Scotland Yard is investigating evidence that the two waves of terrorist attacks on London this month may have been masterminded from Saudi Arabia.
The Metropolitan Police anti-terrorist squad has learnt that Hussain Osman, 27, one of the suspects for the second failed attacks, called a number in Saudi Arabia hours before his arrest in Rome on Friday. He was believed to be making only the most vital calls because he feared his mobile phone was being tracked by investigators.
In an unconfirmed development, the Saudi Arabian authorities are understood to be investigating the possibility that the attacks were planned by extremists there.
Senior officials at Scotland Yard believe there are no links in Britain between the two cells responsible for the July 7 bombings which killed 56 people and the failed suicide attacks two weeks later. But one senior source said that the anti-terrorist squad is investigating links between the two cells and “foreign camps” of terrorists.
They are also inquiring into claims that, like the July 7 bombers, some of the July 21 attackers travelled extensively abroad shortly before the attacks. Police believe that although the July 21 terrorists expected to die, they made plans in case the bombs failed or their mission was aborted.
One security official said: “Most of the suspects did not use mobile phones registered to them and neither did they use land lines. Therefore they must have had some sort of contingency plan and probably had help from sympathisers. This tells us that they must have had some training, so the question now is by whom and where did they receive that training.”
Scotland Yard began proceedings in Rome yesterday to extradite Osman, who is suspected of being the failed Shepherd’s Bush suicide bomber of July 21. Italian newspapers, quoting police and security sources, claimed that he at first said that he only carried a backpack on to the Tube but admitted on Friday night that he had been involved in the attacks. But Osman allegedly insisted he had no links to al-Qaeda, the terrorist network led by Saudi-born Osama bin Laden.
Scotland Yard is sceptical of many of the alleged claims – sometimes confused and contradictory – made by Osman, a British citizen born in Ethiopia. He allegedly said that he had intended to spread fear not to kill members of the public. “We wanted to make an attack but only as a demonstration.” One Italian newspaper said that he told investigators: “We were supposed to blow ourselves up.”
The father of two from south London, is the first person held under regulations which took effect on Thursday after Italy signed the UK’s Extradition Act of 2003. He is believed to be fighting enforced return to Britain.
Twelve men are being questioned in London over their alleged involvement in failed attacks. They include the three suspected of failing to explode bombs at Shepherd’s Bush, the Oval and Warren Street Tube stations and a bus in Hackney. Another man is being questioned over an abandoned bomb found in west London last Saturday.
Osman, whose real name is believed to be Hamdi Isaac, and three London suspects were arrested on Friday and a fifth suspect was held on Wednesday in Birmingham.
Osman apparently travelled to Rome five days after the July 21 attacks, when police were on full alert. He was arrested, without resistance, at his brother’s home after going to a mosque to pray.
Scotland Yard traced him to Italy because he occasionally used a mobile phone. He is believed to have taken the Eurostar from Waterloo to Paris, then a train through Italy visiting Bologna, Milan and Rome.
Security sources in Italy said he made four calls on Friday: three local calls apparently to relatives and, the most interesting one, to a mobile phone in Saudi Arabia. Scotland Yard is trying to discover who took that call.
Saudi Arabia, which has good relations with the West, has been embarrassed by its links to international terrorism. Not only is it bin Laden’s home country but 15 of the September 11 terrorists were from the kingdom.