Man Shot Dead by British Police Was Innocent Brazilian Citizen

By Glenn Frankel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, July 24, 2005

LONDON, July 23 -- The man shot dead by police in front of terrified passengers inside a subway car Friday was an innocent Brazilian bystander mistaken for a suspect in the abortive bomb attacks the day before, police officials acknowledged Saturday.

The officials said the man emerged from the same South London apartment complex as a prime suspect in the failed bombings of three subway trains and a double-decker bus, and was followed by armed plainclothes officers to a nearby subway station.

They gave chase fearing the man was preparing to attack a train, police officials said. The officers pushed him to the floor of the car and shot him five times in the head at close range, according to witnesses, who gave searing accounts broadcast on television and radio. Under guidelines adopted in recent years, officers are advised to shoot suspected suicide bombers in the head to prevent them from setting off explosives.

Police identified the man as Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, a Brazilian citizen.

The mistaken shooting set off a new wave of alarm and criticism from leaders of Britain's minority Muslim community, who expressed concern that police are singling out men with certain physical characteristics or ethnic backgrounds in their pursuit of the would-be bombers, believed to be Muslims of South Asian or North African origin.

"We accept that police are under tremendous pressure to apprehend the criminals attempting to cause carnage, but we believe this incident makes it vital that the authorities explain and follow the rules of engagement to ensure innocent people are not caught up and killed due to overzealous policing," said Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain.

A police statement expressed regrets for the killing and added: "For somebody to lose their life in such circumstances is a tragedy." Officials said the incident would receive a full investigation but declined to comment further.

In Brazil, the Foreign Ministry said it was "shocked and perplexed" by the death of Menezes, whom it did not name but described as "apparently the victim of a lamentable mistake," the Associated Press reported.

The ministry said it expected British authorities to explain the circumstances of the shooting, and Foreign Minister Celso Amorim would try to meet with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw during a visit to London.

Meanwhile, police questioned two men arrested Friday in south London under anti-terrorism laws, while investigators combed this anxious city for the four men suspected of carrying out the failed bomb attacks. The small explosions killed no one but were attempted carbon copies of the July 7 suicide bombings during morning rush hour here that killed at least 56 people -- including the four suspected bombers -- and injured 700.

The two men were held after raids late Friday in the Stockwell area, near the station where Friday's fatal shooting occurred. The site is one stop south of Oval station, which was the site of one of the failed attacks Thursday.

Bunglawala said the police force needed to convince anxious Muslims and other minority groups that it was concerned for their safety. At the same time, he said, Muslims must help the police catch the would-be bombers.

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