By Glenn Frankel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, July 28, 2005
LONDON, July 27 -- In a dramatic early morning raid Wednesday north of London, police captured one of four men wanted in last week's abortive transit system attacks, subduing him with a stun gun, seizing a suspicious-looking backpack and hurling it out the window of his hideout.
Police identified the suspect as Yasin Hassan Omar, 24, who investigators have said tried to blow up a subway train near the Warren Street station in north London last Thursday. He was part of an apparent plot to replicate the quadruple blasts of July 7 that killed at least 56 people, including four bombers, police contend.
In a briefing for journalists Wednesday night, Peter Clarke, head of the anti-terrorist branch of the Metropolitan Police, did not reveal whether any explosive materials were found in Omar's backpack, which was similar to ones used to carry homemade bombs in the failed strikes of last week.
The man was seized in a small duplex in a predominantly Muslim section of Birmingham, Britain's second-largest city, about 120 miles northwest of London. At least three other suspects in last week's failed attempts remain at large, and police released a new photo image of one of them Wednesday.
"I must emphasize that until these men are arrested they remain a threat," Clarke told reporters.
The capture of Omar using nonlethal means was in marked contrast to the killing Friday of a Brazilian man whom police mistook for a suicide bomber and shot eight times at close range in a subway car. It was reported that police had also trained guns at the head of the driver of the train -- a man of West African origin -- when he sought to flee after hearing the gunshots that morning.
Clarke praised the public for its help in trying to find the suspects. "The public response to our appeals has been superb, and we have been given vital clues," he said. But he pleaded for more assistance.
Omar's arrest came after police received a phone call Tuesday from a Birmingham resident who reported seeing a man resembling Omar, according to a BBC report. Residents of the neighborhood said they had grown suspicious over the weekend when four men they had not seen before arrived at the residence carrying bags and other items.
Officers staked out the area and moved in about dawn.
"After 10 or 15 minutes, they brought a guy out," Andy Wilkinson, a neighbor, told the Associated Press. "He looked like the darkest-skinned one in the photos of the four suspects released by the police. They had him dressed in one of those white suits. He had plastic cuffs on the front."
Police took Omar to a station in London for questioning under anti-terrorism laws. Three other men were arrested in a raid on a house more than a mile away, and armed police also raided houses in two north London neighborhoods and a location in the Stockwell section of south London. The Stockwell subway station was the starting point for three of last week's four would-be bombers, police say. It was also the site where the Brazilian man was gunned down the following day.
On Monday, police released the names of Omar and a second suspect, Muktar Said Ibrahim, 27. Both had come to Britain in the early 1990s as refugee children -- Omar in 1992 from Somalia and Ibrahim in 1990 from Eritrea. British newspapers reported that Omar arrived with his older sister and had been placed in a series of foster homes until he turned 18. Since then, he had lived in a subsidized apartment in north London and had received more than $60,000 in welfare benefits, according to the Daily Mail.
Investigators confirmed that Ibrahim had been sentenced to five years in prison in 1996 for his role in a series of gang muggings. He became more devout while in prison, press reports said, and after he emerged on early release in 1998, he may have spent time at London's Finsbury Park mosque, a hotbed of Islamic radicalism at the time. Despite his criminal record, he was granted British citizenship in September.
Investigators are looking for links between the July 21 would-be bombers and four presumed suicide bombers who died in the July 7 attacks.
ABC News released photos of a bomb -- a cylinder packed with dozens of large nails -- that was found stashed in a rental car the July 7 bombers left at a railway station north of London.
It reported that police sources said there were 16 bombs in the car, rather than the nine previously reported. Metropolitan Police officials appealed to the news media not to publish the images, saying they might prejudice future prosecutions.
ABC also broadcast images of the mangled interior of the train that was bombed near King's Cross station, killing 27 people. It was the first time such photos had been publicly displayed.
Meanwhile, the lawyer and relatives of Jean Charles de Menezes, the 27-year-old Brazilian electrician killed Friday by undercover officers, called for a speedy inquiry into his death. "We know from the past that inquiries into similar incidents have dragged on for months, if not years," Gareth Peirce, a human rights lawyer, told reporters.
Police officials have said Menezes died under a "shoot to kill" policy used as a last resort against suspected suicide bombers. It calls for them to be shot in the head to prevent them from setting off bombs. "We are astonished that the term 'shoot to kill' is being used as if it is a term of law and a term of approval," Peirce said.
A cousin of Menezes, Vivien Figueiredo, 22, said at the news conference that police told her Menezes had used a travel card to go through the subway turnstile and was wearing a denim jacket, not the heavy coat police had earlier described. Earlier accounts said he had bolted into the station and vaulted the turnstile.
Officials of the Aslef trade union told the Independent newspaper that the train's driver had also been held at gunpoint by nervous officers who almost shot him. Subway workers said police had been "gung-ho" during the shooting, according to Steve Grant, a senior Aslef officer. The union has threatened to stage a walkout if drivers' demands for improved security on the subway system are not met.
Ian Blair, the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, told Channel 4 News that police have dealt with 250 suicide bomb scares since July 7 -- including seven instances in which they almost used their weapons.
On Tuesday, Cherie Blair, a part-time judge and wife of the prime minister, told a conference of lawyers and academics in Malaysia that the government should not overreact to the bombings by casting aside traditional civil liberties. Such a move, she said, would "cheapen our right to call ourselves a civilized nation."
Her husband, Tony Blair, is considering legislation that would lengthen to 90 days the time suspects may be held without charge and increase the government's powers to deport suspected terrorists and their sympathizers. Asked about his wife's remarks, Blair said he saw no conflict between her views and his own.