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From Luton to Birmingham

Religion cited as justification for terror

By Henry Schuster
CNN

Editor's Note: Henry Schuster, a senior producer in CNN's Investigative Unit and author of "Hunting Eric Rudolph," has been covering terrorism for more than a decade. Each week in "Tracking Terror," he reports on people and organizations driving international and domestic terrorism and efforts to combat those.

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The suspected London bombers, here entering Luton station, allegedly attacked in the name of Islam.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Riding the 7:40 a.m. train from Luton to King's Cross, nothing seemed amiss.

I thought I would be spending this particular morning in Birmingham, Alabama, watching Eric Rudolph be sentenced to life in prison.

Instead, I'm closer to Birmingham, England, trying to retrace the steps of the London bombers.

By day's end, the parallels between the two stories will become clear: Terrorism in the name of religion.

The side entrance of Luton station is instantly recognizable -- through that freeze frame of terror about to happen, thanks to the closed-circuit television picture showing the four young men and their bomb-filled backpacks, seemingly ordinary except with the hindsight of history.

Through the station, down to Platform 1, the 7:40 pulls in. Waiting passengers are as incurious on this morning as they must have been days earlier when Mohammad Siddiq Khan, Shehzad Tanweer, Hasib Hussain and Germaine Lindsey took this train south from suburbia, giving no indication to the commuters around them of their mission.

Here, a businessman sighs wearily, already worn out by the day ahead, then turns on his iPod. There, a young man in shorts pulls out a Dan Brown novel and begins to skim it.

We barely get a stare as we pull out our camera and begin shooting. A summer torpor runs through the train and lasts during the ride.

Only when we trudge up the stairs of King's Cross, and head across the street to the Tube, London's subway, does reality begin to set in. The flowers and flags at a makeshift memorial cause at least a few commuters to stop their journey for a moment or two.

The route of these bombers seems to go from the north of England to Pakistan and back again before the trip from Luton to King's Cross and onward.

Along the way, Khan, Tanweer, Hussain and Lindsey began to separate themselves from their friends in Leeds and elsewhere, viewing themselves and their religious mission as a means of perfection.

Terror in the name of God

Theirs is a form of terror in the name of Allah, denounced by imams and prime ministers alike and the subject of much hand-wringing.

Yet, in a courtroom 4,000 miles away, a prosecutor was making another connection to the London atrocities and terrorism in the name of God.

But the man he was talking about was not Muslim. The man he was talking about considers himself a Christian.

Eric Rudolph.

The man who bombed an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Alabama in 1998, killing a policeman, now claims Biblical justification for his deeds.

"He quotes scripture in an attempt to justify his actions. Unfortunately, that sounds a lot like other religious extremists who hide behind their religion when they set off bombs in crowded subways or fly airplanes into buildings," said assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Whisonant.

"Make no mistake, Eric Rudolph is an American terrorist."

While Rudolph awaits sentencing for three Atlanta attacks including the 1996 Olympics blast, U.S. District Judge Lynwood Smith sentenced him to life in prison for the Alabama bombing.

Like victim Robert "Sande" Sanderson -- and like the London subway and bus passengers before this month's attack -- nurse Emily Lyons was going about her normal business the morning on January 29, 1998. As she prepared to open up the New Woman All Women Health Care Clinic, a blast changed her life.

With understated passion, in her voice that can barely rise above a whisper, just one of the many side effects that Rudolph's bomb visited upon her, Lyons heaped scorn on the man who caused her such torment.

She wanted to see Rudolph tried, convicted and executed, but instead he cut a plea deal to save his life. During his sentencing hearing, she finally had a chance to look him in the eye (one of her own eyes was blinded by the bomb, the other severely damaged).

Lyons ridiculed Rudolph as a failure, both as a bomber and as a terrorist.

"We tend to think of a terrorist as someone in a foreign country who dresses differently, looks different and speaks a different language. Thank you for drawing attention to the homegrown terrorists in our own back yard. Most of all, thank you for volunteering to spend your final days in prison."

Neither her sarcasm nor her eloquence made an impression on Rudolph.

When it was his time to speak, Rudolph fulfilled the prosecutor's prophecy.

"We are our brother's keeper," he declaimed as he justified his terrorist acts as a moral duty in the battle against abortion.

With the fervor and certainty of the true believer, bent on killing others, he ended his short statement: "God is not fooled. Posterity will certainly judge differently. Even if it should take 10 years, 50 years or 500 years before this black night of barbarism is finally swept into the dustbin of history, I will be vindicated. My actions in Birmingham that overcast day in January of 1998 will be vindicated."

The trail of religious terrorism this July has gone through Leeds and Luton and London, via Lahore. It has also gone through Birmingham, Alabama.

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