London Attacks Were Europe's First Suicide Bombings
J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM and Asia Times)
Tuesday was a day of dramatic developments in the hunt for the terrorists responsible for the deadly London bombings, it is now almost certain that the four explosions, which rocked the capital last Thursday, were the work of home-grown suicide bombers. This is the first time Britain, and indeed Western Europe, has experienced such an attack. It is being seen as an alarming development, especially because of its domestic dimension, and has sent a wave of unease across the continent. At this stage London Police authorities will only say that at least one of four suspected men in the terror attacks died in last Thursday's outrage. However, a police source, who did not wish to be identified, has confirmed that all four explosions are extremely likely to be the work of suicide bombers.
The source said, "From the preliminary evidence, and this evidence is quite substantive, it is almost certain that at least three of the four bombers blew themselves up. At this stage, we do not have enough evidence to completely rule out the possibility that the bomber on the King's Cross train might be at large, but indications are that he is also dead."
Police say that the belongings of three of the suspects have been found at three of the blast scenes. The authorities have also confirmed that they arrested a relative of one of the four suspects in West Yorkshire, northern England, and took him to London for questioning. The four bombs, three on the subway and one on a bus, have so far claimed the lives of at least 52 people.
In an earlier GLOCOM article, written on the day of the attack, a source close to the investigation said one of the explosions, the bus blast, was the work of a suicide bomber with the three subway attacks considered possible suicide incidents. The authorities officially tried to play down this possibility until Tuesday's dramatic developments, which saw police raids in northern England and near London.
In the early hours of Tuesday, houses were raided in and around the northern city of Leeds, a "significant amount" of explosive material was discovered and suspect vehicles impounded. At least three of the suspects, believed to be British citizens of Pakistani descent, are from the northern English city of Leeds, a development that has shocked the local community. The identity and origins of the fourth suspect are unclear.
On Wednesday, police confirm the identities of the Leeds trio, and local media reports said the three were aged 18, 22 and 30. An unidentified friend of one of the suspects told the media of his shock at learning that "a regular lad who loved sport" was a suspected suicide bomber. Neighbors also expressed total disbelief and deep shock on hearing the news. One of the suspects was said to be the quietly spoken son of local Pakistani fish and chip shop owner.
Police have revealed that they have CCTV footage of the four men together at London's King Cross station at 08:30, about 20 minutes before the three simultaneous blasts on the subway.
A police source, who has viewed the footage, said, "When you look at these four young men, they seem like just a bunch of ordinary guys going on a hiking trip. They are carrying rucksacks and appear to be acting normally."
On the morning of the attack, it appears the three Leeds suspects travel down on the train to Luton, a town just outside London. There they were joined by a fourth man who is believed to have traveled to the station by car. The four, all carrying rucksacks, took a train to King's Cross station in London, from where they quickly fanned out to commit the attacks.
On Tuesday, explosives were found in a car parked at Luton station, believed to belong to one of the bombers. Experts carried out five controlled explosions on the vehicle and the entire area was cordoned off.
Counterterrorism specialists are saying that it is unlikely that the four young men acted alone. They believe that they must have received expert logistical support, possibly from an overseas al-Qaeda trained operative. Police have launched a manhunt for the ringleader of the group, who they believe may still be at large.
For Europeans, the most alarming aspect of the day's revelations is that the three known suspects all appear to have been regular young men and their families had no idea that they were involved in extremism.
Underlining this fact, it was revealed that within 20 minutes of the London bus bomb blast, the family of the 18 year-old suspected bus suicide bomber rang the emergency casualty line to see if he was among the injured and later reported him missing. The family had absolutely no idea that it was their own son who was the bomber. Britain and Europe are now asking how many more of these seemingly normal young men are in their midst.