Blair defends Iraq policy in face of London terror attacks

Prime minister refuses to back down despite public's belief of risk

July 27, 2005|By Letta Tayler | Letta Tayler,NEWSDAY

LONDON - Prime Minister Tony Blair dismissed as "nonsense" yesterday the notion that his Iraq policy prompted London's terror bombings, as police confirmed the latest two suspects named in the attacks are legal East African immigrants, one of them a naturalized citizen.

In an often testy news conference, Blair said he wouldn't "give one inch" on Britain's deployment of troops in Iraq, despite a new poll in The Times of London finding nearly two-thirds of Britons believe that policy puts them at greater risk of attacks.

"Let us expose the obscenity of these people saying it is concern for Iraq that drives them to terrorism. If it is concern for Iraq, then why are they driving a car bomb into the middle of a group of children and killing them?" Blair asked.

Blair also said that to blame British and American forces for the mounting civilian casualties in Iraq is to "turn the world on its head."

As Blair spoke, police found possible explosive materials while searching a North London garage and an apartment used by two alleged bombers in Thursday's mass-transit attacks.

That raised the possibility that the men could have returned to the flat after the botched bombings to fetch more explosives before fleeing.

A white Volkswagen Golf was also seized near the apartment in connection with the investigation, a police spokeswoman said.

One neighbor, Tanya Wright, told reporters she had seen a group of men, including the two suspects, enter the apartment Friday. "They looked really worried and scared," she said, adding that she'd thought they feared her dog.

The suspects - one of whom lived in that apartment and the other of whom stayed there often - are Yasin Hassan Omar, 24, from the former British colony of Somalia, and Muktar Said Ibrahim, also known as Muktar Mohamed Said, 27, of Eritrea, who became a naturalized British citizen last year, authorities said. Neighbors described them as devout Muslims.

Both men have lived here legally since 1992 after their families were granted asylum.

In a statement, Said Ibrahim's relatives said they were "shocked" and hadn't seen him in years.

The men's nationalities underscore the global dimension of the London attacks.

Three suspects in the July 7 blasts, which killed 52 people and four suicide bombers, were Britons of Pakistani heritage.

The fourth was a longtime resident from Jamaica. All were Muslim, and most had traveled repeatedly to Pakistan for religious instruction.

Earlier yesterday, Blair and opposition leaders crafted a blueprint for expanded anti-terror laws that Parliament will debate this fall.

The proposals, which some human rights groups call draconian, include extending the period under which suspects can be held without charge from two weeks to three months, using wiretaps as evidence and outlawing "indirect incitement" to terrorism, a measure targeted at militant Muslims who have openly praised attacks.

While expressing support, Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaders cautioned that several details needed careful study, particularly extending detention without charges.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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