Investigators Cautious on Assessing Blame for Attacks

A group claiming ties to al Qaeda claims responsibility for Thursday's bomb blasts in London, but investigators have not yet reached final conclusions on who carried out the attack. Mike Shuster talks to Alex Chadwick about who might be responsible, and how authorities will proceed with an investigation.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

In London, we know this much about the series of bombings in the city. Authorities say they are a terrorist strike. Although a claim of responsibility appeared on an al-Qaeda-linked Web site this morning, reaching a conclusion in terror investigations can be a long and complicated process. Joining us is NPR diplomatic correspondent Mike Shuster.

Mike, first, what about this claim by this group about responsibility for the attack?

MIKE SHUSTER reporting:

Well, this claim identified the group as the Secret Group of al-Qaeda's Jihad in Europe. It came in a message on a Web site associated with Islamic militants. There was a message there, the message that the blasts were in retaliation for Britain's military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the message also threatened similar attacks against Denmark and Italy and `all crusader governments'--that was the language used on the Web site--if they don't withdraw their troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. There's not always a claim of responsibility in attacks like this, but this does follow the pattern of Madrid in 2004. There was a similar claim of responsibility at that time. The specific group name here has not been heard before, as I understand it, but sleeper cells in Europe and elsewhere have often come up with new names when they communicate publicly.

CHADWICK: So the name of this group is new, but this Web site where it appeared--that's a known quantity?

SHUSTER: That is a known place where Islamic militants communicate.

CHADWICK: From the details of the attack, what can we say about who might have done it?

SHUSTER: Well, certainly it looks like the kind of attack that al-Qaeda has favored in the past. It's much like the Madrid train bombings in March 2004. The most important hallmark, of course, is multiple coordinated attacks. This is what al-Qaeda has favored for many years now. It implies long-term planning, multiple attack cells. It could've involved a dozen or more participants in the planning and implementing of the attack. It suggests a presence in London and probably elsewhere in Europe of more than one sleeper cell working on this for quite some time. The attack also coincided with a major political event, the G8 Summit, and this is what these kind of attackers like to do. Of course, last year the Madrid bombings were timed to put pressure on the Spanish government just a few days before an election. The Madrid bombings reveal just how vulnerable the transportation system of a major urban area can be, and whoever carried out this attack in London certainly learned that lesson well.

CHADWICK: The British have had success at counterterrorism, gaining intelligence before attacks have occurred. Otherwise--there were a whole series of arrests in Britain over the last...

SHUSTER: Over the last few years.

CHADWICK: Yeah. Any implications for this attack?

SHUSTER: I would think that British authorities have to be quite worried about this because they are as good as anybody in Europe in pre-empting these kind of attacks. They are very good at counterterrorism. They've been able to acquire intelligence about terrorist attacks before. Authorities in London said today that they did not have any advanced warning and that they did not have any advanced intelligence about this. And if we're right that there are several sleeper cells and many people involved in this, the plotters must have been very careful and very patient.

I would point out one thing, Alex. The British are also likely to uncover a good deal about this plot because there are hundreds of closed-circuit television cameras in London, probably more than anywhere else in the world, and they might have picked up the attackers.

CHADWICK: So they would have some video from the scene--maybe, anyway--of who was planting these bombs.

SHUSTER: It's possible.

CHADWICK: Yeah. OK. NPR diplomatic correspondent Mike Shuster. Mike, thank you.

SHUSTER: You're welcome.

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