viernes, julio 22, 2005


Hunting another gang of bombers
Jul 22nd 2005 From The Economist Global AgendaPolice have shot dead a suspected suicide-bomber on a London Underground train and issued photographs of four suspects urgently sought after a second round of bomb attacks on the British capital. Unlike in the July 7th attacks there were few casualties this time. It is still unclear if the bombers were members of the Islamist group that struck last time or unrelated “copycats”

A FORTNIGHT after the four explosions that killed 56 people, Londoners’ reputation for “getting on with it” in spite of threats to their safety has been put to the test again. At lunchtime on Thursday July 21st the city’s transport system was hit by explosions at four points—three almost simultaneous blasts on the London Underground and a fourth on a bus, the same as in the July 7th attacks. This time the explosions were small—it is believed that only the bombs’ detonators may have exploded, not their main explosive charges—and the results were far less devastating. The sight of bloodied commuters being brought out of Underground stations was mercifully absent.
Immediately, a huge manhunt was launched—with the dramatic outcome, the next morning, of police shooting dead a suspected suicide-bomber that they had chased on to an Underground train at Stockwell station in south London. On Friday afternoon, police chiefs said armed officers were searching a number of houses across the capital and released pictures from closed-circuit television cameras of four men they were urgently seeking in connection with the latest attacks.
The blasts were on trains at Oval, Warren Street and Shepherd’s Bush Underground stations and on a number 26 bus in Bethnal Green. London’s police chief, Sir Ian Blair, said “clearly the intention must have been to kill”. Tony Blair, the prime minister, convened COBRA, the government’s emergency committee, and urged Londoners to carry on as usual. After the explosion at Warren Street, armed officers wearing body armour searched the nearby University College Hospital, checking reports that one of the bombers might be there.
Unlike last time, central London’s public-transport system was not shut down, though there was considerable disruption, with Underground lines suspended (some had still not re-opened since the first round of bombings) and areas of the city cordoned off. Whereas the previous attacks came during the morning rush, the latest ones took place in the middle of the day when fewer people are using public transport.
However, the most important factor contributing to the lack of casualties this time was the small size of the explosions. The apparent failure of the devices’ main explosive charge means that only sheer good fortune, or the incompetence of the bombers, prevented further great loss of life.
If the bombers this time were members of the same group of Islamist suicide-bombers who carried out the previous attacks, the analysis of the unexploded material and any other bomb components recovered from the scenes of the blasts might help police discover more about who organised and supplied the attackers. On Friday the police called for information from anyone who might have seen the four suspects, separately or together, or knew where they were now.
Of course, it is possible that the perpetrators were an unrelated group of copycats, inspired by the previous bombers but operating entirely independently. Sir Ian admitted that the latest attempted bombings had a “resonance” with the attacks a fortnight ago but that it was too early to make a link between the two events. However, some reports indicated that the bombs were of a similar construction to the devices used two weeks ago and maybe even from the same batch of explosives.
The latest attacks came as the events of July 7th were still fresh in the minds of Londoners—shortly before them, a memorial service for its victims was held in Tavistock Square, close to the site of the bus bomb a fortnight ago and just a short walk from the drama that was about to unfold at Warren Street.
Leading seemingly normal lives—until they blew themselves up
More details are still emerging about the four suicide-bombers who struck on July 7th, three of whom were British-born Muslims of Pakistani origin and the fourth a Muslim convert born in Jamaica—all of them leading seemingly normal lives until they blew themselves up. After details emerged of visits by some of them to Pakistan, where they are thought to have had contact with Islamist militants possibly linked to al-Qaeda, the Pakistani security forces launched a crackdown against Islamist extremists. However, reports that they had arrested suspects wanted over the London bombings were later denied.
Since the previous attacks, there has been much discussion about how to stop the recruiting of young Muslims to carry out such attacks. Earlier this week, the prime minister invited Muslim leaders to 10 Downing St in an effort to find ways of identifying potential troublemakers before they come under the thrall of Islamist extremists and start acquiring explosives and training for attacks. But British Muslims are increasingly isolated from their self-appointed leaders and may not heed their words anyway. In an attempt to win their co-operation, Sir Ian insisted on Friday that the police crackdown was “targeted against criminals...not against any community”.
The prime minister, after consulting with opposition leaders, has also proposed three new laws. A new offence of “acts preparatory to terrorism” will cover those who try to get hold of explosives and other dangerous material. Showing others how to commit atrocities will also be outlawed. Another proposed law would ban indirect incitement to terrorism. And, in future, foreign clerics condoning terrorism are likely to be banned from visiting Britain. But stringent measures are already in place in Britain so it is unclear how much reassurance such new laws would give the public.
Although the British capital seems likely to return to normal rapidly, as it did after the July 7th attacks and indeed after the IRA bombings of the 1970s-1990s, Londoners have once again been reminded just how vulnerable their transport system is. They will also realise that there is little they can do except to bear the risks with their customary fortitude.
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