Londoners Are Asking: 'Is It Really Over?'

A police officer stands near a cordon outside an apartment building in west London after arrests there in connection with failed attacks on the city.
A police officer stands near a cordon outside an apartment building in west London after arrests there in connection with failed attacks on the city. (By Mike Finn-kelcey -- Reuters)

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By Peter Finn and Glenda Cooper
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, July 31, 2005

LONDON, July 30 -- Bertha Mfula was doing housework Friday morning, oblivious to the police filling the streets outside her window. When the first, deafening bang ricocheted through the streets, she feared that the large waterworks behind her house had somehow ruptured. That or a train had crashed on some nearby tracks.

"I just never thought about the terrorists," said Mfula, a 49-year-old homemaker. "When I looked out, the police were everywhere. I had no idea."

Within a short distance of each other in West London, three suspects, two of them apparently brothers, had been holed up in two apartments for more than a week, eluding the largest manhunt in British history.

The huge police sweep that captured the three men left residents here stunned, and on Saturday, they gathered in clusters around nearby shops to discuss the danger in their midst.

"People are scared," said Herman Stephens, a 39-year-old musician. "Is this going to last 10 years or 20 years? This is too close. How are we going to live in London with this fear?"

Friday morning's raids began with a tip from a member of the public who said he had recognized one of the men suspected of carrying out a failed round of bombings in London on July 21, an apparent effort to replay the deadly attacks of July 7.

Images of four of the alleged bombers had been released by police and widely publicized.

Two of the men, Muktar Said Ibrahim, 27, and Ramzi Mohammed, were in a fourth-floor apartment in North Kensington, a section of town that is a poor relation of its glamorous neighbor, Notting Hill. Police blew the door off their apartment and fired stun grenades and tear gas into it. The British press reported that a British army special forces unit was also present.

Ibrahim is suspected of carrying explosives onto the No. 26 bus in Hackney, East London, and Mohammed is said to have tried to blow up a subway train at Oval station.

After a shouted negotiation, which was broadcast on television through the cell phone of a neighbor, the two men emerged in their underwear. Their images were splashed across the front pages of British newspapers. "Got The Bastards," read the headline Saturday in the Sun, Britain's largest-selling daily.

A mile away, Marcus Begg, 36, was on his way to open the Pelican, a pub he manages on the edge of Notting Hill. The normally quiet street was buzzing with law enforcement officers.

"When you see a lot of armed police coming in expensive rides, you know there's trouble," said Begg, whose pub faces the apartment building that was the focus of attention. "In London, it's still unusual to see that, despite everything that's happened."

Begg said at least five police snipers took up positions in a small park outside the target building. Police directed residents to stay inside. The staff at the Pelican kept the shutters down.

But in the end there was none of the drama of North Kensington. The third suspect, Wahbi Mohammed, who is believed to be Ramzi's brother, surrendered quickly. He was brought out through a back alley, dressed in a white hooded suit that police put on him to preserve forensic evidence.

Wahbi Mohammed is suspected of having abandoned a backpack bomb that was found in Little Wormwood Scrubs Park, a few hundred yards from where his brother was staying in North Kensington. His target remains unknown.

Another suspected would-be bomber was arrested in Italy on Friday. Investigators believe that Isaac Hamdi, alias Osman Hussain, tried to detonate a bomb in a subway station in the Shepherd's Bush section of London. A fifth man, believed to have tried to carry out a bombing, was arrested in Birmingham this week.

"It was all over quickly and without much fuss," said Begg. "But everyone has the same question: Is it really over?"


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