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“There is no excuse for violence, there is no excuse for looting, there is no excuse for thuggery. … I think this is about sheer criminality,” May said.

In Birmingham — England’s second largest city — police confirmed that officers were dealing with widespread disorder across a large area of the city center.

Police in London issued an apology Monday over their handling of aspects of Duggan’s death, acknowledging that they had failed to inform his parents — instead dealing with two other family members. “It is clear that there are lessons that can be learned,” London's police department said in a statement.

However, the rioting had “changed from a local issue into organized criminality” police deputy assistant commissioner Steve Kavanagh said Monday as he promised a “momentous investigation” to track down the perpetrators.

They were relatively small groups of youths — their heads and faces covered — who used social media such as Twitter, mobile phone text messages and instant messaging on BlackBerry cell phones to organize and keep a step ahead of police. One BlackBerry message Sunday, whose authenticity could not be verified, urged young people from across London to converge on Oxford Circus for “pure terror and havoc & free stuff.”

Once the preserve of businesspeople, BlackBerry handsets are popular with teenagers, thanks to their free, fast instant messaging system.

Blackberry’s manufacturer, Research in Motion, said in a statement: “We feel for those impacted by the riots in London. We have engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can.”

Police said they would be monitoring Twitter feeds and those who incited violence could face arrest.

In the south London neighborhood of Brixton — the scene of riots in the 1980s and 1990s — youths smashed windows, attacked a police car, set fire to garbage bins and stole video games, sportswear and other goods from stores on Sunday night.

Like Brixton, Tottenham is an impoverished area with an ethnically diverse population, a large black community and a history of unrest.

Tottenham was the site of the 1985 Broadwater Farm riots, a series of clashes that led to the fatal stabbing of a police officer and the wounding of nearly 60 others — and underscored tensions between London police and the capital’s black community.

Since then police have made concerted, and fairly successful, efforts to build better relations with London’s ethnic communities. But mistrust still lingers, and the shooting of Duggan — a popular figure in the community — has stirred old animosities.

Few details of Duggan’s death have been released, and in the void rumors have swirled.

Police say Duggan was shot dead when police from Operation Trident — the unit that investigates gun crime in the black community — stopped a cab he was riding in.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission, which is investigating the shooting, said a “non-police firearm” was recovered at the scene, and media reports said a bullet had been found in an officer’s radio.

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