Man Tells Of London Police Raid
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
LONDON, June 13 -- A 23-year-old Muslim man who was shot during a massive police raid on his house earlier this month, then released without charge, said Tuesday that an officer fired at him without warning.
In his first public statements since the raid early this month, Mohammed Abdul Kahar described himself as a law-abiding man who loved London, his birthplace. His emotional words, delivered at a news conference here, added to the embarrassment that the anti-terrorism raid has caused Scotland Yard.
When 250 police officers swarmed Kahar's modest rowhouse in east London on June 2, the postal service employee said, he initially thought burglars had come in. Awakened at 4 a.m. by a commotion downstairs, he said, he took a few steps in a hallway. Then, he said, "I saw an orange spark and a big bang."
He said he saw blood coming down his chest after being hit by a bullet that exited his shoulder. "It seemed like fire," he said. "I was burning."
"I was begging the police, 'Please, I can't breathe,' " Kahar said at the news conference with his brother, Abul Koyair, 20, a supermarket employee. But he said an officer kicked him in the face, telling him in rough language to shut up, before dragging him down the stairs and outside.
Police Commissioner Ian Blair has come under heavy criticism because of this and other missteps since four suicide bombers killed 52 people in London's transit system last July. Shortly after those attacks, the police mistook a 27-year-old Brazilian electrician, Jean Charles de Menezes, for a terrorist on the subway and shot him seven times in the head.
Prime Minister Tony Blair defended the police commissioner's handling of the raid, at a time of calls for the head officer's resignation. "There is no doubt at all if they received information that there was a possible terrorist attack and did not act on that information and such an attack then took place, you can just imagine the outcry, the justifiable outcry, there would be," the prime minister said.
The raid, which took place in Forest Gate, a neighborhood where many Pakistani and Bangladeshi shopkeepers, cabdrivers and others live alongside other working-class Britons, drew widespread public attention in a country where memories of the bombings last summer remain fresh.
During the raid, many of the officers wore hazardous-materials gear, leading to speculation that they had intelligence that some type of chemical bomb was inside. But no such device was found, and the men were released late Friday.
"This has dented the trust between the community and its security services," said Jamal El-Shayal, a spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain. "Police are there to protect people, not target them."
On Sunday, several hundred Muslims staged a protest outside Scotland Yard headquarters.
Gareth Peirce, a prominent human rights lawyer representing the brothers, said in an interview that "one suspects it is not the only wrong information that is being acted on" by police. What is different about this case, she said, is that it was so visible. Television cameras and reporters were on the scene for days.
The raid shows the "danger of relying on information considered in secret," Peirce said.
Peirce said that because police took over the house and damaged it during the search, the family had had to leave its home of 20 years.
Asked at the news conference whether they would seek compensation, the brothers said they wanted an apology first.
A senior police officer later offered an apology. "In mounting this operation, we have caused disruption and inconvenience to many residents" in the neighborhood, particularly those in Kahar's house on Lansdowne Road and one next door, Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman said. "I apologize for the hurt that we may have caused."
Kahar, of Bangladeshi descent, was at times tearful during the news conference. "The only crime I have done in their eyes is being Asian and with a long length of beard."
He said that since the raid, "I can't sleep. . . . I feel fear when the room is dark."