Timing devices found in debris
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Posted on Sat, Jul. 09, 2005
Toll reaches 50 in London attacks : Timing devices found in debris argue against suicide bombers
By Tracy Wilkinson
LOS ANGELES TIMES
LONDON - Struggling against heat and rancid air, emergency crews Friday tried to reach bodies entombed in London's famed Underground as the death toll in Thursday's terrorist bomb blasts was certain to climb past 50.
Forensic specialists searched through the bloody, charred debris of three other bomb sites as they tried to determine who carried out the coordinated attacks.
Investigators said each of the bombs used in the blasts appeared to contain no more than 10 pounds of explosives and was small enough to be carried in a knapsack.
The bloodiest attack on British soil since World War II paralyzed London's vast transportation network, disrupted a summit of the leaders of the world's richest countries and expanded another front in global terrorism.
As this city fought to heal itself, desperate families embarked on searches for missing relatives.
In smaller numbers than usual, Londoners went back to work Friday, boarding double-decker buses and underground trains like those hit in Thursday's bombings, which also wounded some 700 people.
Scores remained hospitalized with burns, cuts and severed limbs. The official death toll stood at 50.
Police were on patrol outside many of London's mosques during Friday prayers, bracing for a potential backlash against Muslims.
The British government said it suspects Islamic terrorists were behind the bomb blasts, and the Web site assertions of a group claiming to have committed the acts on behalf of al-Qaida were gaining currency.
Counterterrorism officials vowed to wage a manhunt of unprecedented proportion.
Police were reviewing scores of surveillance tapes taken from cameras in the subway system and interviewing hundreds of witnesses.
It "is blindingly obvious (that) there is likely to still be a cell" of terrorists active in the United Kingdom, Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Ian Blair said. "We must remain vigilant," he added, calling on the public to cooperate in the investigation.
The driver of the No. 30 bus where 13 people were killed said Friday that his bus was diverted in the chaos following the earlier blasts.
That might have thrown off the timing for the person believed to have been transporting the bomb, causing the payload to explode before the intended destination.
"There were many people trying to get on the bus at once," driver George Psaradakis, 49, said on his company's Web site.
"Suddenly there was a bang, then carnage. Everything seemed to happen behind me."
There has been speculation over whether the bus explosion, in contrast to the blasts on the subway cars, involved a suicide bomber, which would be the first such incident in Britain.
Investigators say a timing device may have been found in the bus debris, suggesting that the bombing was not meant to be a suicide mission.
Fearing the collapse of a tunnel on the stricken Piccadilly Line, authorities said Friday they still had not removed the tangle of bodies in the crippled train more than 100 feet below street surface between Russell Square and King's Cross station.
They said they were confident, however, that there were no additional survivors.
The smashed carriage is at least 500 yards within the tunnel, making access difficult. Work in the heated, cramped, rat-infested space can be sustained only for short periods.
Emergency crews had to shore up the roof and walls of the tunnel to continue the search and recovery operation.
"They are very challenging scenes," said Andy Hayman, assistant police commissioner.
Once work inside the Russell Square train is completed, the death toll is expected to increase significantly but not reach "triple digits," Blair added.
The police officials spoke at a news conference.
Hayman said timing devices were discovered in the debris. The bombs appeared to have been placed on the floor of the subway cars, suggesting that they were planted and not attached to suicide bombers.
The evidence so far suggests that terrorists used bombs smaller but similar to the ones in attacks on the Madrid, Spain, train system last year, in which 191 people were killed.
Authorities were able to trace the Madrid bloodshed to a group of Islamic extremists primarily from Morocco.
Most of the suspects were caught or killed within weeks of the bombings.
However, several allies of the cell remain at large, including at least one suspect who has had British residency documents.
A team of Spanish detectives was enroute to London on Friday to help with the investigation.
More perplexing in the London carnage is the attack on the double-decker bus.
After saying Thursday that only a handful of people were killed when the blast ripped off the second level of the bus, authorities Friday said they recovered 13 bodies from the crumpled vehicle.
Many of the bodies were badly mutilated, paramedics on the scene said, and blood and pieces of flesh were spewed on the facades of nearby buildings.
There has been widespread speculation that the bus attack was the work of a suicide bomber, or that the person transporting the bomb ended up killing himself inadvertently when the device blew up prematurely, or because he was delayed by the detour of the bus.
The roof of the bus was ripped off nearly an hour after the first subway blast; all three subway explosions were triggered within 26 minutes of one another.
Richard Jones, a man who said he got off the bus just before the blast, told British media he saw man in his mid-20s fidgeting with a bag.
European law enforcement officials briefed by the British said investigators may have recovered body parts belonging to a suspected bomber, which would be an invaluable find in determining the identity of the culprits and tracing their networks.
"The British think they probably have the corpse of a terrorist among the dead on the bus," a senior European official said.
"They are pretty convinced that it is one of the suspects. And that the explosion may have been involuntary or ahead of schedule."
"It's an al-Qaida style attack almost to the point of being a cliche," said Shane Brighton, head of intelligence for the Homeland Security and Resilience Department at the Royal United Service Institute for Defence and Security Studies.
"It was multi-sited, coordinated in time, hit the transportation infrastructure, and was meant to cause a high death count and cause maximum disruption."
Several analysts said those behind the London blasts would count the operation as a victory because they showed their ability to punch the gut of one of the world's most security-conscious capitals and to expose the vulnerabilities of London's vital transportation hub.
Meanwhile, Queen Elizabeth, her son Prince Charles and his wife Camilla spent the day visiting the scores of wounded, as well as those who saved them.
"Those who perpetrate these brutal acts against innocent people should know that they will not change our way of life," the queen said in a speech to the hospital staff.
"I want to express my admiration for the people of our capital city who in the aftermath of yesterday's bombings are calmly determined to resume their normal lives. That is the answer to this outrage."