CAIRO, Egypt — An Egyptian chemist freed Tuesday after three weeks in custody for questioning about deadly bombings in London said he casually knew two of the attackers. He called one of them "very kind and very nice."
After his release, the clean-shaven Magdy el-Nashar told reporters outside his home that he had nothing to do with the July 7 mass-transit attacks, which killed 52 people and the four bombers.
"I am very happy for my innocence and Egypt's innocence, my first country, but sad for what happened in Britain, my second country," said el-Nashar, who had studied at Britain's University of Leeds since 2000, earning a doctorate in biochemistry in April.
He was detained in Cairo on July 14 after Britain notified Egyptian authorities they suspected he may have had links to some of the attackers, three of whom were from Leeds.
The 33-year-old chemist said he met one of the bombers, Jamaican-born Jermaine Lindsay, in Leeds during the last month of the Muslim period of fasting, Ramadan, which was in October and November.
El-Nashar said that in June, Lindsay asked for help finding a place to live in Leeds, saying he wanted to move there from London with his wife and child.
He said he located quarters for Lindsay through his landlord and was then introduced by Lindsay to a man called Mohammed, who turned out to be Hasib Hussain, another of the July 7 bombers.
Hussain said he had a van and would help Lindsay move his belongings from London.
El-Nashar, a Muslim, said he helped Lindsay because he was a "new convert (to Islam). He was very kind and very nice."
El-Nashar said Islam was not an issue in the attacks, and he called the suicide bombers "young, emotional and ignorant"
"Their knowledge of Islam was very superficial," he said. "They have seen oppression in Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan and Bosnia."
El-Nashar then issued an appeal for world governments to "stop oppressing people, killing and bombing people so that ignorant and emotional people don't have an excuse for such activities."
The Interior Ministry said el-Nashar was freed after authorities found no evidence against him. London police had no comment on the release.
El-Nashar called his detention "a nightmare," especially when interrogators suggested he was "the mastermind behind the London bombings."
Still, he said he was detained in a hotel with his own "air-conditioned room and excellent food."
"I will miss that," he said, adding that he was not mistreated and was only questioned by Egyptian authorities.
El-Nashar said his release was held up by the failed mass-transit attacks in London on July 21 and deadly bombings at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik two days later.
He said he has a ticket to return to Britain on Aug. 14.
"I want to go back again. But I am afraid, honestly, I am afraid. Propaganda against me made people think I am terrorist. My picture is everywhere. Some said I am the first man (behind the attacks). The most-wanted man. If I walk down the street and someone recognizes me, he might kill me," el-Nashar said. "I am innocent."
He returned home before dawn Tuesday _ to the surprise of his family, which had not been informed of his release.
"We heard the knock at the door, and his father went down to answer. He started screaming, 'Magdy! Magdy is here!'" said his mother, tears in her eyes. "You can imagine, a mother's heart when her son comes in after what happened."
She said she had only been able to speak to her son once by telephone since his detention and that the family hadn't been allowed to visit him. She would only give her name as Umm Magdy _ Arabic for "Magdy's mother," a traditional way for conservative Egyptian women to identify themselves in public.
"My heart was torn every day (he was gone). I wasn't eating or sleeping," the mother said. "I was always sure of his innocence, but I was always afraid of the unknown."
El-Nashar's neighbors gathered outside the house Tuesday, cheering his release.
"He is in good health, thank God," El-Nashar's younger brother, Mohammed, said. "There were never any charges against him."
But his mother insisted, "I won't let him go to London now unless the British government officially announces he is innocent."
El-Nashar had just completed his doctorate in biochemistry at Leeds when the attacks occurred. He returned to Egypt to submit his certification to the government research center that sponsored his studies in Britain.
At the time of the bombings, British media reported that traces of TATP were found in el-Nashar's apartment during raids in Leeds. That was the material used by failed shoe-bomber Richard Reid in 2001. The reports linking TATP to el-Nashar were never confirmed.