London Police Head Expresses 'Deep Regret' for Bystander Shooting

By Glenn Frankel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, July 24, 2005; 4:12 PM

LONDON, July 24 -- The head of police here expressed his "deep regrets" on television Sunday that law enforcement officers had shot and killed a Brazilian bystander mistaken for a suspect in recent abortive bomb attacks, but he said that police will continue to maintain their policy on the use of deadly force.

Speaking on Britain's Sky News television network, Commissioner Ian Blair of the Metropolitan Police said, "This is a tragedy. The Metropolitan Police accepts full responsibility for this. To the family, I can only express my deep regrets."

Nonetheless, he said that such mistakes can occur when police are forced to make "incredibly difficult fast-time decisions in life-threatening situations." Given the threat of a new terrorist strike that could endanger many lives, he said, British officers will continue to follow guidelines drawn up from other countries who have experience dealing with suicide bombers.

"I am very aware that minority communities are talking about a shoot-to-kill policy," he said. "It's only a shoot-to-kill-in-order-to-protect policy."

Meanwhile, police announced that they had made a third arrest in their investigation of four attempted bombings on the transportation system Thursday. No details were released about the arrest, but police sources told Reuters news agency that the man was not believed to be one of the four men whose photographs were released in the investigation.

Police have identified the man shot to death Friday as Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, a Brazilian citizen.

In their explanation of the shooting, released Saturday, officials said he 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.

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," Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said Saturday.

Officials have said that the incident would receive a full investigation but declined to comment further.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, who was visiting London, said his government and people were "shocked" by the killing, and he demanded a thorough investigation, according to the Associated Press. He said Foreign Secretary Jack Straw expressed his deepest regrets in a telephone conversation.

Meanwhile, police continued to question the 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.

"We've all seen the four images -- surely their brothers, sisters, parents and friends must know who these people are," he said.

Officers had staked out a number of potential suspects and locations after the bombing attempts in hopes of catching the assailants. One site was an apartment complex in Tulse Hill, near Stockwell, an ethnically mixed blue-collar neighborhood.

The man who emerged Friday morning was wearing a padded, blue-fleeced jacked and dark baseball cap that covered his features and made him appear suspicious as well as harder to identify, police officials said. Officers from a specialist undercover firearms unit trailed him as he took a bus to the Stockwell station. As he headed into the station, the officers bolted after him, and the man ran toward the platform, witnesses said. He stumbled into a subway car and three undercover operatives with handguns piled on top of him. One opened fire, according to witnesses, who gave graphic accounts of what one newspaper termed "an execution."

Blair said Friday soon after the shooting that the man was linked to the probe into the abortive bombings. He also told reporters that officers had ordered the man to halt and had opened fire only after he failed to obey. But none of the witnesses reported hearing any warning.

The shooting took place under shoot-to-kill guidelines adopted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States under the name "Operation Kratos" to deal with the threat of suicide bombers. While officials would not publicly discuss the guidelines, sources told British reporters that a senior officer is authorized to deploy special armed units to track and, if necessary, shoot dead suspected suicide bombers. The officers are advised to shoot such assailants in the head to keep them from setting off explosives.

The guidelines are based in part on procedures used by the Israeli authorities in intercepting suicide bombers. But police officials insist officers still must follow the law, which only allows the use of reasonable force in preventing a crime. The guidelines of the Association of Chief Police Officers say police should not open fire except when someone's life is in danger and there is no other way to stop the assailant.

The shooting of the wrong man fueled the sense of unease that has gripped London since the bomb attacks Thursday.

Meanwhile, a 17-year-old boy was remanded in custody, charged with an arson attack on the home of Germaine Lindsay, whom police alleged was one of the London suicide bombers.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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