London bombs suggest local but well-equipped cell
By Mark Trevelyan and Mike Holden
LONDON (Reuters) – Suspected al Qaeda militants behind the
London bombings may well have come from a previously unknown
local cell and yet had access to military explosives, European
security officials familiar with the probe said.
“The explosives appear to be of military origin, which is
very worrying,” said Christophe Chaboud, head of the French
Anti-Terrorism Coordination Unit and one of five top officials
sent by Paris to London immediately after Thursday’s attacks.
“We’re more used to cells making home-made explosives with
chemicals. How did they get them?” he said in an interview with
Le Monde newspaper.
“Either by trafficking, for example, in the Balkans, or
they had someone on the inside who enabled them to get them out
of a military establishment.”
Chaboud’s comments went further than London police, who
have only said so far that the bombs contained less than 10 lb.
(4.5 kg) each of “high explosives” and were small enough to be
carried in rucksacks.
By comparison, the 10 bombs that blew apart four commuter
trains in Madrid last year weighed about 22 lb. (10 kg) each.
The explosive, known as Goma 2 Eco and used in quarrying, had
been stolen from a mine in northern Spain.
Asked about the French comments, a senior London police
spokesman said the explosives were still being examined and
there was no confirmation that they were military in origin.
“We are waiting for the forensic tests,” he said.
London police summoned investigators and intelligence
officials from about 30 countries to a meeting at Scotland Yard
on Saturday to brief them on last Thursday’s bombings which
killed at least 49 people.
A source at a European intelligence agency represented at
the meeting said the attacks were most likely carried out by a
local cell of Islamist militants with no previous track record.
“We think the known Islamists who live in Britain are under
such close observation that they’re limited in their capacity
for action. Against that background, the suspicion is that it’s
a local group,” the source said.
“At the moment there’s no proof, but the thinking is that
Islamists who have been known since Afghanistan or through
other attacks could not have been involved in detail … That
is less suggestive of a big central network.”
Even before the bombings, British officials had expressed
increasing concern about a “homegrown” militant threat, and
suspects held in several foiled plots have been British
The United States has sent FBI forensic specialists to help
British investigators analyze the bomb sites — a vast
challenge because three of the attacks were on underground
trains. The other, on a bus, spread debris over a wide area.
Spanish investigators are also assisting, because of the
similarity between the mode of the attacks and those on Madrid
16 months ago.
Back then, Spanish police obtained an almost immediate
breakthrough by analyzing a bomb which had failed to go off and
tracing the origin of a cellphone whose alarm had been meant to
trigger it. This led to early arrests.
London investigators have had no such breaks, but an
anti-terrorist spokeswoman said the scarcity of updates about
the investigation did not mean there was no progress.
“We wouldn’t want that to come across at all. We are not in
a position to go public with it,” she said.
(Additional reporting by Jon Boyle in Paris)