Britain Arrests 3 Suspects in 2005 Bombings
LONDON, March 22 — The British counterterrorism police seized three men today for offenses related to the London bombings — the first arrests since four suicide bombers killed themselves and 52 travelers on the London transit system on July 7, 2005.
Two of the men aged 23 and 30 were arrested around 1 p.m. local time today at the Manchester airport in the northwest of England as they were preparing to board a flight to Pakistan. A third man, aged 26, was arrested at a house in Leeds three hours later, the police said. Several of the July 7 bombers had close links to Leeds.
The arrests were presented by the police as evidence and vindication of a painstaking inquiry since July 2005 to establish whether the London bombers, who exploded backpack bombs on three subway cars and a double-decker bus, had accomplices or worked for shadowy mastermind. Indeed, the arrests today renewed speculation that the attacks could not have been committed on July 7 without sophisticated backup.
The police moved in at a delicate time in an array of counterterrorism inquiries. Six men are currently on trial following failed bombing attempts in London on July 21, 2005. Another trial of seven men on terrorism charges is nearing its close. Arrested in 2004, the seven men are charged with involvement in a criminal conspiracy to make explosives to commit murder, allegations that they all deny.
It is not clear if there are links between any of these cases.
An official parliamentary report last year into the July 7 attacks said two of the suspected ringleaders, Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, had been observed by British security services before the bombings and had been in contact with Al Qaeda figures in Pakistan. But the two men had not been closely monitored because of other pressing counterterrorism inquiries.
After today’s arrests, a police spokeswoman, speaking on condition of the customary anonymity, said five houses in the Beeston area of Leeds, where three of the four July 7 bombers had lived, were being searched along with properties in east London.
“Since July 7, 2005 — when 52 people were murdered — detectives have continued to pursue many lines of inquiry both here in the U.K. and overseas,” the spokeswoman said. “This remains a painstaking investigation with a substantial amount of information being analyzed and investigated. As we have said previously, we are determined to follow the evidence wherever it takes us to identify any other person who may have been involved, in any way, in the terrorist attacks.
“We need to know who else, apart from the bombers, knew what they were planning. Did anyone encourage them? Did anyone help them with money, or accommodation?” the spokeswoman said.
The arrests today seemed once again to highlight links between suspected British terrorists and Pakistan, the home of many immigrants to Britain in the 1960s, whose descendants form the bulk of Britain’s 1.6 million-plus Muslim minority.
Since the July 7 attacks there has been little outward sign of progress in the police effort to determine whether the bombers on that day, who committed Britain’s worst peacetime atrocity, had support or backup in the planning of their attack.
During investigations immediately after the bombings, the police found a car parked with explosives in the trunk. In the period since July 2005, British police have rounded up many more suspects in different cases, including a group of men said to have been planning to use liquid explosives to bomb trans-Atlantic airliners last August.
Last November, MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, said it was keeping some 1,600 suspects in 200 terrorist cells under surveillance. It also said that about 30 terrorist conspiracies were under investigation and that “tomorrow’s threat may include the use of chemicals, bacteriological agents, radioactive materials and even nuclear technology.”
Only last January, the police rounded up terrorist suspects in Birmingham and accused them of plotting to kidnap and behead a British Muslim solider on leave from Afghanistan.
Shahid Malik, a Labor Party legislator whose constituency area includes Beeston, urged Britons not to allow extremists in their midst to create division. “The important thing is that mainstream Britain must stay united in the face of extremist threats that exist out there,” he said in a statement.
The three men arrested today were brought to a high-security police station in west London for questioning. Under new counterterrorism laws, the police have 28 days to question them without bringing charges.
In the separate court hearings today into the attempted bombings on July 21, 2005 — just two weeks after the attacks on July 7 left London edgy and tense — two of the six suspects on trial made accusations against one another.
One man, Manfo Kwaku Asiedu, said Muktar Said Ibrahim, a co-defendant, had plotted to booby-trap an apartment in a housing project so that bombs would detonate when the police arrived to search the building. Mr. Asiedu also accused Mr. Ibrahim of depicting the July 21 attempts, when explosives apparently failed to detonate, as a “copycat” after the July 7 bombings.
Mr. Asiedu’s lawyer, Stephen Kamlish, said his client had “broken ranks” with the other defendants. He sat apart from them in court.
Mr. Kamlish accused Mr. Ibrahim of planning to attack with “four real bombs” and to ensure that a housing project destroyed, going up in a ball of flames. That was your plan wasn’t it? We say your 21/7 bombs were to be bigger and better in your twisted thinking than that of 7/7.”
But Mr. Ibrahim denied that allegation. “This is totally not true; I do not know why Asiedu is making these accusations,” he said. All six defendants have denied charges of conspiracy to murder.
In Leeds today, where the police searched houses, officers said they were trying to avoid accusations that they were singling out Muslims. Last year, after the police stormed a house in Forest Gate, east London, shooting and wounding one of two Muslim brothers they arrested, the case stirred up widespread complaints among Muslims when both men were freed without being charged with crimes.
“West Yorkshire police officers are meeting with local people to keep them informed and provide reassurance to the wider community and we thank them for their continuing support whilst the investigation takes place,” the Leeds police said in a statement. “Because of the arrests, we are legally limited as to how much we can say about today’s action, but we will share as much information as we are able with those living in the area and the wider community.”
A security analyst in London, M.J. Gohal, said it was likely that the three men arrested were “co-conspirators” with the four suicide bombers.
The British authorities remained puzzled about who was the mastermind behind the July 2005 attacks, but it appeared from the ages of the three men that they were not the major planners, Mr. Gohal, executive director of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, said.
“The security services have always believe there were more involved than the four suicide bombers,” Mr. Gohal said. “But they’ve never caught the mystery men, the men who recruited them, provided the money, the technical assistance. They’ve always hit a brick wall on that.”
The men arrested today may even have been on the “periphery” of the plot, Mr. Gohal said. “Perhaps they assisted with it, or knew about it,” he said.
Mr. Gohal said the British police had been “very frustrated” that no-one had been charged in the 2005 attacks. “There have been ongoing operations for some time” to find accomplices and the planners, he said.
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