British officials say attacks likely linked

Police hold third man in connection with failed transit bombings

July 25, 2005|By Sebastian Rotella and Ralph Frammolino | Sebastian Rotella and Ralph Frammolino,LOS ANGELES TIMES

LONDON - The emergence of suspected links between last week's attempted transit bombings and the deadly July 7 blasts here make it increasingly likely that a single terrorist network directing multiethnic, British-based cells was behind both plots, officials said yesterday.

As the investigation continued, police announced yesterday the arrest of a man in a working-class area of South London, where authorities have conducted a manhunt for the four fugitives whose backpack bombs failed to detonate Thursday on three trains and a bus. Few details were given about the suspect, who was held under anti-terror legislation along with two other men arrested Friday in South London. Police have not said whether any of the three are among the four fugitive bombers.

South London is an area with large populations of Africans and Afro-Caribbeans, and is one of several longtime bastions of Islamic extremism in Britain. One of the detainees is said to be of Ethiopian descent. One of the fugitives - who was identified partly through evidence found in an unexploded backpack bomb - apparently has family ties to another African country, according to a senior European police official working with British investigators.

In the July 7 bombings that killed 56 people, three of the attackers were Pakistani-Britons from the northern city of Leeds, and one was a Jamaican convert to Islam living in Luton, north of London.

The targets, methodology and bombs used in both cases were very similar, investigators say. Now, detectives are investigating evidence found in the unexploded backpack bombs that might place members of both cells at the same rafting center in Wales last month, according to officials and news reports.

"The evidence in the backpacks has given good leads," the European police official said. "Everything seems to connect the two cases."

Four weeks before they died, two of the suspects in the July 7 suicide bombers went on a rafting trip in the pristine wilderness of the Tryweryn River.

Mohamed Sidique Khan, 30, and Shahzad Tanweer, 22, participated in a six-person group that took a two-hour "extravaganza" rafting tour June 4, said Paul O'Sullivan, director of the National Whitewater Center in North Wales.

A photo of the two wearing helmets and bulky wet suits and wielding oars, their raft churning up surf, appeared in a British tabloid last week. In the shot, Khan - the suspected leader of the bombers - smiles and flashes a "victory sign" with his right hand.

Police have questioned employees of the center, known in Welsh as Canolfan Tryweryn, about Khan and Tanweer. The center has provided police with a list of other participants, O'Sullivan said.

Using documents found in the backpack bombs Thursday, detectives have identified suspects and are investigating whether one or more of them crossed paths with Khan and Tanweer at the rafting center, officials said.

O'Sullivan said media inquiries after Thursday's failed attacks prompted a more thorough search of the roster of participants. The names of a second group of rafters who went on a trip hours after Khan and Tanweer were forwarded to police, O'Sullivan added.

O'Sullivan said neither group struck their guides as unusual. "There's nothing that stood out."

In other developments yesterday, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ian Blair apologized in a televised interview for the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian immigrant who was shot to death Friday on a subway train by anti-terror officers who mistook him for a suicide bomber after following him from a house under surveillance

Despite criticism of the shooting, however, police said the dire threat facing London left them no choice but to persist in a policy of opening fire on suspects viewed as imminent suicide bombers.

The arrest of the third suspect Saturday afternoon took place at the same low-income housing complex where de Menezes lived in the Tulse Hill neighborhood.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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