May 11, 2006

UK spies had encountered two London bombers

By Andrew Gray and Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) - British security services had come
across two men who went on to carry out last year's July 7
suicide bomb attacks on London but did not believe they posed
an urgent threat, a parliamentary report said on Thursday.

Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer were among four
British Islamist militants who set off rucksack bombs on three
underground trains and a double-decker bus, killing 52 people
and wounding more than 700.

The parliamentary panel investigating the bombings -- the
first suicide attacks in Western Europe -- said it was not
clear if they had any direct link to al Qaeda. The committee's
chairman said he suspected the plot had been hatched in

The intelligence and security committee did not blame
officials for not pursuing Khan and Tanweer, who featured on
the margins of another terrorism probe, saying there was no
indication at that time they were significant.

Home Secretary (interior minister) John Reid stressed the
attackers would have been hard to detect in advance, saying
they used simple ingredients for the bombs and the operation
probably cost less than 8,000 pounds ($15,000).

"The willingness of these men to use suicide bombing as
their method and to attack vulnerable, civilian targets ...
made them doubly difficult to defend against," he told

But opposition politicians demanded an independent inquiry
into the bombings, which took place as British Prime Minister
Tony Blair hosted a summit of Group of Eight world leaders in

"At the time of the attack, and in the immediate aftermath,
the government were claiming that the bombers were previously
unknown to the authorities because they had no previous
criminal or terrorist activity," senior Conservative David
Davis said.

"We now know that to be untrue."


Some relatives of the July 7 victims said nothing less than
a full public inquiry would satisfy them.

"The bottom line is it's about lessons for the future," Rob
Webb, whose sister Laura died in one of the underground train
attacks, told BBC television.

Reid said he understood the relatives' desire for answers
but a new inquiry would only distract the security services.

British officials have warned that another attack is almost
certain at some point and the committee said security services
had thwarted three more plots since last July.

In a video statement released after his death, Khan hailed
al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden as a hero and said attacks
would go on as long as "atrocities" were committed against

The panel noted Khan and Tanweer spent time in Pakistan and
it was likely they had had contact with al Qaeda figures. But
it said the extent of any al Qaeda role in the attacks was

"My instinct is that these were home-grown plots,"
committee chairman Paul Murphy said.

"In some ways that's very worrying -- the fact that these
plots can be hatched in our great cities in England and they
can come up with fairly simple ways of making bombs and
plotting together to kill so many people."

The committee said the attacks had shown it was important
for police and intelligence agencies to work together to tackle
the threat posed by the "radicalization of British citizens."

Some analysts have said Blair's backing for the U.S.-led
war in Iraq helped radicalize some British Muslims. Reid
insisted there was no sign the war was a factor for the July

Authorities had lowered the general threat level to Britain
two months before the attacks but the panel said that decision
was "not unreasonable" as they were unaware of the plot.

(Additional reporting by Adrian Croft, Madeline Chambers
and Kate Holton)