Police Shooting on London Subway Stirs Debate

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A fatal police shooting in the wake of transit bombings in London raises a question: Are police employing a "shoot to kill" policy? There's no official confirmation, but experts see ties to past approach with IRA.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Police have two more suspects in connection with the latest wave of bombings in London. They're also reviewing the deadly use of force yesterday in which police shot a man to death on the London Underground. Experts say that in response to terrorist threats the government has issued new guidelines to police on the use of lethal force. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from London.

ANTHONY KUHN reporting:

Police detained a second suspect last night in connection with the recent wave of bombings. He was taken into custody in Stockwell in south London, where police shot a man to death on the Underground yesterday morning. Police continued to question another detainee from Stockwell. The shooting has attracted public attention to what appears to be a new shoot-to-kill policy that police have adopted to deal with the threat of suicide bombers. The police have not publicly confirmed that such a policy exists.

Police are normally trained to incapacitate suspects by shooting at the torso. Former London Police Commander Roy Ramm(ph) says the threat of explosives now calls for different tactics.

Former Police Commander ROY RAMM (London): The fact is that when you're dealing with suicide bombers the only way you can stop them effectively and protect yourself is to try for a head shot, because the danger of shooting into the body is that you might detonate a bomb which is wrapped around somebody.

KUHN: The new policy is said to be part of Operation Kratos, a new strategy of the Metropolitan Police's anti-terrorist branch to deal specifically with suicide attacks. It reportedly draws on the experience of Israeli security forces. Police use of lethal force has attracted controversy in Britain before. Sir John Stalker, the former chief constable of the Manchester police, was sent to Northern Ireland to investigate charges that the British Army was using a secret shoot-to-kill policy against the IRA. He was taken off the case in 1985 amid charges that he was covering up that policy. He believes that the police in London have now been issued a shoot-to-kill policy necessitated by the nature of suicide bombers.

Sir JOHN STALKER: Since the advent of suicide bombers, where absolutely no effort is needed to detonate a bomb--it can just be releasing a finger on a trigger or pulling trigger under a jacket or in a pocket--there isn't that sort of opportunity now to test, as it were, the reactions and the intentions of a potential suicide bomber.

KUHN: In yesterday's shooting police say that surveillance officers tracked the suspect from a house under surveillance to the Stockwell station. Witnesses say police then shot the man five times at pointblank range. Stalker said the police would not have had any alternative.

Sir JOHN: They have been trained to read body language and I've got no doubt that they have decided that this man was on the point of exploding or detonating a bomb on an Underground and decided to act as they did. The problem, of course, is, if they are wrong, they will be in deep trouble.

KUHN: Londoners have long been accustomed to walking streets policed by unarmed Bobbies. But in recent days officers toting assault rifles and machine pistols have been out in force.

(Soundbite of people talking)

KUHN: Yesterday, office manager Rene Edwards(ph) waited impatiently to go home, past the police cordons around the Stockwell station. She questioned the police's use of force.

Ms. RENE EDWARDS (Office Manager): I just think it's ridiculous that someone's got shot for no re--well, basically I think it's for no reason because if they'd been able to hold the man down in the first place, yeah, why did they then need to shoot the person? That's the question that everyone needs to ask the authorities.

KUHN: The Independent Police Complaints Commission has said it will launch an inquiry into yesterday's incident, as it does into all fatal police shootings. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, London.

SIMON: And we are following events in London and in Egypt, Sharm el Sheikh and Cairo, with NPR corespondent who are stationed all over the world for the rest of this morning and on all NPR News programs.

It's 18 minutes past the hour.

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