight people from Faisalabad, Lahore and the city of Gujranwala on suspicion of links with another of the bombers, Shahzad Tanweer.
Tanweer visited Faisalabad and Lahore in the last two years. Pakistani sources say that in 2003 he met a man later arrested for bombing a church in the capital, Islamabad.
Pakistani intelligence officials said on Sunday British authorities had handed over a list of telephone calls made from Tanweer's home in Britain, to follow up.
SIX HELD IN NORTHERN ENGLAND
On Sunday, British police arrested six men in the town of Leeds, northern England, under anti-terrorism laws but said they were not directly linked to the London attacks.
A spokesman said the arrests were made under the Terrorism Act 2000. No more details of those arrested were released.
The Sunday Independent newspaper said police had established a link between Khan and al Qaeda.
It said a man who is believed to have attended an al Qaeda "summit" in Pakistan last year and who pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in the United States following his arrest shortly afterwards, had identified Khan from photographs.
The Sunday Times said Khan was the subject of a routine assessment by MI5 officers last year after his name cropped up during an investigation into an alleged plot to explode a huge bomb outside a London target, believed to be a Soho nightclub.
Senior government minister Lord Falconer defended Britain's intelligence services.
"We have got to keep our eyes all the time on what the best steps are to fight terrorism. The police, the security services, the intelligence services have been doing that effectively," he told BBC Television.
Speaking in parliament days after the bombings, Prime Minister Tony Blair chose his words carefully, saying he knew of no intelligence "specific enough" to prevent the attacks.
London police released the first image from closed circuit television of the four bombers together, which police hope will trigger new information from the public.
The photograph showed them walking into a train station north of London with backpacks thought to contain the bombs they detonated less than 90 minutes later.
In Egypt, police were holding for questioning a British-trained biochemist, Magdy Elnashar, but the government said he was not a member of al Qaeda and that media had drawn hasty conclusions about him.
The 33-year-old Egyptian was a researcher at Leeds University in England, and police were searching his rented house in the city, which was also home to three of the bombers.
Officers in London have been given until Tuesday to question a 29-year-old man arrested on suspicion of "the commission, instigation or preparation of acts of terrorism".
Home Secretary Charles Clarke will tell parliament on Monday about planned new laws to target anyone receiving or giving training in preparation for terrorist acts and to outlaw those who glorify or encourage such attacks.
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