Near-Shooting, 'Burqa Escape' in U.K. Bomb Case British police nearly shot a terrorism suspect after finding him in his apartment, standing in the bath and wearing a back-pack, according to testimony heard in a British court Tuesday. "To this day, I still don't know how I didn't shoot him," an officer said.
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Near-Shooting, 'Burqa Escape' in U.K. Bomb Case

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Near-Shooting, 'Burqa Escape' in U.K. Bomb Case

Near-Shooting, 'Burqa Escape' in U.K. Bomb Case

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

A court in Britain has heard dramatic testimony of how armed police nearly shot a terrorism suspect after finding the man in a house wearing a backpack. One police officer said he feared the bag contained explosives and he told the court, to this day, I still don't know how I didn't shoot him.

NPR's Rob Gifford has the story from London.

ROB GIFFORD: Yassin Omar, is one of the men accused of trying to blow up the trains on the London subway system on July 21, 2005. That was just two weeks after four British Muslim suicide bombers killed 52 people in London.

The court heard details today of Omar's arrest. It was shown video footage of the 26-year-old arriving at Birmingham bus station the day after the attempted bombings took place. For fear of arrest, the 6'2" Omar had disguised himself by wearing a black burqa - of the type worn by some Muslim women - that covered his entire face and body. He was also carrying a woman's purse.

Police later traced him to a house in Birmingham, and the most gripping testimony came from one of the armed police officers who stormed the house six days later.

The BBC's June Kelly was in court.

Ms. JUNE KELLY (Reporter, BBC): He threw a grenade into the kitchen and then he was conscious of a man standing in the bath with a rucksack on his back. And he said - this officer, he actually spoke in the present tense, this is how dramatic it was - he said, I've got grave concerns about the rucksack. He's actually sort of reliving the moment.

He said I brought my point of aim - referring to the weapon, of course - to the back of his head. I thought I'm going to have to shoot this man. And he said he took the safety catch off his weapon.

Now, he said Yassin Omar then put his hands up to shoulder level, so the officer reapplied the safety catch. But he said he didn't know how he didn't shoot him.

GIFFORD: The officers finally subdued Omar by punching him in the face, and using a Taser stun gun, as he put up a ferocious fight. All the time, the court heard, the policemen didn't know if Omar's backpack contained a bomb.

Some commentators have expressed surprise that the officers didn't kill Yassin Omar. But Roy Ramm, a Former Commander in London's Metropolitan Police, says he has no doubt that the officers' actions were affected by the killing in London just five days earlier, of an unarmed Brazilian electrician.

Jean Charles de Menezes was shot seven times in the head by police officers who mistook him for a suicide bomber.

Mr. ROY RAMM (Former commander, London Metropolitan Police): I think it's very likely that the officer was thinking about the Menezes case from a few days earlier. You know, it's the hardest of calls. I'm in some ways surprised that he didn't pull the trigger. But, you know, unless you're actually there, unless you see the body language, you perhaps catch the glint in the eye, it's impossible really, I think, for anybody to kind of second guess that and make a judgment call for him.

GIFFORD: Five other men are charged with Yassin Omar. All of them deny the charges of plotting suicide bombings.

Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.

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