Police arrest 3 men in London bombings

2 of the suspects are detained before a flight to Pakistan

March 23, 2007|By Janet Stobart and Kim Murphy | Janet Stobart and Kim Murphy,LOS ANGELES TIMES

London -- Three men were arrested yesterday in connection with the July 2005 explosions on the London transit system that marked suicide terrorism's deadly debut in Western Europe.

British police did not say what role the men are believed to have played in the bombings, which killed 52 people. Officials described the arrests as part of a "painstaking investigation" aimed at learning the true scope of the attacks.

A series of searches was being carried out in east London and in the northern English city of Leeds.

Authorities hinted that they were not halting any imminent terrorism plot but pursuing leads about the planning, logistics and funding of the attacks, whose four perpetrators died in the blasts.

"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," London's Metropolitan Police said in a statement. "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?"

Police said the men, who were not identified, range in age from 23 to 30. They were arrested on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.

Two of the men were detained shortly before 1 p.m. at Manchester International Airport while preparing to board a flight to Karachi, Pakistan. The third was arrested in Leeds, where searches of five houses were under way. Three of the bombers - Mohammed Khan, 30; Shehzad Tanweer, 22; and Hasib Hussain, 18 - lived in the Leeds neighborhood of Beeston, where yesterday's searches were being conducted. All were natives of Britain.

The fourth, Jamaican-born Germaine Lindsay, 19, lived in Aylesbury, outside London.

Separately, police were searching a business and an apartment in east London.

It was not clear why the suspects were preparing to fly to Pakistan. Two of the original bombers, Khan and Tanweer, had visited Pakistan in November 2004, and authorities suspect they might have met with al-Qaida figures there.

But no precise links to al-Qaida, nor sources of funding, have been identified. For nearly two years, investigators have been tracking down phone records, video footage and other leads in an attempt to answer fundamental questions about the nature and scope of the plot.

"This remains a painstaking investigation with a substantial amount of information being analyzed and investigated," the police statement said.

Police probably are focusing on technical aspects of the bombing, as well as how the bombers got their training, said Paul Rogers, a professor of peace studies at the University of Bradford in West Yorkshire.

"They want to know whether this was a relatively small and isolated group, or whether it had wider support in Islamic communities in Britain, or wider connections to al-Qaida," he said. "My guess is the police are still trying to fathom this out."

British police have arrested an estimated 1,000 terrorism suspects since the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, releasing about half of them without charge. Terrorism charges have been filed in about 100 cases. No one has been charged in connection with the transport bombings.

Police said yesterday's arrests were a "pre-planned, intelligence-led" operation directed by the Metropolitan Police's counterterrorism command and the West Yorkshire police. But they appeared low key in comparison with other recent terrorism arrests.

The detention at the airport was carried out almost unnoticed, and in Leeds, the operation was being handled by community police officers.

Officers appeared in part to be seeking to avoid the political complaints that have accompanied past anti-terrorism operations, which have featured roadblocks and officers in heavy gear.

Janet Stobart and Kim Murphy write for the Los Angeles Times.

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