By BETH GARDINER, Associated Press Writer
23 minutes ago
LONDON – British investigators face the daunting task of scrutinizing hours of closed circuit television footage, sifting through tons of wreckage and analyzing tiny traces of explosives to find those responsible for Thursday’s deadly explosions in London. Time may not be on their side.
Three weeks after bombs struck four Madrid commuter trains last year, police found some of the plotters in a safe house with more explosives, apparently planning fresh attacks.
«There is real passion now in the police to make arrests quickly before further attacks can be carried out,» said Charles Shoebridge, a security analyst and former counterterrorism intelligence officer.
«While (the bombers) are at large now, a second attack is very likely, because there’s no reason for them not to, they’ve broken their cover,» he said. «They will now try to exploit whatever freedom they have left» to kill again, because it is likely they will eventually be caught, Shoebridge said.
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the bombings — which came the day after London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympics and as British Prime Minister Tony Blair prepared to open a G-8 summit in Scotland — have the «hallmarks of an al-Qaida-related attack.» But there was no credible claim of responsibility.
A group calling itself «The Secret Organization of al-Qaida in Europe» said in an Internet statement that it staged the blasts in retaliation for Britain’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Police said they couldn’t confirm the authenticity of the statement, which appeared on a Web site popular with Islamic extremists.
Another unanswered question was whether any of the London attacks — one on a bus and three on the subway — may have been carried out by suicide bombers, as is often the case in Israeli bus bombings and in Iraq. Police were investigating that possibility.
ABC News reported on its Web site that British officials had told American law enforcement authorities that two unexploded bombs had been found in London, but London’s Metropolitan Police said it knew nothing of any such find.
In the March 11, 2004, attacks on four commuter trains in Madrid, which left 191 dead, the bombers left backpacks aboard the trains and used cell phones to detonate them.
The phones gave investigators a lucky break that led them to some of the attackers. One bomb failed to go off, and the subscriber identity card inside that phone eventually led investigators to the suspects, although they haven’t found the plot’s masterminds.
After New York’s World Trade Center was attacked with a truck bomb in 1993, one of the conspirators gave investigators a hand by trying to retrieve a deposit he’d put down on the vehicle destroyed in the blast.
Police in London may get a break like that too, but they also have a lot of hard slogging ahead of them.
London is crammed with closed-circuit television cameras — 1,800 monitor its train stations, 6,000 watch the Underground network and some buses also have cameras.
Shoebridge said detectives will have to watch thousands of hours of tape — slowly and carefully. The system is only loosely coordinated, with cameras run by local authorities, traffic agencies and other bodies, making the task even more unwieldy.
Investigators will try to find on tape the point at which bombs were placed, then trace back the movements of the person they identify as the bomber, an arduous task that could involve hundreds of cameras, Shoebridge said. Most of London’s Underground cameras are in stations, not subway cars.
Shoebridge said investigators also will check records of cell phone calls made in the bombed areas just before the explosions, a job that might be difficult if investigators can’t determine where bombers boarded the trains.
Authorities will likely look at the ways someone might obtain explosives, or the means to make them, talking to chemical suppliers and others who might provide leads.
Forensic evidence will be key. If any of the perpetrators were suicide bombers, there will be body parts to examine for clues. If not, detectives will search for DNA or fingerprints.
They’ll also have to examine recent intelligence — including the phone and e-mail intercepts routinely collected as part of anti-terrorism work — to see if any clues were missed or if any of the communications contain information that looks significant in hindsight, Shoebridge said.
Old interviews with informants will be re-examined and new ones conducted.
In the end, authorities will have to identify «whatever failings exist, if any, in the intelligence system that allowed this attack to take place, because it is an intelligence failure,» Shoebridge said.
By BETH GARDINER, Associated Press Writer