THE BLOG

My Meeting With a 7/7 Suicide Bomber

06/07/2015 16:28 BST | Updated 06/07/2016 10:59 BST

To mark the 10 year anniversary of the London 7/7 terrorist attacks, HuffPost UK is running Beyond The Bombings, a special series of interviews, blogs, in-depth features and exclusive research reflecting on how Britain has changed since.

77 bombings

July 8, 2005 was a bright morning in the East End of London, so at odds with the rain, darkness and despair of the previous day. Those images of the wounded emerging from tube stations and a bus blown apart, might have been in another city far away were it not for the tense expressions on the District Line.

I found myself doing it too; inching away from the man with the backpack, imagining what nails would feel like crashing through my skin at close range in a tube train. The unthinkable had happened 24 hours earlier seven miles away from here at Aldgate where one of the four bombs had exploded. Traveling on the Underground would never feel the same again.

I opened a copy of The Times and was disturbed to see a familiar face staring back at me from the front page. For a few minutes I struggled to work out why I knew this man. Then I realized it was a photograph taken on an assignment I had been on and I had interviewed the leader of Britain's first suicide bombers.

The previous time I had seen Mohammad Sidique Khan he clapped his arms around my shoulders and smiled at me broadly. It was April 2002, just six months after the al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon but terrorism was a long way from my thoughts.

I was working as a casual reporter on the Times Education Supplement and was sent north to meet the head of Hillside Primary School in Leeds to write a story about a school with the one of the most rapid pupil turnovers in the country.

I walked to the school through the unremarkable streets of Beeston. The solid Victorian terraces were unkempt and dirty drapes hung from many windows. To Let signs hinted at the transience of the area but it could have been an inner city suburb anywhere in Britain.

The head, Sarah Balfour, admitted that remembering the names of the children was a challenge. The school had a turnover of 50% in two terms as asylum seeker families moved in and out. She took me to the staff room to introduce me to their latest weapon in the war against transience - learning mentors.

That's when I met Khan. The classroom assistant caught my eye and smiled, before he strode across the room and shook my hand. He was animated and affable. Balfour clearly rated his abilities with kids and he was seen as a role model. In the photograph he was holding a pencil and staring intently at a girl he was helping. He also struck me as being highly opinionated. He was critical about the school authorities and the lack of funding for kids in Leeds. There was nothing remotely disturbing in a classroom mentor wanting more for his children.

Khan had not been my story. He was a few lines of quotes. By the time I arrived at the House of Commons press gallery he was the story. The memories of the chaos the day before were fresh in my mind. The ominous reports of an explosion on the Tube caused by a "power surge," and then returning from a curtailed press conference on dentistry at the Department of Health to find the normal entrance from the Westminster Underground station closed off and a long and suspicious line of police officers checking our press passes. The day had deteriorated into a series of long and depressing emergency statements just 24 hours after the jubilation of London winning its bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games had pepped up the old palace.

The newspapers I worked for were all over my story on 8 July and I received requests for more interviews over the next few days. I found myself wishing I recalled more and I had not erased the old tape recording of Britain's first suicide bomber, not that it would have eclipsed the message he left himself before blowing himself up at Edgware Road killing six people. In a chilling video that came to light after the attack, he warned of terror being unleashed on the democracies of the west. "We are at war and I am a soldier," he stated in his thick Yorkshire brogue.

In the video Khan is unrecognizable from the young man who wanted to help kids. Curiously he is still holding a pencil or a pen, but it seems he had long ago given it up in favor of the sword.

How was Britain impacted by the 7/7 bombings? Join the @HuffPostUK conversation on Twitter with #BeyondTheBombings