Monday, August 01, 2005

"And who do you trust anyway...: Proudly Presents: "governments commonly only pass such preventive measures after attacks."

London Suspect Highlights Tracking Woes

Associated Press Writer
23 minutes ago

ROME - Italian police revealed Monday how they tracked down a London bombing suspect, yet their success was tempered by concerns about how Europe's open borders allowed the fugitive to slip from Italy into Britain and back again.

Italy's anti-terror police chief also said that Ethiopian-born Hamdi Issac managed to gain asylum in Britain in 1996 using fake documents and an alias.

London police say Issac was one of four attackers who planted bombs on subways and a bus July 21 — bombs that only partly exploded yet further rattled the city after the deadly mass-transit suicide bombings of July 7.

Four days later, on July 26, Issac managed to elude a massive manhunt to take a train out of London, reportedly to France. He then crossed into Italy, seeking refuge with family and friends, and was arrested at his brother's Rome apartment Friday.

His journey highlights the difficulties anti-terrorism authorities have tracing the movements and identities of suspects, said Andrea Nativi, research director for the Rome-based Military Center for Strategic Studies.

Under the so-called Schengen agreement, travelers within 15 signatory countries can cross borders without passports. Britain and Ireland are not part of the agreement and handle their own border control.

Participating countries can temporarily reinstate border checks if there is a threat to security, as France did after the July 7 London bombings. Finland also reintroduced border checks, because it is hosting the World Athletics Championships this month.

But more drastic measures may be needed.

Natavi said stricter controls, such as identity cards with fingerprints, could help but that governments commonly only pass such preventive measures after attacks.

"It's necessary to realize that in the era of global terrorism, we have to accept a few compromises," he said. "It's not that one can defend oneself just by controlling who flies on airplanes."

Others insisted the EU's open borders were not to blame for Issac's escape. Friso Roscam Abbing, a spokesman for the European Union's Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini, defended the agreement and said amending the rules would not help.

"Despite the French position to introduce temporary border checks, this suspect was able to travel," he said.

Instead, he said, the EU should focus on the "root causes" of terrorist cells across Europe and increase the sharing of intelligence to track down suspects faster.

The Northern League — a right-wing party in Premier Silvio Berlusconi's government — had called for suspending the Schengen agreement after the July 7 attacks. Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu chose instead to tighten controls on Italy's northern borders.

In the first official briefing since Issac's arrest, anti-terror chief Carlo De Stefano described in detail how Italian police monitored Issac's cell-phone calls leading to his arrest.

The investigation started when British authorities told Italian police on July 26 that a July 21 suspect had fled Britain and had in the past made calls to Italian phone numbers.

British police also said the suspect called Saudi Arabia, apparently to get his brother's number in Rome.

Police homed in on Issac's cell phone, locating him Thursday after discovering he had replaced the phone's British removable "SIM" card — which stores an individual's phone number and other data — with an Italian one.

On Friday, the day of the arrest, police recorded conversations in which Issac talked in an Ethiopian dialect, which helped confirm his identity. Italian police were also able to identify Issac by the wound on his right leg, which British police said he sustained as he tried to leap a subway station barrier after the failed attack at the Shepherd's Bush subway station.

A Rome judge charged Issac on Monday with association with the aim of international terrorism and with possessing false documents. A separate Italian court is expected to rule shortly on a British request for Issac's extradition.

De Stefano said Issac moved to Italy from Ethiopia sometime around the late 1980s. He then changed his name to Osman Hussain and claimed he was from Somalia to obtain political asylum in Britain in 1996.

Britain's Home office said it was not able to give any information on Issac's immigration status. However, it said that if he had been granted British citizenship, he would be able to travel to the United States without restriction.

Associated Press writers Ariel David and Marta Falconi in Rome and Constant Brand in Brussels contributed to this report.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's a great story. Waiting for more. » » »

4:38 AM  

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