Probes into London Bombings Press On
LIANE HANSEN, host:
This past Friday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced plans for tough new measures to combat terrorism. At a news conference, Blair said he would ask Parliament to pass laws allowing the government to shut down places of worship or bookstores identified as places where hatred or violence is encouraged and to deport clerics who are judged not suitable to preach.
(Soundbite of Friday announcement)
Prime Minister TONY BLAIR (Great Britain): What I'm trying to do here is--and this will be followed up with the action in the next few weeks, as I think you will see--to send a clear signal out that the rules of the game have changed. We welcome people here who are peaceful and law-abiding. People who want to be British citizens should share our values and our way of life. But if you come to our country from abroad, don't meddle in extremism, 'cause if you meddle in it or get engaged in it, you're going to go back out again.
HANSEN: Blair's proposals for the new anti-terrorism laws came four weeks after suicide bombers set off devices on three London subway trains and a double-decker bus. The blasts killed the bombers and 52 other people. Two weeks later, London suffered a second attack. Those bombs did not explode and the bombers fled the scene, prompting the largest police operation in Britain since World War II. Looking back over the events of the past month, NPR's Rachel Martin reports from London on the status of the investigation.
RACHEL MARTIN reporting:
On Thursday, July 7th, 36-year-old Garri Holness left his house for work at the usual time, around a quarter to 7 in the morning. He took a Thames link train to King's Cross Underground station, then boarded a train on the Piccadilly Line. A couple minutes into his ride, there was a loud, crashing sound.
Mr. GARRI HOLNESS (Survivor of Bombing): And I thought a train had hit another train. And there was just chaos, and my head--the pole that you hold on to smacked it right into the middle.
MARTIN: Everything went dark. Holness fell to the floor, unaware of what was happening or how badly he'd been hurt.
Mr. HOLNESS: A young woman shouted out, `I've lost my legs! I've lost my legs!' And that made me look down and look at my legs. So I lift up my leg and I lifted my leg up at a very funny angle; when I looked at it, at that funny angle, I said to myself, `I've lost it.'
MARTIN: Holness is tall, with an athletic build and a warm smile that survived the attack, despite serious burns on his back, his arms and his stomach. Doctors had to amputate the bottom half of his left leg, which was ripped off in the explosion. Holness has been in the hospital for a month, and every inch of wall space in his tiny hospital room is covered in get-well cards from family, friends and colleagues. One card came from his boss's neighbor, a woman Holness has never met.
Mr. HOLNESS: And that green card underneath the blue one in the middle is his next-door neighbor, which is an old lady. And she wrote me a letter; it really touched me. I was, like, `Oh, my God,' you know, so it was great.
MARTIN: Holness says he believes he got off lucky. And as far as the young man who detonated the bomb on his train car that morning...
Mr. HOLNESS: I'm not going to hold that against him. I've got no hatred towards him, because he was weak. You've got to be a very weak individual to be warped like that to take your life like that.
MARTIN: The four suicide bombers from the July 7th attacks were young men, who British officials say were mostly of Pakistani origin but who spent most of their lives in Britain. They lived around Leeds in the northern part of the country, in Yorkshire. Shahid Malik is a member of Parliament from Yorkshire and a prominent British Muslim. Speaking a few days after the bombings, Malik reacted to the news that these men hailed from his own community.
Mr. SHAHID MALIK (Member of Parliament): We are all absolutely shocked that there could be any connection with parts of West Yorkshire. But one thing that we know now is--and it's a kind of wake-up call for the British-Muslim community--those voices which we've dismissed as lunatics are people who we've got to take on, and everybody's got a responsibility to make sure those kinds of voices are dealt with.
MARTIN: Over the past month, the Metropolitan Police have been waging a multipronged campaign. While investigating two bombing attacks, they've also been trying to reach out to a Muslim population that has felt increasingly threatened and targeted since the attacks. The investigation has led to the arrest by British police of four key suspects in connection with the July 21st attempted bombings. Police in Italy detained another suspected bomber, who fled London by train. Authorities were able to track down the man by tracing his cell phone calls across Europe.
Duncan Campbell is a reporter with the British newspaper The Guardian. He's covered Scotland Yard and its anti-terrorist unit for more than 15 years. Campbell says the police have had some good luck, like phone calls from family members of some of the bombers, but he says they've also been able to exploit new technologies, like closed-circuit television cameras, DNA testing and wireless telecommunications systems.
Mr. DUNCAN CAMPBELL (Reporter, The Guardian): I think it has been, as they call it, `good, old-fashioned coppering,' is the expression here. I think they've put a lot of people on the street. They've gone through all the images. They've asked people who they recognize. They used a very new technique to track this guy to Rome. So I think, you know, you have to give credit where it's due, and I think it has been a good, fast investigation.
MARTIN: But the pressures of the investigation and ongoing security operation are beginning to wear on the Metropolitan Police. London has been on high alert for weeks with thousands of officers patrolling the streets and subway system. Richard Barnes is a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, the governing body that oversees the Met. He says police resources are being stretched too thin.
Mr. RICHARD BARNES (Metropolitan Police Authority): The Met has always risen to its major challenges, and that clearly is what it has done so far. And the results speak for themselves. But to maintain 12-hour shifts for everyone for a long period of time is just not humanly sustainable, and that is a worry.
MARTIN: Barnes says there is discussion about filling some of the more routine police positions with civilians, in jobs like recording information about traffic incidents or manning phone lines at police stations so as to free up more officers for security duties. Police officials have also tried to enlist the public, asking British citizens to remain vigilant as the investigation pushes forward. From his hospital room in northwest London, Garri Holness hopes the investigation leads to the arrests of the people he believes are ultimately responsible for the attacks.
Mr. HOLNESS: But not just the suicide bombers; the ones higher up that have warped these individuals, you know, and told them that what they're doing is right and they're going to become martyrs, because that is a lot of rubbish.
MARTIN: And that's where the focus now lies as investigators try to track down those who recruited and trained the bombers, built the explosive devices and financed last month's attacks.
Rachel Martin, NPR News, London.
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