Nabbing the London Bombers
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MARGARET WARNER: For more on today’s developments, we turn to Los Angeles Times reporter Sebastian Rotella in London.
Mr. Rotella, welcome, thanks for being with us. How did British authorities zero in on the men arrested in London today?
SEBASTIAN ROTELLA: Thank you, it’s a pleasure. It was a combination of evidence and intelligence. Don’t forget that they had made a dozen arrests in recent days including a key one — one of the four bombers who was being sought who was arrested in Birmingham.
There was also monitoring of cell phone traffic that was very important, particularly into capturing the one suspect who was arrested today in Rome.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Explain the man and the connection with Hussein Osman, the man arrested in Rome today, and how did they actually manage to nab him, or Italian authorities did the very same day?
SEBASTIAN ROTELLA: As far as we can tell, he first hides in Britain as the others did, but at some point three or four days after the attacks he escapes by train through France, to Rome. But he is making phone calls on his cell phone that was already being monitored by the British authorities.
So the British pass on the cell phone to their colleagues on the continent, who will pick it up and are monitoring his progress, because the cell phone activates as the train moves. And they key in on him.
He was being — he was hiding at the apartment of a brother he had who lived in Rome.
MARGARET WARNER: Now as you mentioned earlier, some two dozen people have been actually arrested in the past week. How extensive an operation, how extensive a network does Scotland Yard think the 7/21 bomb plot really involved?
SEBASTIAN ROTELLA: Well, that’s the classic question about these kinds of terror cases. And oftentimes we assume there’s a lot more than meets the eye and we have to be careful about that assumption.
It could be as limited as this group and there’s some information today that — that this group claims that this was pretty self-contained. But the suspicion, obviously, is that there’s some kind of coordinator, that there’s possibly a bomb maker beyond them, and what we really have to find out about also is the infrastructure.
They were hiding. There were a lot of different sort of places they were hiding in Britain and this one in Italy. But it’s not clear we’re talking about other terror operatives who were part of a network, or more family and relatives who felt obliged or who were convinced to take them in.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, and another connection question. The men arrested today were all of East African descent. The men believed to be the July 7 bombers were all of South Asian, mostly Pakistani descent. Does Scotland Yard believe these two plots were connected?
SEBASTIAN ROTELLA: That is what everyone tends to think. Certainly there’s the obvious similarities of the targets, the methods, the type of explosives. And, in fact, one of the four bombers in the first attack is a convert of Jamaican origin which brings it a little closer to this group of East African dissent.
But the London group is very different. As you say, we are talking about people from Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, who aren’t born in a country that the others were, but who come as children or teenagers and are radicalized really in the London mosque scene.
So they’re still really looking to see if there’s a connection and how it would work. The Pakistani group clearly have connections to Pakistan and to a network that already had been detect approximated in previous cases. They’re looking hard to see how they might fit together with this very different London group.
MARGARET WARNER: And also the police warned today, warned the public there would be more police activity. Do they mean they have more work to do just on the 7/7 and 7/21 plots or do they think there are other cells planning other attacks?
SEBASTIAN ROTELLA: They have to assume, I think, that there could be other cells, especially if they are operating on the premise that these two were connected and that there’s a larger international network manipulating cells in different cities and even individuals in different countries.
But there’s a lot of work to do because there are so many questions to ask about bomb makers, mastermind, coordinators, connections between the two and so on.
MARGARET WARNER: And finally, and briefly before we go, you broke the story about the arrest in Zambia, you broke the story yesterday of a man named Haroon Rashid Aswat. Who is he and why is he considered significant?
SEBASTIAN ROTELLA: He’s a very interesting figure who clearly appears to be linked to al-Qaida and has been for years in the London extremist circle in particular; both the British and American authorities are interested in him and are in Zambia trying to figure out who gets him.
There was telephone contact between a phone associated with him and some of the July 7 bombers. So there is the automatic suspicion that he could have played some coordinating role.
But there’s also questions about whether he was using that telephone, and we’ll see, obviously, if the Americans end up getting him because they have a case against him that with suggest he isn’t considered that significant a figure in the London plot.
But he’s someone who’s very well traveled and the African connection, he has been in Africa in recent years, which is, again, interesting, given what we’re seeing unfold today.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Sebastian Rotella in London, thank you so much.
SEBASTIAN ROTELLA: Thank you.