Al Qaeda Link to Attacks in London Probed

Police officers in London consult outside residence where the arrests were made.
Police officers in London consult outside residence where the arrests were made. (Mike Finn-kelcey - Reuters)
By Peter Finn and Glenn Frankel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, August 1, 2005

LONDON, July 31 -- British and Saudi investigators are examining a series of phone calls, text messages and e-mails between leaders of the al Qaeda network in Saudi Arabia and unknown people in Britain from February to May for possible links to the recent bomb attacks in London or a still unidentified group of extremists operating in Britain, according to a Saudi official.

After the July 7 bombings of London's transit system that claimed 56 lives, the British requested further information about the communications, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, and they are now part of the investigation. British officials declined to comment on the disclosure.

The possible Saudi connection is one of several lines of inquiry investigators are following as they seek to make progress in their hunt for those responsible for two sets of recent attacks in London -- the July 7 bombings of three subway trains and a double-decker bus, and an abortive attack two weeks later in which assailants failed to detonate explosives on an identical combination of three subway trains and a bus.

Despite their success last week in rounding up all of the suspects in the failed July 21 attacks, investigators concede they have not answered several key questions: Were the two sets of attacks linked? How were they planned and financed? Was there a larger network of extremists, domestic or foreign, behind the bombings? And, most crucially, are there more attacks in the pipeline?

"We're very pleased with what we managed to achieve last week," said a British official who spoke on condition of anonymity, in keeping with government custom. "But there's so much more we need to find out."

Police in the seaside city of Brighton seized six men and a woman on Sunday in connection with the attacks, while authorities said they would formally apply on Monday for the extradition from Italy of Isaac Hamdi, also known as Osman Hussain, one of the suspects in the July 21 attacks.

The four suspects in the July 7 attacks all died in the bombings, while those allegedly responsible for the botched July 21 attacks fled the scenes. After receiving tips from the public, police seized one of the suspects Wednesday and swooped down on two more Friday, while authorities in Rome arrested Hamdi, who had sought refuge there. Another man was arrested in London in connection with a fifth bomb that was abandoned unexploded in a west London park.

All of the men are being interrogated at a high-security police station. Under Britain's anti-terrorism laws, they can be held for as long as 14 days without charge.

Both sets of attackers were young Muslims with a growing sense of rage over Britain's participation in U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, officials say. Three of the four men behind the July 7 attacks were British nationals of Pakistani origin who were born and raised in the northern city of Leeds; the fourth was a Jamaican-born convert to Islam who also lived near Leeds for a time. The July 21 suspects were all London-based men of East African origin.

The only tangible link between the two sets of bombers, according to officials, is a brochure for a white-water rafting center in northern Wales. The brochure was discovered in a backpack containing undetonated explosives that one of the alleged July 21 attackers, Muktar Said Ibrahim, 27, left behind on an east London bus. Two of the July 7 bombers from Leeds had participated in a rafting trip with the center in early June.

It has also been reported that Ibrahim and another suspect, Yasin Hassan Omar, 24, were devotees of the Finsbury Park Mosque in north London, once a hotbed of Islamic extremism. One of the Leeds bombers, Mohammed Sidique Khan, 30, also frequented the mosque before it was seized by the authorities and its radical imam, Abu Hamza Masri, was charged with encouraging his followers to kill non-Muslims. But no one has yet connected Khan to the two other men.

Investigators believe that both sets of bombers used a homemade concoction of explosives made from triacetone triperoxide, a volatile household material. But the Leeds bombers made their bombs in the bathtub of a flat in the city, while the July 21 bombers are believed to have made theirs in an apartment in north London where Ibrahim and Omar lived.

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