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Police shot wrong man|
Jonathan Calvert and David Leppard
Suspect was innocent Brazilian electrician
SCOTLAND YARD was forced to admit last night that a man shot five times from close range by police officers was not connected to Thursday’s London terror attacks.
In a short statement the Metropolitan police described the man’s death as a tragedy and expressed “regret”. He was named as Jean Charles de Menezes, a 27-year-old electrician from Brazil who had been working legally in Britain for three years.
The killing of an apparently innocent man will be a serious setback in what is already a difficult inquiry. As well as pursuing the attempted bombers, police and intelligence services disclosed yesterday that they were hunting up to 30 people thought to have assisted the two terror attacks in London in recent weeks.
It has also been disclosed that MI5 has warned Tony Blair that the threat from Al-Qaeda, with the possibility of more suicide attacks, is likely to continue for at least five years.
Witnesses to the killing of Menezes described how he was chased into Stockwell Tube station on Friday morning by armed plainclothes officers and killed with shots to the head while lying on the floor of a train.
The officers are thought to have feared that Menezes, who was wearing a quilted jacket on a summer’s day, might have been concealing a bomb. No explosives were found on him.
Within hours of the shooting, however, senior officers were saying they were “very confident” the man had been one of the four bombers who attempted to set off explosives in London on Thursday.
Then, as it emerged that the Brazilian was not one of the four, officers suggested he was still linked to the bombings.
Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan police commissioner, said on Friday the shooting was “directly linked” to anti-terror operations. Even yesterday, hours before the man’s identity was confirmed, security sources said he had been known to police from a recent counter- terrorist investigation.
It now appears to be a case of mistaken identity. The body of the electrician, originally from a town north of Rio de Janeiro, was identified by his cousin in Britain, Alex Alves Pereira.
O Dia, a Rio newspaper, quoted Pereira as saying: “What can the police say? They will try to justify this but there’s no way. My cousin’s body had his head blown apart with bullets in the back of the head.”
He added: “Jean came from a tight-knit family. We are all absolutely devastated.”
Pereira said he did not believe Menezes had been trailed by police but that he had been reported to plainclothes officers by someone who saw him “jumping around at the station”.
Yesterday’s police statement expressing regret for the shooting said: “We believe we now know the identity of the man shot at Stockwell Underground station . . . We are now satisfied that he was not connected with the incidents of Thursday, July 21, 2005. For somebody to lose their life in such circumstances is a tragedy and one that the Metropolitan police service regrets.”
Menezes, who had a dark complexion, had become a target of the anti-terrorist branch’s armed surveillance unit after his address, but not his name, was found on a paper inside one of the bomber’s rucksacks.
He was followed after leaving his flat in Tulse Hill, south London, on Friday morning. The officers were under the control of Gold Command, Scotland Yard’s major incident centre. Originally, police had said the man had walked from a property in Stockwell to the local Tube station. But later police changed their statement to say he had been under surveillance during a three-mile bus journey he made from his home to the station.
“They picked him up hoping that he would take them to other people. But as soon as he was seen going towards the Tube they had to take action,” a police source said.
The officers intervened as Menezes entered Stockwell station. Witnesses there say he bolted, leaping over the ticket barrier and running down the escalator, pursued by the plainclothes officers.
Mark Whitby, a witness on the train, said: “As the man got on the train I looked at his face. He looked like a cornered rabbit. He looked absolutely petrified.”
Whitby said Menezes tripped or was pushed to the floor. “One of the police officers was holding a black automatic pistol in his left hand. They held it down to him and unloaded five shots into him.”
It is not clear why Menezes ran from the officers. One theory is that he may not have understood English, but his cousin said he was fluent.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission confirmed it will launch an investigation into the death. The shooting of an apparently innocent man will cause major disquiet both in the Muslim community and within SO19, the elite firearms unit that is involved in hunting the suicide bombers.
Two firearms officers are facing a murder investigation after being accused over the shooting of Harry Stanley in 1999. Stanley was shot by SO19 after he was seen carrying what officers judged to be a weapon but was in fact a table leg.
The treatment of the two officers by Scotland Yard management sparked anger among SO19 staff. Earlier this year many were planning to withdraw from firearms service because they felt their colleagues had been made scapegoats.
Friday’s shooting had inflamed tensions in the Islamic community because it was at first thought the victim was Asian. Baroness Uddin, a Labour Asian peer, said: “There is so much scepticism out there because I think while people like myself might have known about the shoot to kill policy, is it not known out there?”
The Met issued new guidance to firearms officers after 9/11, directing them to shoot a suspected suicide bomber in the head to prevent him detonating any explosive.
Writing in today’s News of the World, Lord Stevens, the former Metropolitan police commissioner, defended the introduction of what he described as the “shoot to kill to protect” policy to save innocent lives in a “time of unique evil”.
“I have no doubt that now, more than ever, the principle is right despite the chance, tragically, of error,” he said.
Inayat Bunglawala, of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “We have had many phone calls today from anxious Muslims. It now appears we have have a ‘shoot first ask questions later’ policy.”
Last night a Downing Street spokesman said: “The prime minister has said all along that he supports all the efforts of the police and law enforcement agencies.”
Police established Menezes’s identity after armed officers raided what is is believed to be his house in Scotia Road, Tulse Hill. Officers cordoned off nearby streets, telling people to stay in their homes, and fired gas canisters before storming the three-storey building. More than 15 shots were heard by residents.
Police continued the hunt yesterday for at least three bombers on the loose. A police source said two men held at London’s high-security Paddington Green police station after being arrested in Stockwell on Friday were “very specifically” linked to the investigation and that the arrests were significant.
Downing Street sources said one of the two men held was among the bombers.
Police believe it is increasingly likely that Thursday’s botched attacks were linked to the July 7 suicide bombings that killed 56 people and injured 700, although there is no official confirmation.
One line of inquiry is the possibility that two of the men from last week’s terror attempt went on an adventure holiday in north Wales with two of the suicide bombers from Beeston, Leeds.
Police are convinced last week’s failed attacks on the stations at Shepherd’s Bush, the Oval and Warren Street, and a No 26 bus in Hackney Road, Shoreditch, could not simply have been a copycat of the earlier atrocities. Detectives say the planning to acquire the components and bomb-making expertise would have taken longer than a fortnight to organise.
They are hunting between 20 and 30 people who are believed to have acted as associates to the two sets of attacks. “Some of these people will be based here in Britain, some of them will be placed elsewhere, such as Pakistan,” the sources said.
They described Thursday’s bombers as “foot soldiers” who received their orders, logistical support and spiritual guidance from outside.
Forensic scientists are still examining the “home-made” bombs in both attacks to see whether they were made by the same bomber and of the same materials. A police source said the explosives from Thursday’s attacks were “very similar to the stuff found in Leeds”. The bombs are believed to contain triacetone peroxide, a volatile mixture used on July 7.