Suspect killed in London had no ties to terrorists
Sunday, July 24, 2005
LONDON -- Police identified the man who was chased down in a subway and shot to death by plainclothes officers as a Brazilian and expressed regret Saturday for his death, saying they no longer believed he was tied to the recent terror bombings.
Friday's shooting before horrified commuters prompted criticism of police for overreacting and expressions of fear that Asians and Muslims would be targeted by a "trigger-happy culture" after two well-coordinated attacks in two weeks.
The man shot at the Stockwell subway station was identified as Jean Charles de Menezes, 27. Witnesses said he was wearing a heavy, padded coat when plainclothes police chased him into a subway car, pinned him to the ground and shot him in the head and torso.
Hours after the shooting, police commissioner Ian Blair said the victim was "directly linked" to the investigations into attacks Thursday and July 7. In the latter, suicide bombings on trains and a bus killed 56 people, including four attackers.
Police initially said the victim attracted police attention be-cause he left a house that was under surveillance after Thursday's bungled bombings, in which devices planted on three subway trains and a double-decker bus failed to detonate properly. Stockwell is near Oval station, one of those targeted.
"He was then followed by surveillance officers to the station. His clothing and his behavior at the station added to their suspicions," police said Friday.
But Saturday, a police official said on condition of anonymity that Menezes was "not believed to be connected in any way to any of the London bombings." The official requested anonymity because no official announcement had been made.
"For somebody to lose their life in such circumstances is a tragedy and one that the Metropolitan Police Service regrets," a spokesman said on condition of anonymity, which is police policy.
However, police did not explain what went wrong.
Citing a need to keep the investigation under wraps, the authorities refused to give any indication whether Menezes had done anything wrong at all.
In Brazil, the Foreign Ministry said it was "shocked and perplexed" by the death of Menezes, whom it did not name but described as "apparently the victim of a lamentable mistake."
The ministry said it expected British authorities to explain the circumstances of the shooting, and Foreign Minister Celso Amorim would try to arrange a meeting with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw during a visit to London.
Brazilian media reported that Menezes was an electrician who had been legally living and working in England for the past three years.
"He spoke English very well, and had permission to study and work there," Menezes' cousin Maria Alves told the O Globo Online Web site from her home in Sao Paulo. Menezes was originally from the city of Gonzaga in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais.
Mayor Ken Livingstone said the killing was a "human tragedy" that was a consequence of the attacks.
"The police acted to do what they believed necessary to protect the lives of the public," he said. "This tragedy has added another victim to the toll of deaths for which the terrorists bear responsibility."
Livingstone drew a hard line before the mistake became clear, declaring that anyone believed to be a suicide bomber faced a "shoot-to-kill policy."
The shooting was an indication of the nervousness and anxiety around the city of about 8 million people. A police watchdog organization, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, said it would investigate the shooting but make sure not to hinder the bombings probe.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of the civil rights group Liberty, said such an investigation was critical for reassuring the public.
"It's incredibly important that society remains united at such a tense time, it's very important that young Asian men don't feel that there is some kind of trigger-happy culture out there," Chakrabarti said.
The Islamic Human Rights Commission said "in the current climate of anti-Muslim hysteria, IHRC fears that innocent people may lose their lives due to the new shoot to kill policy."
Iqbal Sacranie, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said, "It's absolutely vital that the utmost care is taken to ensure that innocent people are not killed due to overzealousness."
Police have made two arrests in the Stockwell neighborhood following Thursday's attacks. The second arrest was made late Friday "in connection with our inquiries" into those attacks, Metropolitan Police said.
Police have not released many details of the arrests, including the identities of those in custody.
Thousands of officers fanned out in a huge manhunt amid hopes the publication of closed-circuit TV images of four suspected attackers would lead to their capture. Blair declined to say if the men in custody were among the four pictured.
Security alerts kept Londoners on edge. Police briefly evacuated the Mile End subway station, where there were reports that one of the four suspects was seen and someone smelled something burning.
Service was suspended on parts of two subway lines, but police later said the incident "turned out to be nothing."
Fears of a new terrorist attack led Italian soccer powerhouse Inter Milan to cancel its English tour because of safety concerns, a move criticized by England's Norwich City soccer team.
"We find Inter Milan's decision hugely disappointing and totally wrong," said the team's chief executive, Neil Doncaster. "For Inter Milan to refuse to travel because of the threat of terrorism is simply giving in to the terrorists."
Hundreds of people also gathered Saturday to mourn Anthony Fatayi-Williams, a 26-year-old oil executive among those killed July 7.
"The cathedral is full. I can see Nigerians, people from different backgrounds, white and black, I can see people of all ages gathered here representing the different races of humankind," said his uncle, Tom Ikimi, a former Nigerian foreign affairs minister.