July 2, 2007 in Nation/World

Terror arrests mount in U.K.

Janet Stobart and Sebastian Rotella Los Angeles Times
 

LONDON – British police arrested a fifth suspect Sunday in their nationwide manhunt for the perpetrators of failed bomb attacks in central London and at the Glasgow airport.

Authorities also searched a suspicious vehicle outside the Scottish hospital where they had taken a Glasgow suspect, who suffered severe burns when he drove a Jeep Cherokee into the glass entrance to the main terminal Saturday.

Security officers also temporarily shut a portion of London’s Heathrow Airport on Sunday to investigate reports of a suspicious package.

The new arrest came in Liverpool, where a 26-year-old man was taken to the high-security Paddington Green police station in London. Liverpool police said the arrest was in conjunction with the two car bombs discovered Friday.

TV reports said one key suspect remained at large.

Clues were surfacing almost hourly, and links between the London and Glasgow incidents were “becoming clearer,” said counterterrorism chief Peter Clarke in Glasgow.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, himself a Scotsman, urged British residents to remain calm even as the nation’s terror alert rating remained at “critical,” the highest level. Brown told the BBC he recognized the present terror threat as “long term and sustained.”

“(But) it’s very important that we the British people send a message to terrorists that they will not be allowed to undermine our British way of life.”

On Sunday, tens of thousands of people attended a London concert organized by Princes William and Harry as a tribute to their late mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, on the day she would have turned 46. The concert, which featured performances by Duran Duran and Elton John, was guarded by armed police. Normally a rarity in Britain, armed officers patrolled public places across London on Sunday and are expected to remain on the streets indefinitely.

Security was stepped up Sunday at airports and train stations, and spot checks on cars began around the country.

In Glasgow, police continued to hold the two men who drove the Jeep that exploded as it hit the doorway to Terminal One of Glasgow International Airport. The driver was in critical condition in the city’s Royal Alexandra Hospital, suffering from burns over much of his body. The passenger is in custody.

According to Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, indications were “that these people had not been in Scotland for any length of time.”

TV reports said the suspects were of Middle Eastern nationalities. Neighbors interviewed by the BBC described them as quiet people who had lived in the neighborhood a few weeks.

The two people arrested on the M6 highway in Northern England early Sunday were described as a man and a woman in their mid-20s. Police made the arrest after Saturday night’s closure of the city’s Liverpool John Lennon Airport, where they investigated a suspicious car.

By Sunday afternoon, both Glasgow and Liverpool airports were open under tight security. Similar security measures are in force at other airports.

At Glasgow airport, the burnt-out Jeep was removed from the shattered doorway of Terminal One on Sunday and taken for forensic tests. Burned-out canisters of liquid gas were found inside the vehicle.

In central England, police searched houses in Newcastle-Under-Lyme in Staffordshire. Neighbors told British reporters the man arrested on the M6 highway lived in one of the houses and he was a physician from Lebanon who worked at a local hospital.

Clarke, who traveled to Glasgow to help coordinate the investigation, called for public support Sunday and was upbeat about the “wider investigation.”

“We are learning a great deal about the people who were involved in the attacks in Glasgow and the attempted attacks in central London, the links between the three attacks are becoming ever clearer,” he said.

The investigation has been propelled by intelligence recovered from a mobile phone that suspects tried to use as a remote triggering device in a car bomb left outside a London nightclub, officials said Sunday.

The Mercedes failed to explode when the suspects called the mobile phone rigged to propane- and gasoline-based bombs, officials said. That gave police crucial leads, along with images from security cameras and evidence gathered at the Glasgow airport.

Although the suspects made mistakes that undermined both attacks, police were alarmed at how close they came to pulling off deadly bombings in a country where security forces have been on high alert the past several years.

“We have been incredibly lucky twice,” a British security official said Sunday.

Investigators believe the suspects in London left two explosives-packed Mercedeses near a nightclub in a plan to set off a first explosion, draw emergency services and spectators to the scene and then set off the second, the official said.

The method of staggered multiple bombings is often used by insurgents in Iraq and has been employed by Basque separatists in Spain.

“The operation in London could have been as in Baghdad, where you cause as much damage as you can by attracting security services with the first bomb, then hit them with a second,” the security official said.

Investigators believe the suspects arrested on the highway had direct links to the London plot, said sources close to the investigation. The propane cylinders found in the two cars in London and the Jeep used to ram the Glasgow airport were nearly identical, sources said.

The Glasgow attack does not appear to have been well-planned, officials and analysts said.

“I am not sure how much thought went into that,” the security official said.

“On Sunday night, security officials emphasized they would do whatever possible to ensure public safety.

Transport Police Chief Andy Trotter announced from a central London station that British Transport Police would “do everything we possibly can to make people safe in their journeys to work tomorrow across the country.”


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