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British police arrest 7 more suspects in bombing probe

Beth Gardiner Associated Press

LONDON – Police arrested seven people Sunday during a raid on an apartment in southern England, bringing to 21 the number in custody in the relentless hunt for accomplices in the failed July 21 transit bombings.

Investigators determined to prevent more attacks also are investigating possible ties between two of the bombing suspects and Saudi Arabia, British newspapers reported. Police are searching for anyone who may have recruited and directed the attackers and built the explosives.

Police arrested the six men and one woman during a search of two buildings in Brighton, on the southern coast, said a Metropolitan Police spokeswoman, speaking on condition of anonymity because her department does not allow her to give her name. So far, 18 people have been arrested in Britain and three in Italy.

She said police believe more people are at large who were involved in the July 21 attacks, in which four bombs partly exploded, and in the deadly July 7 suicide bombings.

Both sets of attacks targeted three subway trains and a double-decker bus. All the July 7 attackers are believed dead; police have four suspects in custody whom they believe planted the explosives July 21.

“It’s extremely likely there will be other people (who were) involved in harboring (suspects), financing and making the devices,” the police spokeswoman said.

Key suspects are being interrogated in London in relation to the failed July 21 attempts, police said. In Italy, authorities are pursuing contacts linked to Osman Hussain, 27, who was arrested in Rome on Friday and is suspected of trying to bomb the Shepherd’s Bush subway station in west London.

Police have discovered that Hussain called Saudi Arabia hours before his arrest, the Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported. Meanwhile, the Sunday Times said another bombing suspect – Ethiopian-born Briton Muktar Said Ibrahim, 27 – took a monthlong trip to Saudi Arabia in 2003, telling friends he was receiving training there.

Britain was facing questions about how Hussain, also known as Hamdi Issac, slipped out of the country during a massive police manhunt. Italy’s Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu says Hussain left London’s Waterloo station by train on July 26.

The Home Office said immigration officials generally do not check the passports of people leaving the country. However, police had asked that checks be made at many departure points after the attacks, including Waterloo, a Home Office spokesman said on condition of anonymity.

Police had released closed-circuit television images of the four bombing suspects shortly after the attacks, but the picture of Hussain, whose name was not made public until his arrest, was grainy and his face difficult to see. Police put out a clearer image of him a day after his escape.

Italian news reports said Hussain’s real name is Hamdi Issac and that he is from Ethiopia, not Somalia. He falsely listed his country of origin as Somalia when he applied for asylum and citizenship in Britain, the reports said.

Hussain was arrested Friday in Rome at the apartment of his brother Remzi Issac, who also was detained.

On Sunday, Italian police detained a second brother of Hussain’s, Fati Issac, for questioning, the Italian news agency ANSA said. Fati Issac is accused of destroying or hiding documents sought by investigators.

Britain has requested Hussain’s extradition, which his court-appointed lawyer, Antonietta Sonnessa, said he is likely to fight.

She said Hussain acknowledges his involvement in the attack but claims the planted bombs were intended not to kill anyone but only to draw attention. Italian news reports had said the bombers were angry about the Iraq war.

“He has justified his actions as a form of protest against the fact that civilians are suffering in wars at the present time,” Sonnessa told Britain’s ITV News.

“He is not at all a violent person, and made sure he would not cause any damage, injuries or deaths,” she said. “His action was to explain to the British public how difficult life is in countries where war is a daily event.”

Hussain also told investigators his cell was not linked to either al-Qaida or those who carried out the July 7 suicide attack, Italian news reports said.

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