Bombing suspects captured

Police in London, Rome arrest 3 alleged bombers

Sought in July 21 failed attack

Extradition of another is sought in July 7 blasts

July 30, 2005|By Sebastian Rotella | Sebastian Rotella,LOS ANGELES TIMES

LONDON - Police SWAT teams captured yesterday the final three fugitives wanted for trying to bomb the London transit system, two in a raid on a public housing project here and the third seized by Italian police who tracked him to a suburb of Rome.

The arrests climaxed a manhunt that spanned at least three countries and began after bombs failed to explode on three subway cars and a bus July 21. The attacks came two weeks after four similar attacks killed 56 people.

The capture of the four men, whose images were filmed by security cameras and were shown repeatedly during the manhunt, left Londoners feeling considerably safer. But British police warned that there was much work left to be done. The investigation now shifts to identifying suspected planners, bomb-makers and accomplices in Britain, Italy and elsewhere.

"There will be more very visible police activity," said Peter Clarke, who leads anti-terror operations for London's Metropolitan Police. It seemed clear that police had closed in on the fugitives based on evidence gathered in 13 previous arrests, particularly the capture of the fourth suspect in Birmingham, England on Wednesday. Phone intercepts were also important, investigators said.

During a raid yesterday morning on a top-floor apartment of a public housing project in London's Notting Hill neighborhood, a police SWAT team captured Muktar Said Ibrahim, who a fellow suspect told police was the leader of the four bombers. Said was arrested along with Ramzi Mohammed, who had been filmed wearing a New York sweat shirt as he fled commuters who tried to tackle him after attempted bombing of a train at the Oval station.

Television footage showed officers in helmets, gas masks and body armor charging across a balcony and firing tear gas into the apartment. Shortly afterward, Said and Mohammed appeared shirtless on the balcony, their hands up, their faces sullen and disoriented, as police trained guns on them. They were led away wearing hooded forensic suits used to preserve evidence.

In Rome, police captured the fourth accused bomber, identified as Hussain Osman, 27, a Briton of Ethiopian descent who once lived in Italy, a senior Italian anti-terror official said. The official described the name Hussain Osman as an alias that the suspect used when he posed as a Somali refugee to gain legal residency in Britain.

The official said that Osman's real first name is Isaac and that he was hiding at his brother's apartment in a neighborhood populated by immigrants from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia.

Osman fled Britain after hiding there for three or four days, but not before British police managed to detect and monitor a cell phone he was using and pass the information on to counterparts on the continent, Italian officials said.

His cell phone activity allowed police to track him to Paris, Milan, Bologna and Rome, where he arrived two or three days ago, Italian officials said.

Osman confessed to Italian police yesterday evening, the senior anti-terror official said, but the suspect made claims that need to be evaluated.

He asserted that the partial detonations on three trains and a bus July 21 were planned to inflict terror, but not to kill anyone, the official said. And he insisted that there was no connection between his London-based group and the suspected suicide bombers who struck two weeks earlier.

Osman claimed his London-based group seized the opportunity to put together a plot emulating the July 7 group.

"He said they did it inspired by the moment," the official said. "They wanted to defy the police with a demonstrative act. He says he knew very well they would be arrested."

But investigators find it difficult to believe that the backpack bombs were prepared with anything but lethal intent.

Although the similar bombs, targets and methods make a link between the two plots likely, police have yet to find definitive evidence connecting them, investigators said.

Osman described the July 21 attack as the work of a tightly-knit group of East African immigrants, the senior anti-terror official said. Osman was radicalized after arriving in Britain about five years ago, according to an Italian law enforcement official.

Osman told interrogators that he and his fellow suspects attended the Finsbury Park mosque, a multi-ethnic hotbed of extremism in north London not far from the ninth-floor apartment shared by Said and accused bomber Yasin Hassan Omar, the Somali refugee captured in Birmingham on Wednesday. Osman told police that Said was the recruiter, bomb-maker and leader of the cell.

Security cameras caught Osman on the day he tried to ignite a backpack bomb in a train near the Shepherd Bush station. And an eyewitness description of Osman's demeanor just after the partial detonation raises questions about his claim in Rome that he did not intend to die on the train.

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