Fatal Mistake

Fatal Mistake

Fatal Mistake

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
July 24 2005 4:45 AM

Fatal Mistake

The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times lead with Scotland Yard's admission that the man police officers gunned down in front of subway riders Friday was not involved in attacks on London but was instead an innocent electrician on his way to work. The man had emerged from the same apartment building as a prime suspect in the Thursday copycat attacks, and police then followed him to the subway, where they tackled and shot him at close range. A police statement called the incident a "mistake" and a "tragedy."

The Washington Post leads with word from officials that al-Qaida leadership is behind the bombings in London and Egypt and that the nature of the violence is a "clear sign" that Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants continue to run the group. Investigators suspect that the particulars of the attacks were carried out by local organizers in each case, but that bin Laden or other leaders may have given the orders for them and also attacks that occurred in Spain, Turkey, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia since 2002.

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The WP attributes their big story to interviews with government officials in the Middle East and Europe as well as counterterrorism analysts, and their named sources include the former director of foreign intelligence for Saudi Arabia and a terrorism expert at a London think tank. The paper notes that not everyone is on board with the assessment that bin Laden is still in control—some U.S. officials have maintained he's been sequestered since the Afghanistan invasion in 2001 and basically unable to plan large-scale attacks. But, says the Post:

"intelligence officials and analysts from European and Arab countries say there is increasing evidence that several of the deadliest bombings against civilian targets in recent years can be traced back to suspected mid-level al-Qaida operatives acting on behalf of bin Laden and the network's leadership. In some cases, counterterrorism investigators have concluded that bin Laden or his emissaries set plans in motion to launch attacks and then left it up to local networks or cells to take care of the details."

The NYT notes that Scotland Yard's initial assertion that the man police shot was "directly linked" to the case is among what the paper calls "a series of incomplete characterizations" and "in some cases, public misstatements about the evidence."

(By the way, the Post reefers the story of the slain man, but it's worth noting that while the man's death was the paper's lead story on Saturday, the revelation of his innocence is on A24 Sunday.)

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Two people are being questioned in connection with Thursday's undetonated explosives, and other important developments in the case emerged Saturday. Among the new information: Police have found a link found between the July 7 attackers and the men who tried to set off explosives on Thursday. A flier found in a backpack containing undetonated explosives on a London bus was for a whitewater rafting area in North Wales, where two of the July 7 bombers were known to have been weeks before the attack. Also, police said Saturday that after the failed explosions Thursday they found a "mysterious package" northwest of London that may have contained more explosives.

Everybody goes into more detail about the three bombs that rocked the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheik, killing at least 88 (the papers differ on how many victims have been confirmed dead). Occurring five minutes apart, explosions rocked a hotel, a market and a parking lot. Two extremist groups—one asserting a connection to al-Qaida—claimed responsibility for the attacks, but neither claim could be verified. The government made many arrests and even charged three men in the attacks, but many experts suspect a larger network behind the violence. Witnesses describe the horror to the papers: "It was hell here … the sky had turned yellow from the burning cars," a man told the Post.

The NYT fronts more bad news on the terrorism fight with this dispatch from Iraq: "Despite months of assurances that their forces were on the wane, the guerrillas and terrorists battling the American-backed enterprise here appear to be growing more violent, more resilient and more sophisticated than ever."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Saturday urged Israel not to block off the Gaza Strip and isolate Palestinians after the withdrawal. With 24 days until Israel's pullout, U.S. officials have identified six issues that still need to be resolved, mostly involving Palestinian movement in and out of Gaza. Late Saturday, Palestinian gunmen killed two Israelis near the Gaza border.

A LAT article examines a push by liberal advocacy groups to reach out to young leaders in college, much like conservatives have done. A recent conference featured speakers such as former President Bill Clinton and author Thomas Frank, and an organizer expressed optimism over the turnout: "I think something is happening here … something more than the free food and President Clinton."