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3 held in London bombings inquiry

Arrests and searches are part of officials' pursuit of leads in the '05 plot.

March 23, 2007|Janet Stobart and Kim Murphy | Times Staff Writers

LONDON — Three men were arrested Thursday in connection with the July 2005 explosions on the London transport system that marked suicide terrorism's deadly debut in Western Europe.

British police did not say what role the men were believed to have played in the bombings, which killed 52 people. Officials described the arrests as part of a "painstaking investigation" aimed at learning the true scope of the attack plot.

A series of searches was being carried out in East London and in Leeds, the northern English city where three of the four suicide bombers had lived.

Authorities hinted that they were not halting any imminent terrorism plot but pursuing leads about the planning, logistics and funding of the subway and bus bombings.

"As we have said previously, we are determined to follow the evidence wherever it takes us to identify any other person who may have been involved, in any way, in the terrorist attacks," the Metropolitan Police said in a statement.

"We need to know who else, apart from the bombers, knew what they were planning. Did anyone encourage them? Did anyone help them with money or accommodation?"

Police said the men, who were not identified, ranged in age from 23 to 30. They were arrested on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.

Two of the men were detained shortly before 1 p.m. at Manchester Airport while preparing to board a flight to Karachi, Pakistan. The third was arrested in Leeds, where searches of five houses were underway. Three of the bombers, Mohamed Sidique Khan, 30; Shahzad Tanweer, 22; and Hasib Hussain, 18, lived in the Leeds neighborhood of Beeston, where Thursday's searches were being conducted. All were natives of Britain.

The fourth, Jamaican-born Germaine Lindsay, 19, lived in Aylesbury.

Police were also searching a business and an apartment in East London.

It was unclear why the suspects were preparing to fly to Pakistan. Two of the bombers, Khan and Tanweer, had visited Pakistan, and authorities suspect they may have met with Al Qaeda figures there.

But no clear links to the Al Qaeda terrorist network, or sources of funding, have been identified. For nearly two years, investigators have been tracking phone records, video and other leads in an attempt to answer fundamental questions about the nature and scope of the plot.

"This remains a painstaking investigation with a substantial amount of information being analyzed and investigated," the police said.

Police probably are focusing on technical aspects of the bombing, as well as how the bombers got their training, said Paul Rogers, professor at the University of Bradford's Department of Peace Studies, who often writes on terrorism issues.

"They want to know whether this was a relatively small and isolated group, or whether it had wider support in Islamic communities in Britain, or wider connections to Al Qaeda," he added. "My guess is the police are still trying to fathom this out."

Police have arrested an estimated 1,000 terrorism suspects since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. About half were released without charge. Terrorism charges have been filed in about 100 cases. No one has been charged in connection with the transport bombings.

Authorities said Thursday's arrests were a "preplanned, intelligence-led" operation directed by the Metropolitan Police's counter-terrorism command and the West Yorkshire police.

The detention at the airport was carried out almost unnoticed, and in Leeds, the operation was being handled by community police officers.

Officers appeared in part to be seeking to avoid the political complaints that have accompanied past anti-terrorism operations, which have featured roadblocks and officers in heavy gear.

Stobart reported from London and Murphy from Belfast, Northern Ireland.

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