[Paleopsych] NYT: Police Debate if London Plotters Were Suicide Bombers, or Dupes
checker at panix.com
Wed Jul 27 20:50:11 UTC 2005
Police Debate if London Plotters Were Suicide Bombers, or Dupes
[This is very interesting and is on the front page of today's Times. I checked
the Washington Post, the Washington Times, Usatoday, the Wall Street Journal,
and the Christian Science Monitor. None had an equivalent article. My
hypothesis is that this article below is original reporting. I wonder if the
ideas will be followed up.]
By ELAINE SCIOLINO
and DON VAN NATTA Jr.
LONDON, July 26 - Within hours of the July 7 attacks here, many
British police and intelligence officials assumed that the four
bombers had intended to die with their bombs.
But in recent days, some police officials are increasingly considering
the possibility that the men did not plan to commit suicide and were
duped into dying.
Investigators raising doubts about the suicide assumption have cited
evidence to support this theory. Each of the four men who died in the
July 7 attacks purchased round-trip railway tickets from Luton to
London. Germaine Lindsay's rented car left in Luton had a seven-day
parking sticker on the dashboard.
A large quantity of explosives were stored in the trunk of that car,
perhaps for another attack. Another bomber had just spent a large sum
to repair his car. The men carried driver's licenses and other ID
cards with them to their deaths, unusual for suicide bombers.
In addition, none left behind a note, videotape or Internet trail as
suicide bombers have done in the past. And the bombers' families were
baffled by what seemed to be their decisions to kill themselves.
While some of these clues could be seen as the work of men intent on
covering their trail, some investigators increasingly believe that the
men may have been conned into carrying the bombs onto the trains and
leaving them, thinking they were going to explode minutes later.
There remains some evidence suggesting that these were suicide
bombers, beyond the fact that all died in the blasts. Their bodies,
all of which were recovered, were positioned in a way that led
investigators to make a preliminary determination that these may have
been suicide attacks.
One of the remaining mysteries that neither camp can explain away is
that the attacker on the bus died 57 minutes after the blasts on the
trains; witnesses saw him putting his hand in the backpack. The bus
bomber could support either theory.
To further complicate the matter, there are conflicting witness
accounts of the behavior of the July 21 attackers. Some fled after the
bombs failed to explode; at least one, on the bus, was said to have
left the scene before the failed detonation.
The suicide question has major implications not only for the
investigation, but also for the assessment of the terrorist threat
that London faces. If the attacks were a suicide mission, they would
be the first suicide bombings on European soil, and signal a dangerous
new threat. Suicide could indicate a higher level of commitment and
point to the existence within Britain of extremists willing to die for
a cause. If the men were not suicide bombers, some of the most basic
assumptions of the investigation would change. On one level, the idea
makes the plot less ominous. It is much easier to recruit "mules" who
will carry and deposit explosives than people who are prepared to die.
Several senior officials say a lively debate is under way within the
investigation and wider intelligence circles. Some say the initial
hypothesis that the July 7 attacks were carried out by determined
fanatics willing to die in the name of a radical interpretation of
Islam may have been too simplistic.
"What appeared to be straightforward linear thinking last week doesn't
appear to be so today," said one foreign corporate head and former
senior defense official with access to police information. "There was
the strong feeling after Attack One that these kids must have really
been brainwashed to become suicide bombers. Then the botched Attack
Two happens, and the question now is whether these were dedicated guys
ready to die or stupid guys run by a smart group of people pulling the
The notion makes it more likely that there is an unknown mastermind
who might have organized both attacks, and could still be organizing
others. The British police have been reluctant to publicly declare the
July 7 bombings a suicide mission. Britain's top police officers - Sir
Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, and Peter Clarke, the
head of Scotland Yard's antiterrorist branch - have steadfastly
refused to call the men "suicide bombers" in public.
"Technically they're not suicide bombers," said one police officer
familiar with the investigation. "Scotland Yard has not said they are.
Even if we may think they probably were suicide bombers, the police
have not said this outright."
A senior official of a European intelligence agency said: "The British
from the beginning have had some doubts about the suicide hypothesis
and cannot say exactly whether it is true. Our own analysis is that we
can say that it is not absolutely necessary that this was a suicide
The botched attacks of July 21 have made the debate more urgent. The
July 21 team's lack of sophistication made some investigators reassess
the July 7 bombing team's organization skills. Several investigators
said the July 7 bombers, ranging in age from 18 to 30, might not have
been sophisticated enough to plan a synchronized attack, with three
bombs exploding in the London Underground within 45 seconds.
"I just have a hard time fathoming kids that young being that
sophisticated," one senior intelligence official said.
Another theory, several intelligence and counterterrorism officials
said, is that the men knew there were timers on the bombs, and were
instructed to leave the explosives on the trains at a designated time,
perhaps 9 a.m. "It is possible that they were told the bombs would
blow up at 9:10 a.m. or 9:15 a.m., and they were to stay with them
until 9 a.m.," another official said. The bombs went off at 8:50 a.m.
American investigators are convinced that several of the Sept. 11
hijackers, the so-called muscle who were recruited near the end of the
operation, might not have been told that the four hijacked airplanes
were intended to be used for suicide missions.
In a news conference the day after the first attacks, Sir Ian, the
commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said: "There is nothing to
suggest that there was a suicide bomber involved in this process. On
the other hand, nothing can be ruled out."
Essentially, that view has not changed since then.
In his monthly news conference on Tuesday, Prime Minister Tony Blair
referred to the suicide issue, but as a sweeping hypothetical premise.
"There is no justification for suicide bombing whether in Palestine,
in Iraq, in London, in Egypt, in Turkey, anywhere," he said at one
point. At another point, he said, "Suicide bombing is wrong, whether
it is in Israel, or London or New York."
A spokesperson at Downing Street said Mr. Blair's remarks were
intended to be general comments about suicide bombings, not a
confirmation that the police now believe that the July 7 attacks were
indeed suicide bombings.
"I think he was speaking generally," the spokesperson said. "He has
always said he would leave operational questions to the police to
answer. I think this was a situation where he was asked a question and
he was speaking quite generally about the subject."
The view that the four bombers might have been duped into carrying out
their suicide missions is one that is shared by family members of some
of the men, who have said in interviews that they refuse to believe
that they signed on to carry out a suicide mission.
Shehzad Tanweer's uncle, Bashir Ahmed, 65, said his family had no idea
that the 22-year-old Leeds man who loved cricket and soccer was
planning a suicide attack. "It must have been forces behind him," Mr.
The family of Germaine Lindsay, 19, also said they were stunned. His
wife, Samantha Lewthwaite, 22, said her late husband was "a loving
husband and father" who had shown "absolutely no sign of doing this
Ms. Lewthwaite added, "We are still in shock about the news we have
been given and are trying to understand why anyone, never mind
Germaine, would do such a thing."
Mark Baillie, the terror and defense expert at the Center for Defense
and International Security Studies, said the debate about whether the
July 7 bombers intended to die "is something that everybody is
beginning to talk about."
"There are several anomalies that lead you to think that they were not
suicide bombers," Mr. Baillie said. "It would have been very
interesting if they were tricked."
Jonathan Allen and Hélène Fouquet contributed reporting for this
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