From combined dispatches
LONDON — Anti-terrorist officers arrested nine men in dawn raids yesterday in connection with the botched July 21 attacks on London’s transit system, bringing to 20 the number of persons police have in custody, including one suspected of being a bomber.
With three of the attackers still at large, Britain flooded the city with thousands of officers to reassure the public while also warning of more possible attacks. The deployment was part of the biggest police operation since World War II.
“There are many thousands of police officers trying to ensure the safety of Londoners,” said Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ian Blair — three weeks to the day after the July 7 attacks that killed 52 persons plus four suicide bombers.
Mr. Blair said it is a “a race against time” to find the bombers.
“It does remain possible that those at large will strike again,” he added. “It does also remain possible that there are other cells who are capable and intent on striking again.”
Scotland Yard said the nine men were arrested under the Terrorism Act at two properties in the neighborhood of Tooting, south London, early yesterday. They were being held in a central London police station.
One of the four men suspected of carrying out the failed attacks July 21 was arrested in Birmingham, central England, on Wednesday. Yasin Hassan Omar, 24, was being questioned at a top-security police station in London.
In addition, Haroon Rashid Aswat, 31, was arrested in Zambia, a Zambian official said yesterday. Some media outlets have reported that he is suspected of being the “mastermind” of the London attacks.
Shortly after Mr. Omar’s arrest, members of Birmingham’s City Council and police invited the city’s most senior Muslim cleric to a joint press conference in an attempt to calm fears of racial or religious tension.
With embarrassed police and politicians looking on, Mohammad Naseem, denied that Muslims were responsible for the bombings and he called Prime Minister Tony Blair a liar.
Muslims “all over the world have never heard of an organization called al Qaeda,” the cleric said.
“Muslim bashing seems to be more earnest than the need for national unity and harmony. Terrorists can be anybody — we will have to see [whether the bombers are Muslims]. The process is not open; the process is not transparent; the process is not independent. I do not have faith in the system as it stands,” Mr. Naseem said.
Police reported yesterday there have been more than 230 “faith-related” crimes recorded since the July 7 suicide bombings, compared with 36 during the same period last year.
Mr. Blair, the police commissioner, said that the second wave of attacks, in which four bombs only partially detonated, was not a sign the terrorists had been weakened in any way.
“This is not the B team. These weren’t the amateurs. They made a mistake. They only made one mistake, and we’re very, very lucky,” he said.
Yesterday’s arrests included three Turkish men who worked at and lived above a fast-food restaurant selling halal burgers — made with meat slaughtered according to Islamic dietary laws.
The restaurant owner, who gave his name as Ali, declined to identify the men but said they were ages about 26, 30 and 40.
Six other men were arrested from a nearby apartment.