U.K. Police Launch Transit Security Operation

London's mass transit system is being guarded by thousands of extra police — many of them heavily armed — as British authorities take extra precautions against possible other attacks in the capital. Last week, police arrested four key suspects in connection with the failed attacks of July 21.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

British police are carrying out another huge security operation in London's mass transmit system today. Authorities have warned people to be vigilant in case of more attacks. They're taking that step despite the arrest of four key suspects in connection with the failed attacks of July 21st. Investigators also want to know how another key suspect managed to get out of the country ending up in Italy. In a moment, we'll go to Rome for the latest on that suspect.

We'll start our coverage this morning in London with NPR's Anthony Kuhn.

Anthony, how's this security operation working?

ANTHONY KUHN reporting:

Well, it appears to be a continuation of the operation that put about 6,000 police on the train and Underground systems last week. A lot of those are armed officers and police have promised that we're going to see intensified activity in the near future and they say that there remains a real threat out there. There has also been speculation in the British media about the existence of a third cell, a third terrorist cell planning another attack in London. But that hasn't been substantiated and people are treating that fairly cautiously.

We also saw seven people arrested yesterday in the seaside resort town of Brighton. There were six men and one woman who were arrested under the anti-terrorism laws and that brings the number--the total number of people in custody now up to 18. So we can expect, I think, more arrests in the coming days as the operation goes on.

INSKEEP: How else are police trying to get a clearer picture of how the attacks were ordered and carried out?

KUHN: Well, you know, Steve, there are a lot of really basic questions that we still haven't got answers to. Not all the people who have been arrested have been named at this point and, you know, where they planted their bombs and how they didn't hasn't been answered and police tell us that their main interest is--in releasing information is to help the prosecution of the suspects. So what they have to do now in the investigation phase, aside from looking for the backers, the planners and the bombmakers, is answer certain questions like, for example: Was there a connection between the July 7th and the July 21st bombings? They're going to be looking at explosives to see if there are any similarities.

They're also going to be looking at questions like, for example, what was the intent? There's been a lot of questioning on whether the attacks were indeed intended to be suicide bombings. There's been a lot of speculation in the media and a lot of debate about whether the people expected to survive this. So these are all questions that we expect to come out in the near future.

INSKEEP: And investigators are hoping for some help answering those questions from Muslims in Britain, aren't they?

KUHN: That's right. The Home Office, which is in charge of security here in Britain, has planned a series of meetings with the Muslim communities and they want to come up with concrete measures and this is part of a long-term fight against terrorism. They want help from the Muslim community in tracking criminals. They want to step up efforts to credit imams and clerics in those communities and they also want to discuss ways how they--in which they can protect Muslims from hate crimes.

At the same time, they're encountering difficulty because there's been a lot of criticism over the use of racial profiling. And if you go into the subways and train stations, you see a lot of times the police are stopping and searching and questioning South Asians. There was controversy over this yesterday when a chief constable of the British Transport Police defended this policy, said that police should not be wasting their time searching old, white ladies. And that brought a lot of criticism and the Home Office said, you know, that this was based on intelligence; it wasn't just random.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, Anthony, we're about to go to Rome for more on the suspect there. How did this man escape this huge security cordon and immigration checks in Britain?

KUHN: Well, the government is under great pressure to explain how this suspect, Osman Hussain, managed to evade the dragnet. And according to reports coming out of Italy, what he did was he went to London's Waterloo station, and he took the Eurostar, which is a train which goes through the tunnel under the English Channel into France. And, of course, once he got to France, he was in the European Union, so he didn't need a visa to get into Italy. But to do that, normally, you just have to get through French border control. But at the moment, since the July 7th bombings, they had stricter security in place, and it's a question how he managed to get through that. Now the leader of the House of Commons, Geoff Hoon, has said that government ministers are going to be looking at implementing tougher passport checks and border controls in the wake of this incident.

INSKEEP: OK. Thanks very much. That's NPR's Anthony Kuhn in London.

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