Friday, July 29, 2005

LONDON — At least one suspect in the July 21 failed bombing in London, who in all likelihood had been prepared to die for Islam, got cold feet yesterday when police showed up at his London hide-out.

“I’m scared. How do I know you won’t shoot me?” one of two cornered men called out in response to two heavily armed antiterrorist officers who had just flooded their sixth-floor apartment with tear gas before shouting: “Give yourselves up.”

London police had finally closed in on two of the four suspects they had hunted for eight days and nights since bombs carried by four terrorists failed to fully explode on the London transit system.

Exhausted from around-the-clock work sifting through clues, videos, electronic eavesdropping and tips, they feared a final, violent confrontation, perhaps with self-detonated explosions.

The tactic had been used before, by Muslim terrorists last year who had bombed trains in Madrid and killed nearly 200 people. A senior antiterrorist officer died attempting to make an arrest.

Instead, the men who had planned to kill scores of Londoners and presumably themselves, emerged meekly, coughing and sputtering onto the balcony of their West London hide-out.

Police, according to an account by one neighbor, assured the men they would not shoot if they emerged with their hands up and in their underwear.

“Why in my underwear?” the woman recalled the fugitive asking.

“We need to be sure you don’t have any explosives on you,” the police said.

The scene, captured live on video by London’s ITN news network, was supplemented later by audio recordings of the tense 20-minute standoff.

The climax began as police hurled stun grenades into the apartment.

“You must do what we say. … You will be safe if you do what you’re told,” shouted police.

Then, the orders became even more tense. “Mohammed, I’ve told you twice. I want you to leave the flat.”

Two bare-chested men then emerged onto the apartment’s balcony, with a police marksman taking aim.

The only setback to the armed arrest was when police tried to force open a door of the apartment below — presumably so they could cover their sniper team.

The entry had to be aborted after two little children, a boy and a girl, emerged onto the balcony, the boy attempting to pet the police dog.

With all four bombing suspects in custody, plus a mysterious “fifth man” also arrested, police can concentrate on probing links between two attacks — one on July 7 in which 52 persons and four bombers died and the July 21 attack in which four bombs failed to fully explode.

The evidence linking the two groups of terrorists so far came from souvenir photographs taken of two separate white-water rafting expeditions.

At least two of the first set of bombers were clearly pictured in a raft on a river in Wales.

Another rafting photo taken four hours later shows two men who resemble two of the July 21 bombers.

Police think other terrorist cells exist in London, waiting to strike.

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