British police have begun to shift their London bombing investigation to focus on finding suspects who organised and co-ordinated the two attacks on the city’s transport system, scaling back the manhunt after last week’s arrests of the four suspected July 21 bombers.
According to police, investigators are looking for individuals who helped with the logistics of the attack – those who built the bombs, recruited the attackers, provided the funding – under the assumption that the bombers themselves were low-level operators with little organisational ability.
Although police would not say how far they had come to finding links to those higher up the chain, they sought to play down the role of Haroon Rashid Aswat, a Briton of Indian descent who was arrested last month in Zambia and once suspected of having a co-ordinating role. Zambian officials have agreed to extradite Mr Aswat, whose telephone reportedly received calls from the July 7 bombers, but British officials said they were no longer interested in interrogating him.
British police also declined to comment on their questioning of the three men captured last week on suspicion of participating in the July 21 bombings. But the Italian lawyer for the fourth man believed to have participated, an Ethiopian-born Briton being held in Rome, said her client had denied involvement with terrorism and would resist extradition to the UK.
“He didn’t want to kill anyone, but just do something for show,” Maria Antonietta Sonnessa told reporters. “He hopes to stay in Italy and to be judged by the judicial system of our country.”
Italian authorities named the suspect last Friday as Hussain Osman, 27, but said later he also went by the name of Hamdi Adus Issac.
Ms Sonnessa declined to confirm Italian media reports that Mr Osman had acknowledged under interrogation that he had taken part in the failed attacks. He is suspected of trying to bomb a train at Shepherd’s Bush Underground station in west London.
“I can say that there are various pieces of evidence and elements that are both against and in favour of extradition,” she said.
Asked if Mr Osman had co-operated with Italian investigators, she said: “It’s not a case of co-operation, but I can say that he has made some declarations.”
Mr Osman is being held in an isolation cell at the Regina Coeli prison in Rome. The court handling his case is not expected to take a decision on whether to order his extradition until later this week at the earliest.
Ms Sonnessa said her client had “defended himself with extreme calm and coherence” when he was questioned by magistrates on Saturday. “He doesn’t consider himself to be a terrorist,” she said.
Scotland Yard has asked that Mr Osman be turned over under a European arrest warrant, one of the European Union’s chief new tools in combating international terrorism. The warrant is designed to speed extraditions between countries, which used to take about nine months but can now be carried out in an average of 45 days.
The warrant has been mired in controversy, however, since countries agreed to the measure after the September 11 attacks. Italy infuriated its European partners by being the last to pass the warrant into national law, holding up its use.
In addition, Germany last month had to freeze the warrant after the country’s highest court ruled the government had incorrectly implemented it in national law. Berlin had to release a suspected al-Qaeda financier wanted by Spain after the ruling. The warrant was issued more than 2,600 times in the first nine months of last year, leading to the arrest of 650 people.
Separately, British police arrested seven people on Sunday in connection with the July 21 bombings in Brighton, East Sussex, bringing the total number of suspects detained in the investigation to 18. Unlike last week’s swoops, yesterday’s searches of two addresses were done without armed officers.
Additional reporting by Sarah Laitner in Brussels