The bombing attacks on London’s Underground railway and a double-decker bus Thursday, July 7, were the work of a team of 6-8 terrorists wearing explosive vests.
This is the first conclusion drawn by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s terror experts from the type and strength of the explosives used and the way the bombers, in three out of the four attacks, were able to deliberately spread the damage to secondary vehicles outside their primary targets.
The explosion on the trains at Kings Cross and Edgware Road stations- and the bomb that wrecked the bus at Tavistock Square – were also aimed at hitting passing trains and cars to maximize the casualty toll. To accomplish this, the bomber needed to watch out for moving vehicles and judge the exact moment for detonating the explosive with zero chances of surviving the blast.
The bombs were not large, smaller than the ones that were planted on the Madrid trains in March 2004, because they had to be worn on the terrorists’ bodies without arousing suspicion. In Madrid they were left in bags.
At the big Kings Cross station, two trains were caught in the blast; at Edgware Road station, three trains were hit.
As for the bus, two suicide bombers sat at the back of the bus well separated, ready to detonate their vests as soon as they saw a second bus came close through the rear window. They then both tripped the cords on their bombs. The bus’s upper deck was ripped off and hurled in the air. Had there been one bomber, only one side of the bus would have been wrecked.
Three possible means of penetration
These details are vital leads for the investigation. Scotland Yard and British anti-terrorist agencies must determine how a large team of suicide killers reached central London without prior warning from the British and foreign intelligence agencies engaged in the war on al Qaeda. There could be three explanations:
1. A home-grown covert Muslim cell that escaped the notice of the anti-terrorist intelligence network that was spread across Britain after the 9/11 al Qaeda attacks in America.
2. It was the work of an al Qaeda suicide team which had never been to the UK before and had no previous ties with local terrorist cells. They simply mingled with the stream of summer tourists entering the country. This team would have been made up of three groups, one to collect intelligence, select targets and transport the killers to the scenes of attack; one to smuggle in the bomb-vests and finally, the actual suicide bombers.
3. The terrorists arrived in London singly without attracting attention and found an intelligence infrastructure and explosives already set up by a local cell unknown to the British security authorities.
More than a few British Muslims have spent time in Arab countries studying at religious institutions whose curriculum includes military training and bomb-making instruction.
Two such British Muslim suicide killers, Asif Mohammed Hanif and Omar Khan Sherif, were dispatched to Tel Aviv to blow up the American embassy on April 30, 2003, When they saw the building was a fortress, they switched to an attack on the neighboring Mike’s Bar.
A joint British-Israeli probe traced the two bombers’ movements from London to Damascus where they studied and were recruited at a medressa run by al Qaeda’s adherents. The pair picked up their bomb vests from Hizballah agents in the Gaza Strip which they entered as British tourists supporting the Palestinian cause.
The London bombers’ modus operandi recalls that of Hanif and Sherif two years ago.
Vital intelligence on al Qaeda is still short
It could take weeks if not months before forensic lab. tests come up with a lead to the identities of the suicide killers – unless of course video cameras were placed strategically enough to pick them out. Even then, the quality may not be good enough. But with luck, the British police have been able to name the wanted men, just as the Boston police were helped by a convenient video camera in September 2001.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s terror experts point to the dangerous tendency to underrate al Qaeda that has developed in the West since early 2005.
One, the organization is being treated as a vestigial movement whose survivors are on the run. This picture is false. The men on the run are the first generation who fought in Afghanistan and have been superseded by “the third generation” of al Qaeda operatives. Usually under 30, they have constructed a new terrorist infrastructure whose tentacles stretch from Pakistan through Iran and the Persian Gulf to the Middle East, East Africa, West Africa and the Balkans.
Two, many experts in the United States and Britain deduced from al Qaeda’s non-repetition of its 9/11 attacks that the terror group lacked the strength to organize a new penetration of the United States or any other Western country for large-scale attacks.
A glance at the terrorist organizations efforts since early 2004 uncovers an impressive catalogue of mass murder: the 2004 Madrid rail bombings and the Sinai attacks later that year, the almost daily terrorist attacks on American-led coalition and Iraqi forces and civilians, the resurgence in Afghanistan, the atrocities perpetrated in Saudi Arabia.
While Western opinion is fed up with hearing about Iraq, al Qaeda’s men are gaining valuable combat experience and new ways to stage mass-casualty terror attacks.
Three, notwithstanding intelligence overhauls and numerous inquiry commissions set up since 9/11, the United States and its Western allies have no better intelligence on al Qaeda than they had before 2001. Achievements have improved at the local level in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and parts of Pakistan as a result of US intelligence or military forces directly confronting al Qaeda in these places. But data is still lacking for determining who ordered a certain Yemeni or Saudi cell fighting in Iraq to relocate to Saudi Arabia or the Balkans or establishing why it obeys the order.
It was this intelligence lacuna that al Qaeda exploited to plant its suicide bombers on the London underground and bus on Thursday July 7.