LONDON—Four men from central England probably planted the bombs that rocked London's transit system last week and all may have died in the explosions, British police said Tuesday.
Police didn't provide the names of the suspects, but a series of police raids in the West Yorkshire area near the city of Leeds raised the prospect that at least three of the bombers were longtime British residents and members of that region's large Muslim population. Investigators have acknowledged privately that at least three of the bombers were British-born men of Pakistani origin, ages 19, 22 and 30, according to British media reports.
Police are trying to determine whether the four received help in planning the bombings from people outside Britain.
"Early on, the investigation led us to have concerns about the movement and activities of four men, three of whom came from the West Yorkshire area," said Peter Clarke, the deputy assistant commissioner for anti-terror for London's Metropolitan Police. "We are trying to establish their movements in the run-up to last week's attacks, and, specifically, to establish if they all died in the explosions."
The four men were caught by closed-circuit cameras together at London's King's Cross station about 20 minutes before the first explosions struck three subway trains nearly simultaneously at 8:50 a.m.
Items belonging to two of the men have been recovered from debris near the Aldgate and Edgware Road stations, Clarke said.
Another of the men was reported missing by his family Thursday night, 12 hours after the bombs had gone off. British media reported that he told his family he was heading to London to visit friends. He's believed to be the bus bomber.
Police believe he was aboard the double-decker bus when a bomb blew it apart, killing 13, including the presumed bomber, Clarke said. "Personal documents" belonging to the man were found at the bus explosion, Clarke said.
A fifth man believed involved in the attacks was arrested Tuesday during the West Yorkshire raids, and more arrests are expected.
The police announcement that they had identified the bombers was a stunning development five days after explosions rocked London, killing at least 52 people and wounding 700.
Police had been largely silent about the investigation, leading to concerns that the bombers had escaped and might be planning more attacks.
Clarke declined to say who else might have been involved in the attacks. But terrorism experts not involved in the investigation said it seemed clear that the four men had help. One expert, Magnus Ranstorp, the director of the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews, in Edinburgh, Scotland, noted that police believe the bombs were made of military-grade explosives.
"Military explosives are not that easy to get a hold of" in Britain, he said.
Police suggested Tuesday that their first leads to the bombers' identities came when the family of one of the men reported him missing.
Clarke declined to provide details about the individual, but British news reports identified him as a British national of Pakistani descent in his early 20s.
Clarke said rescue workers found documents of the missing man aboard the bus, where survivors had described a young, olive-skinned man acting very nervously and fiddling with a package just prior to the explosion.
Police later determined that the man had traveled by train from Leeds Thursday morning and was joined by the other three during the trip.
Police didn't say if all the men rode from Leeds, but Tuesday afternoon they found a car that they said was connected to the attacks in the parking lot of the rail station at Luton, which is between Leeds and London.
Closed-circuit television videos show the four men together at King's Cross station shortly before 8:30, about 20 minutes before the bombs exploded, and 12 minutes before two of the trains are thought to have left the station.
Police have identified King's Cross as the center of the attacks. The bus and all three trains passed through the massive transit hub, and the train the four men used to travel from Leeds also stops there.
Police obtained six search warrants under Britain's anti-terrorism act and searched houses in West Yorkshire, just south of Leeds, including those of three of the four suspected bombers.
Police evacuated 500 people from the surrounding neighborhood at one of the houses after finding "potentially dangerous materials" in one of the houses.
Promotional materials describe Leeds as an affluent, lively metropolis of 700,000, halfway between London and Edinburgh. But in recent years, the area has become known for the growth of radical Islam.
The Jerusalem Post reported in 2003 that radical Muslims in Leeds were recruiting university students and harassing Jews. Others said that the group al-Muhajiroun, whose members in the past have praised the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists, were recruiting near Leeds. Still other media reports have talked about the growth of Taliban support in West Yorkshire and how groups of masked young men have burned cars and attacked motorists.
Police, however, were quick to discourage assigning blame to the area's Muslim population.
"The work last Thursday is that of extremists and criminals," Assistant Police Commissioner Andy Hayman said. "So, that being the case, no one should smear or stigmatize any community with these acts."
(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Jonathan S. Landay in Washington contributed to this report.)
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
GRAPHICS (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20050712 ATTACKS Leeds, 20050712 ATTACKS events
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