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London Attacks

July 21, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT
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RAY SUAREZ: For the latest developments in this fast-moving story, we go to Washington Post reporter Craig Whitlock in London. Craig, late this evening it was reported there have been arrests in the case. What can you tell us about them?

CRAIG WHITLOCK: Well, earlier in the day there were two arrests near Downing Street where Prime Minister Tony Blair works. And the Scotland Yard police did say later that those were not connected to the bombings. Those were unrelated. This evening there are reports of a couple more arrests. But, again, we aren’t entirely sure if they are connected with the bombing directly or possible witnesses or what.

As Scotland Yard officials said earlier tonight, this investigation is unfolding at a very rapid pace. Please remember that, you know, this incident happened only about ten hours ago here in London and, you know, there are police combing the city for what are suspected to be at least four perpetrators here who, unlike the last bombing, are still alive and well. And police are moving very fast to try and track them down.

RAY SUAREZ: Have police come to any conclusions about the objectives of the attacks? Were these devices meant to create the same kind of damage as the July 7 bombings?

CRAIG WHITLOCK: They haven’t come to any conclusions yet, Ray. Again, this is in the very early stages. We aren’t sure if they’re the same kind of explosives or detonators or what. Now, obviously the modus operandi fits a very similar pattern as to what happened on July 7.

You had three bombs, or three attempted bombings, on three subway lines spread across the city as well as one on a bus. I mean, that’s exactly what happened on July 7. These were all coordinated to happen at roughly the same time. Although, again, on July 7 it was at rush hour; this time it was during lunchtime and, of course, this time it didn’t work.

RAY SUAREZ: But was a quantity of explosive found in these cases attached or around or in proximity to what’s presumed to be the detonator?

CRAIG WHITLOCK: We just don’t know. There are witness reports of people carrying rucksacks and that passengers on the subway chased after them. But, again, police have released very few details about what happened. The only — about the only thing they’ve officially confirmed is Sir Ian Blair, the director of Scotland Yard, said that there were unexploded bombs that were recovered.

Now, you know, clearly police are looking at those very carefully and very quickly to see if there are any similarities to the devices on July 7. But as far as details or conclusions, it’s just way too early right now.

RAY SUAREZ: Were they able to get a good description of any of the suspects?

CRAIG WHITLOCK: Well, again, they haven’t said so. But the suspicion is very strong that they were able to get good descriptions. There are many witnesses on these trains and in addition to police coming out and asking witnesses to come forward, asking people who may have had their digital cameras on their cell phones in use, you’ve got to remember that London is covered with closed circuit television cameras throughout the subway system, on the streets, by the bus stops.

And it’s virtually impossible that the people behind this could have gotten into the subways, onto the buses without being spotted. So I think police will be able to figure out relatively quickly who these people were by sight, by videotape. Then it’s a question of tracking them down and were they, in fact, related to the people who were behind July 7 or not.

RAY SUAREZ: London is also one of the world’s largest metropolitan areas. Did it grind to a halt the way it did on July 7?

CRAIG WHITLOCK: Well, you know, it did. Even though only a single person was reported injured and, you know, there was no property damage of any note that was recorded, it did grind London to a halt. This happened at lunchtime, but by rush hour the subway lines were snarled, many of them were shut down, traffic had come to a halt.

Police had, you know, unlined a wide crime scene investigation around each of these four locations. People were desperately trying to get home, get back to work, pick up children from school. You know, while people were orderly about this, it really did create a very vivid sense of chaos that reminded everybody of exactly what happened two weeks ago. No question about that.

RAY SUAREZ: By later in the evening, had the system fully reopened, trains and buses running normally?

CRAIG WHITLOCK: Well, in many parts of the system trains and buses are running normally after people were able to get home for the night. But, of course, many of the lines are shut down. There’s still subway stations that are closed off from two weeks ago where police are still constructing forensic investigations. And I suspect this will clog things up even more. The British police here are very painstaking, very careful when it comes to their forensic investigations.

That’s a legacy from the IRA bombings here in the ’70s and ’80s, and they’re going to take their time in analyzing what happened at these four locations. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they remain closed for some time. Then again, already British officials, including Tony Blair and the mayor of London have said life’s got to go on. They understand that people are anxious and scared, but they also say that the way to show that the results, you know, that the terrorists want won’t happen is to just carry on as best as people can.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, much was said about the resolve of the people of London after July 7. Did this incident strike them a little bit differently? Was there little cracks in that resolve as well?

CRAIG WHITLOCK: Well, that’s a good question, Ray. I think it is sinking in with people here, a sense of vulnerability. I mean, officials had warned that there could certainly be follow-up attacks and that they were very concerned about this and so it doesn’t come as a complete surprise. But I think people here had been hoping for a return to normalcy that they could get on with things and not be looking over their shoulders and looking on the floors of the subways and buses all the time.

But, you know, this is really — you know, this is difficult for people to bear with. I think the British people here tend to be very stoic and like to show that they get along with their business but, you know, boy, it’s a heavy burden on people to know that there’s still this threat out there that hasn’t been eliminated and that this could happen at any time. And, you know, I think this is going to be the way for a while to come now.

RAY SUAREZ: Anything new on the July 7 investigation, which goes on even as this one opens?

CRAIG WHITLOCK: There are some new developments in the July 7 investigation. There have been a number of arrests in Pakistan, and clearly the investigative trail leads overseas. And there’s a lot of attention being paid to links to Pakistan. As you may know, many — of at least three of the four bombers had been in Pakistan in the last year or so.

And there was an individual who police here are looking for and authorities in Pakistan who is a known al-Qaida leader who was actually involved in the setup of a Jihadi training camp in Oregon prior to the Sept. 11 bombings. And investigators think he may be in Afghanistan or Pakistan; they’re not sure. But they very much want to find him because they think he could be involved in this case. They don’t know for sure, but he’s one of the names that have popped up in the last day or two.

RAY SUAREZ: Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post, thanks for being with us.

CRAIG WHITLOCK: Thank you.

RAY SUAREZ: Do the second London bombings fit into a pattern of terrorism? Let’s go to Terence Smith.

TERENCE SMITH: For that, we get two views. Brian Jenkins has written extensively about terrorism and is now director of the National Transportation Security Center at the Mineta Transportation Institute. And Juliette Kayyem is a lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University on national security issues; she’s also a former member of the National Commission on Terrorism.

Welcome to you both. Brian Jenkins, do you discern any pattern in this latest set of bombings?

BRIAN JENKINS: Well, I think the latest bombings in London conform to several patterns that we’ve seen since Sept. 11: First of all, a determination by these groups to continue operations. There have been major operations somewhere in the world — not counting any of the attacks that have occurred in Iraq or Afghanistan or even those in Russia — but on an average of about one every seventy-five days. That’s a pace of operations that is higher than it was prior to Sept. 11.

At the same time, we have seen these operatives, the Jihadists, alter their style of operations in order to avoid the pressure that is being exerted on them by the authorities. They are decentralized, more dispersed, operating in smaller cells below the radar — not giving us the kind of continuing enterprise that is vulnerable to infiltration, reducing the communications that might be intercepted, the various transactions, whether it’s moving people or moving money that might be monitored at frontiers.

TERENCE SMITH: Juliette Kayyem, I wonder what you see as a pattern. I mean, Brian Jenkins notes the statistical average of one every seventy-four days. Of course, this is exactly two weeks after the devastating bombings in London on July 7.

JULIETTE KAYYEM: And it’s also three/one, right, three subways and one bus. This is not unusual. I mean, there’s ways to think about repetition. One is repetition, terrorists want to attack the same place. So we saw an attempted attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, then a successful attack in 2001. So there’s a high-profile place.

Another way to think about it is repetition of an MO or an operational plan. We’re starting to see that with subways. And what this reminded me of today when I started getting the phone calls after the incident today was Richard Reid in December of 2001. Remember him? He attempted to detonate a shoe — the shoe bomber — a bomb in his shoe heading towards America from Europe.

TERENCE SMITH: On an aircraft.

JULIETTE KAYYEM: The purpose of — on an aircraft. The purpose of that detonation — I mean, it would have killed 270 or so people, not the massive impact of 9/11. But it certainly — it would have made people feel completely unsafe and insecure because from the terrorist perspective it would have said, "Look, you think you’ve got airplanes right? You don’t have airplanes right."

And whoever these guys were today, whether they were linked to the guys two weeks ago or whether they’re just some novice group or Team "B" group that sort of sped ahead and tried to do something today, whoever they are, the most important aspect of it is what they tried to say to the British is "You don’t even have the subways right yet so don’t think that you’re safe." And that’s what’s important about Tony Blair said. He didn’t talk about terrorism. He didn’t talk about war. He talked about fear because he knows that that’s exactly what they want to do, whether there was zero deaths or fifty-four deaths or however many.

TERENCE SMITH: Brian Jenkins, from the terrorist point of view, what’s the accomplishment in making people feel unsafe about subways or planes or anything else? It is the nature of terrorism, but what does it accomplish for them?

BRIAN JENKINS: Well, I think that we have to keep in mind that these attacks are not only intended to create fear and alarm, which will cause us to exaggerate the strength of the terrorists and the importance of their cause, but also these attacks are calculated to have effects among their own perceived constituents. These attacks are intended to inspire hope among their perceived constituents, to galvanize the community, to reveal vulnerabilities, to attract recruits, to attract financial contributions. All of these attacks in that sense are recruiting posters.

TERENCE SMITH: Juliette Kayyem, if you had to try to put the message of these attacks into words, what would it be?

JULIETTE KAYYEM: "You’re not safe yet" I guess would be the simple way. And a little bit of a dig on Tony Blair. I mean, this is — the British response to this, and even the press conference you just showed between the two prime ministers is so different from anything that we saw even months after Sept. 11. There’s a — you look at the polling coming out of Britain. Up to 64 percent of British think Prime Minister Tony Blair is somewhat or very responsible for the terrorist attacks.

I mean, the British population views this as sort of linked to the British — or Tony Blair’s actually relationship with George Bush and the war in Iraq. They view it as — they view their vulnerability to Iraq and so there’s a much more sort of policy-oriented discussion going on in Britain. The terrorists by attacking today seemed to be wanting to engage the British public in that conversation. There is a theory going on in Britain right now and I don’t know to what extent it’s true but you certainly are hearing it from British intelligence agencies.

Maybe the bombs didn’t go off because the detonators were bad or because the bombs were bad or because they simply just wanted to make the message that sort of, you know, "Tony Blair you don’t have it right yet." So the political dynamics of this are completely different than they were months after Sept. 11 in America given where the British population is in terms of the war in Iraq.

TERENCE SMITH: Brian Jenkins, do you agree with that? Do you relate this directly to the British involvement in Iraq?

BRIAN JENKINS: Certainly we know that the war in Iraq has had a galvanizing effect. It has provoked anger among many in the Muslim community worldwide and clearly the Jihadists have attempted to exploit it as a feature in their recruiting. If we look at the actual distribution of operations since 9/11, both before the invasion of Iraq and subsequent to the invasion of Iraq, it’s much harder to make the case.

We saw — we have seen attacks against French technicians in Pakistan, against a French tanker in the Red Sea. We’ve seen attacks on German tourists in Tunisia. We’ve seen attacks on Australians in Indonesia, but that was before the war in Iraq. If you look at the distribution, as I say, over time, there is no persuasive evidence that those countries that are members of the coalition are being targeted more than others. If you look at the rhetoric that comes along with the continuing efforts by these people, then clearly the invasion of Iraq has been exploited by them.

JULIETTE KAYYEM: Right.

BRIAN JENKINS: I’m not so sure that the terrorists either on July 7 or today are determined to make a particular point about public transportation. I mean, the fact is we’ve seen numerous attacks over the years on public surface transportation, bombing campaigns in Paris, in Moscow, in Madrid, and now in London.

Public transportation is an attractive target to terrorists because these are public places. They offer easy access to the attackers, anonymity among the crowds of people, concentrations of people in contained environments which enhance the effect of explosives or unconventional weapons. These are, regrettably, attractive killing grounds -

JULIETTE KAYYEM: Right.

BRIAN JENKINS: — for terrorists.

TERENCE SMITH: Juliette Kayyem, the attacks today, obviously, are much reduced in scale, in casualties, or perhaps inept compared to those of two weeks ago. What does that say to you when you begin to try to assess who might be behind it?

JULIETTE KAYYEM: Well, it’s actually good news, the ineptness. I mean, so many of these cases are solved by just mistakes by the terrorists trying to do them. So when you actually think of the Spanish attacks, how was Spain able to break that terrorist plot, which was actually planning another event just days before they were captured or they committed suicide before they were captured. It was because one of the bombs didn’t go off.

I mean, so we benefit, law enforcement and intelligence agencies benefit from such mistakes. So if this is a mistake, if these are detonators that did not go off or bombs that were not good, then we have the evidence to sort of link it and I have no doubt that these gentlemen will be found. The British will remain quiet about where they are in the investigation, just as they did on July 7. We probably won’t hear much from them on this case for a while, maybe a couple days and then arrests will be made. I have sort of no doubt that they have that capacity to sort of, you know, do both cases.

And if I could just quickly pick up on sort of the — exactly Brian’s point about the perception of Iraq only because this is — the debate in Britain right now is also going to be on their counterterrorism laws and we heard both prime ministers talking about that. What Britain is going to do now to sort of stop themselves from being targets is they’re going to try to pass legislation that would criminalize indirect incitement. That’s sort of — it’s so broad. Indirect incitement is, you know, a Muslim cleric saying, "Suicide attacks are good."

And they’re going to try to get a lot of these Muslim clerics out of Britain now. That’s going to be their response to both today and two weeks ago. And I think part of that is because of the perception that these clerics are taking advantage of the war in Iraq, taking advantage of the war in Afghanistan and inciting the British population to basically kill their own.

TERENCE SMITH: All right. I’m afraid we’ll have to leave it there. Juliette Kayyem and Brian Jenkins, thank you both very much.

JULIETTE KAYYEM: Thank you.