British police warn of active terror cells
Authorities arrest 9 new suspects; probe of detainee continues
LONDON -- The police chief warned deadly terror cells could strike any time as thousands of officers flooded the transit system, made more arrests, and grilled suspects yesterday in their biggest investigation ever. Exhausted police faced their greatest challenge since World War II.
With sleeper cells still thought to be active, it's ''a race against time," said the Metropolitan Police commissioner, Sir Ian Blair.
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Police nabbed a terror suspect linked to the deadly July 7 bombings after he crossed into Zambia from Zimbabwe, a Zambian official said. Authorities also arrested nine new suspects in Britain and kept up interrogations of a captured suspect from the July 21 attacks.
''It does remain possible that those at large will strike again," Blair said. ''There are many thousands of police officers trying to ensure the safety of Londoners."
Blair would not say how many of the force's 30,000 officers were on duty yesterday, exactly three weeks since the July 7 bombings -- which killed 56 people including four bombers -- and one week since the botched July 21 bombings.
But he called it ''the largest investigation the [Metropolitan Police] has ever mounted" and ''the greatest operational challenge that the Metropolitan Police service has faced since the Second World War."
Separately, the British Transport Police scrambled their largest-ever deployment to patrol the rail network. Though spokesman Simon Lubin refused to reveal how many officers were deployed, he said 1,300 officers in the capital and about the same number across Britain were working longer hours, and some vacations were canceled.
Blair said his officers were exhausted, with some ''very tired faces" around Scotland Yard. But they were determined as they hunt for three more men suspected of taking part in the July 21 attack and anyone that might have helped them. Police have 20 people in custody.
Though four bombs only partially detonated on three subway trains and a bus, their failure did not signal a weakening of the terrorists, Blair insisted.
''This is not the 'B' team. These weren't the amateurs. They made a mistake," he said. ''They only made one mistake, and we're very, very lucky."
The bombs, made of biodegradable material, had probably weakened by the time of the attack, officials have said.
At a top security London police station, officers interrogated Yasin Hassan Omar, 24, a Somali citizen with British residency who is suspected of carrying out the failed July 21 attack at the Warren Street Station. Under police guidelines, the interrogation sessions would last for about six hours, with breaks and an attorney present.
Police also arrested nine men in the south London neighborhood of Tooting under the Terrorism Act. Police said three of them were Turks who lived above a fast-food restaurant where they worked 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 aged about 26, 30, and 40. The oldest had worked for him for eight years, and the other two started about two months ago, he said.
Six other men were arrested at a home on a street opposite the Tooting Broadway subway station, police said.
''There were about a dozen armed police officers shouting, 'Come on out or we'll send the dogs in.' And then I saw one large, older-looking Asian man being led out. He was dressed in a white gown or robe," said Ben Astbury, 25, who watched the raid from his house.
In Zambia, Haroon Rashid Aswat, 31, was in custody after being arrested in the border town of Livingstone, an official there said. Aswat is believed to have been in telephone contact with some of the July 7 suicide bombers.
Also yesterday, Blair was grilled by an oversight panel regarding a shoot-to-kill policy for potential suicide bombers that resulted in the death of an innocent man -- a Brazilian electrician police believed was ready to set off a bomb on the subway.
Jean Charles de Menezes's flag-draped casket reached his hometown in Brazil yesterday. The plain wooden coffin was taken to a church, where it will lie until his funeral today.