Terror alert closes Birmingham city center - 20,000 people evacuated - police detonate suspicious packages
July 9, 2005
MIM: Birmingham has one of the largest Muslim communities in the UK . Al Muhajiroun has a large base there and two members of the main mosque were shot to death last year by other Muslims, wresulted The Imam and several mosque officials were arrested. For more on the radical Islam in Birmingham and The Birmingham Central Mosque see:
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TWENTY thousand people were evacuated from Birmingham last night as fears of terrorism continued to ripple through Britain following the London bombings.
Bomb disposal experts carried out a controlled explosion on a bus after a suspect package was reported to police.
Intelligence information suggesting a security alert prompted a massive operation which closed down the city centre. Flats, bars and restaurants in the city's main entertainment district were evacuated.
Police initially said there was no link between the controlled explosion and events in London.
But officers restricted traffic into the city centre around 8pm and then ordered an evacuation 40 minutes later after receiving further intelligence, a police spokeswoman said.
Roadblocks were later installed on every major road into Birmingham while a police helicopter circled overhead. The streets throughout the city went unusually quiet as police imposed a lengthy cordon stretching as far as the inner ring road. Ambulances and bomb disposal vans were then seen entering the city centre.
Last night's operation was focused on Broad Street - dubbed Birmingham's Golden Mile. There are nearly 200 bars and clubs in the district. The city's Chinatown area was also evacuated. An estimated 20,000 Saturday night revellers were caught up in the police operation. Weekend visitors to the city were unable to return to their hotel rooms because of the roadblocks.
A police spokeswoman said: "West Midlands police closed down the Broad Street entertainment zone and asked people to leave Birmingham town centre and go home. Our inquiries are ongoing. We're not going into the nature of the threat."
The public warning to people who intended to visit the city centre was taken after police received intelligence to suggest a threat. "Our response needs to be proportionate in the actions we are taking and informing the public," the spokeswoman added.
Every police officer on duty in Birmingham was diverted to the city centre and extra officers drafted in to deal with the threat. Outlining details of the road closures, the police spokeswoman continued: "There will be a higher police presence in the city centre and access by vehicles will be limited. No vehicles will be allowed past the inner ring road into the city centre."
The manager of Chez Jules restaurant in the centre of Birmingham said: "The police called and asked me to evacuate the whole premises at around 8:15pm. I was forced to close the whole restaurant and have subsequently lost a lot of business. At the moment, I am sitting in an empty restaurant with my staff, I have not been outside and do not know what is going on."
Allan Sartori, a Birmingham club owner, told ITV News that police appeared to have the situation under control. He said he had himself already returned home, adding: "I would suspect that everything's pretty calm at the moment and that everyone has moved away and done exactly what they were asked to do."
Sartori said evacuating the city centre would have cost "a lot of people a lot of money". But he added: "People's lives are far more important than money in a situation like this."
Local resident Kenneth Kelsall said: "There is a lot of confusion, there appears to be no chance of anyone moving back into the city - but people are remaining quiet."
At Paradise Circus, at the bottom of Broad Street, many people had gathered outside an Italian and Greek restaurant to glean information from waiting police officers.
Others queued for public telephone boxes to make calls to friends and family.
Staff at BBC Birmingham's Mailbox Centre were also evacuated from the building.
The Five Live Late Night Live programme between 10pm and 1am was also diverted to London.
One journalist, who had been working on the programme and was forced to leave the building, told the Press Association; "People are having great difficulty actually getting into Birmingham to cover the story."
The BBC Mailbox Centre also houses local radio station BBC WM, regional television BBC Television Midlands Today, as well as Asian Network and other network radio programmes for BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio 4.
Birmingham was the target of one of the worst IRA bombings in 1974, which killed 21 people and left scores more injured.
Following the terrorist attacks in London on Thursday, Paul Scott-Lee, the chief constable of West Midlands Police, put the city on a high state of alert and activated emergency plans.
Part of such action includes carrying out additional high-profile patrols at prime public locations across the region, speaking with other emergency services and co-ordinating services with other police forces.
Scott-Lee said: "Our message to the public is to remain calm and vigilant.
"As normal we would ask for the support of the public and ask them to report anything suspicious to us. They are also urged to look after their bags so that they won't be mistaken for suspicious packages."
Heightened security in the past week has seen a series of controlled explosions in the UK. Yesterday, an unidentified package was destroyed in London's Tavistock Square, close to where the Number 30 bus was destroyed in last Thursday's bomb attacks.
Thousands evacuated from Birmingham
Saturday, July 09, 2005
LONDON (AP) - British police issued a stunning revision Saturday, shrinking the time between deadly explosions in the London Underground to just seconds, not 26 minutes as first reported, and saying the blasts were so powerful that none of the 49 known dead has yet been identified.
Many bodies still lay buried in a rat-infested subway tunnel and frantic relatives begged for word about others still missing in the worst attack on London since the Second World War. Police indicated as many as 50 victims were unaccounted for.
Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, the alleged mastermind of last year's Madrid railway bombings, who also goes by the name Abu Musab al-Suri, a Syrian suspected of being al-Qaida's operations chief in Europe, has emerged as a suspect in the London attacks, according to unidentified investigators cited in the Sunday Times, the Sunday Telegraph and the Mail on Sunday.
Nasar, a Syrian fugitive, allegedly played a key role in setting up an al-Qaida structure in Spain and was indicted there in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. Last year, Washington offered $5 million US for information leading to his arrest.
In a sign of the continued state of alert, police evacuated 20,000 people from Birmingham's central entertainment district Saturday night after intelligence indicating a "substantial threat," said Stuart Hyde, assistant chief constable of West Midlands Police.
He said the alert was not likely connected to the subway and bus bombings. A controlled explosion to disarm a suspicious object was carried out on a Birmingham bus, and officers concluded there was no explosive device.
In southern England, Eurostar train services, which link Paris and London, were delayed Saturday after a security alert closed the Ashford international station for about an hour. Two pieces of unattended luggage were destroyed in controlled explosions and later found to contain nothing suspicious.
Deputy Assistant Police Commissioner Brian Paddick said the near-simultaneous nature of the attacks indicated timers - not suicide bombers - set off the explosions. He cautioned, however, that the investigation was in an early stage and nothing had been ruled out.
Investigators also said the bombs that brought the British capital to a standstill Thursday were made of sophisticated high explosives. While it was possible the explosives were industrial or military materials obtained on the black market, investigators said it was too early to pinpoint where the terrorist bombers got the ingredients.
Investigators declined to say if they were looking for specific suspects, but repeated their assertion that the bombings bore the signature of al-Qaida, the terror network blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks. The organization, headed by Osama bin Laden, has gained a reputation for sophisticated timing in its terror strikes.
"It will be some time before this job is completed and it will be done with all the necessary dignity to the deceased," said Andy Trotter of the British Transport Police.
Transit officials originally said the blasts occurred over a 26-minute span, but computer software that tracked train locations and electric circuits subsequently determined the first blast shattered the rush-hour commute at 8:50 a.m in Aldgate station, east London, with the next two erupting within 50 seconds.
A fourth explosion tore through a double-decker bus near a subway entrance, killing 13 people, nearly an hour later. The attacks hit as Prime Minister Tony Blair and other Group of Eight leaders were holding a summit in Scotland and a day after London was named the host city for the 2012 Olympics.
Sobbing relatives held pictures and searched for missing loved ones at subway stations around the city.
Scotland Yard has declined to issue a list of people unaccounted for. Police said Saturday they were looking into more than 1,000 missing-person reports, although they do not believe more than 50 of them are connected to the bombings, suggesting the death toll will remain below 100.
More than 20 people injured in the blasts remained in critical condition, and an unknown number of bodies remained in the Russell Square subway tunnel, where heat, dust and dangerous conditions slowed crews trying to reach the corpses trapped beneath the wreckage. Many London subway lines run more than 30 metres below ground.
"It is a very harrowing task," said Det. Jim Dickie. "Most of the victims have suffered intensive trauma, and by that I mean there are body parts as well as torsos." Many of those who worked to recover bodies had done the same work during December's devastating tsunami in the Indian Ocean.
Forensics experts were relying on fingerprints, dental records and DNA analysis to identify the victims. To help with DNA matches, police were asking for hair samples from those believed to be family members of some victims.
Riders were returning to Underground stations, but warily and in smaller numbers.
"There's just less people," student William Palmer, 23, said at the Chancery Lane subway stop. "Everyone's looking around a little bit more."
The system was set for its first real test Sunday when 20,000 cricket fans were expected to travel to the British capital for a match between England and Australia.
When asked about the claim of responsibility by a group calling itself the Secret Organization of al-Qaida in Europe, Blair told the British Broadcasting Corp. on Saturday it was "reasonably obvious that it comes from that type of quarter."
Little was known about the group, but its name was attached to an Internet statement that claimed responsibility for the Madrid commuter train bombings that killed 191 people in March 2004, the last major terror attack in Europe.
A second claim appeared on a website Saturday, this one signed Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, a group whose name invokes the alias of Mohammed Atef, bin Laden's top deputy who was killed in a U.S. air strike in Afghanistan in November 2001.
But terrorism experts said the group had no proven record of attacks, and noted it had claimed responsibility for events in which it was unlikely to have played any role - the 2003 blackouts in the United States and London that resulted from technical problems, for example.
At King's Cross station, near the site of the deadliest of the three subway bombings, service was partially restored Saturday. Flowers and sympathy cards were piling up outside to honour the 21 known dead as the train was bombed between King's Cross and Russell Square stations.
A group of Muslims held a peaceful vigil outside St. Mary's Hospital on Saturday in solidarity with victims. About 20 people left bouquets for five patients being treated at the hospital, just metres away from the Edgeware Road subway station where one of the bombs exploded.
"We must remember that terror is all around us these days, that terror has no homeland or nationality and no religion and that we all face the same problems together," said Iman Hassan Ali, from the Dar Al Islam Foundation.
"We all want to understand these incidents and today we are here to give our support to the victims and say that we will stand together despite terrorism."