Arrests Show No Clear Ties Between London Attacks

Suspects arrested in London and Rome in connection with failed July 21 attacks on the London transit system reveal few similarities to the men blamed for the July 7 suicide bombings. Authorities may be hunting more suspects.

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

British police today are questioning four men in connection with the attempted bomb attacks on London's mass transit system last week. And in Rome today, another man who was apprehended is going to face an extradition hearing in connection with those attacks. All five men were detained Friday in a dramatic series of raids by anti-terrorist police in London and Rome. NPR's Anthony Kuhn joins us from London.

Anthony, thanks for being with us.

ANTHONY KUHN reporting:

Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And the arrests yesterday, capped with--I think we're just beginning to grasp, has been a huge operation by British intelligence and police officials. First, let's talk about the men detained in London. What do we know? Who are they?

KUHN: Well, I think it's important at this stage to still be conservative and remember that while the British media are saying that the police now have got all their men, or at least the four they believe are involved in the July 21st attacks, the police haven't confirmed that there were only four and they haven't attached names to faces and to crimes or at least attempted crimes. But it's already clear that this bunch of men are very different than the people who were implicated in the July 7th attacks. Those people were mostly middle-class Britons of Pakistani descent, whereas these people seem to be mostly from East Africa, Somalia--Eritrea, Ethiopia, and they came to Britain in the early '90s, many of them, as refugees. One of them was in foster care. Another one was in jail for five years. So their ties to society are more tenuous, it seems.

SIMON: And the men being questioned in Rome--Osman Hussein, I believe, his name, and he's from Ethiopia.

KUHN: That's right. Well, British police had formerly said he was from Somalia, but now there's also questions about his name. They're saying his real name may actually be Isaac Hamdi. But some interesting things have come out about him. Tuesday, he slipped out of London. He took a Eurostar train out of Waterloo Station, went to Paris and then to Rome. Police were tracking him the whole way and they intercepted his phone calls. Now the Italian interior minister says that he's begun to answer interrogators' questions in Rome, and police are following up on that and they're tracing his contacts across the country.

SIMON: And what are the laws like? How long can British police question the men in custody before they have to file charges or let them go?

KUHN: The laws at present say that they have 48 hours after which they can apply for further warrants to continue questioning them up to a total of two weeks. That's not a lot of time, the police say. They may not give the police the information they want in that time. And the police are trying to stick very closely to the rules, give them their three square meals a day, halal food, enough rest so as not to jeopardize their future prosecution. And it's not clear whether they get all the information they want within those two weeks.

SIMON: NPR's Anthony Kuhn in London. Thank you.

KUHN: Thank you.

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