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A new plague

UK developments produce more questions than answers

By Henry Schuster

Editor's Note: Henry Schuster, a senior producer in CNN's Investigative Unit and author of "Hunting Eric Rudolph," has been covering terrorism for more than a decade. Each week in "Tracking Terror," he reports on people and organizations driving international and domestic terrorism and efforts to combat those.

Scenes like this, with barricades and swarms of police, have become commonplace in England.




Great Britain
Acts of terror
Tracking Terror

LONDON, England (CNN) -- We were outside New Scotland Yard, getting ready to do a live shot, when police suddenly began cordoning off the area around us. Cars blocked the entrances at both sides of the street; armed officers moved in close.

It was all a familiar sight in England since July 7, and doubly so since the attempted bombings July 21.

Inside the cordon for a change, we got close to what was attracting all the attention. Workmen had been doing construction there just minutes before, and we were curious what they had to say.

Did it have something to do with the bombings? That seemed a natural question, given the past month.

"We've found some bones," said one worker. "Fancy someone burying them across the street from the Yard. But I don't think they're that new. You see this used to be a plague pit."

The pack of reporters, including me, smiled. The Black Death may have swept through here more than 600 years ago, but right now it seemed a welcome diversion from the terrorist attacks and police investigations.

This is the plague of terrorism that Britain now has to deal with. It isn't just a matter of anticipating another round of bombings, but addressing the many, new uncertainties that the attacks have wrought.

Police cordons are now a fact of life, be they in Leeds, London or now Birmingham. Each one is a sign that what began on July 7 -- the blasts, the investigation, the rumors -- keeps growing and changing.

Double dose of uncertainty

Consider that, initially, authorities first focused on identifying the bombers. When it was discovered they were homegrown, the soul-searching began in earnest. How could they? Why did they?

During the lunch hour on July 21, the second wave of attacks changed the landscape once more.

We were warned another bombing might happen. But when it did, many were baffled.

The attacks certainly looked similar to what happened two weeks earlier - and that alone had police believing they were linked.

But which is the worst alternative: If they were linked, or if they weren't?

It was bad enough to imagine one or more terrorist cells out there, perhaps belonging to a larger organization, primed and ready to strike again.

What if the two sets of bombings aren't linked? What if the initial attacks had simply inspired a slew of copycat terrorists, who had decided to cook up their own homemade explosives and strike?

Many unknowns

These questions, and others like them, have fueled an atmosphere of uncertainty across the country.

Other critical issues that continue to occupy British investigators, journalists and citizens include:

  • Why did authorities hunt for four bombers after the July 21 attacks, even though there were five bombs?
  • Police found four at the scenes of the attempted detonations on the subway trains and bus. But a fifth bomb, made with the same container used in the four others, was found two days later in a West London park.

    How did it get there? Does this mean there was a fifth bomber? Or could it have been left there later on or after July 21?

  • Who was meant to use the more than a dozen bombs found in a car connected to July 7 bombing suspect Shehzad Tanweer?
  • Authorities discovered the vehicle at Luton train station, where Tanweer and his fellow bombers departed on their way to King's Cross and beyond that Thursday morning.

  • For that matter, why were Tanweer and Mohammed Sidique Khan -- another July 7 bomber -- caught smiling on camera during a whitewater rafting trip a month before their deadly deed?
  • It seems incongruous that Khan would flash a photographer the "V" sign -- for victory -- as his boat was going down the rapids, weeks before he carried out a mass murder. That said, the image could help explain why others might have had difficulty identifying the existence and motives of this terrorist cell.

  • How did police shoot the wrong man on a London subway train last week? We now know that officers shot Jean Charles de Menezes eight times.
  • de Menezes
    The shooting of de Menezes has raised many questions about police tactics and the investigation.

    Why didn't he stop? How he was warned? Why was he tracked in the first place? An independent commission will try to answer all these questions, as well as re-examine the London police's new shoot-to-kill policy, in the coming weeks.

    But perhaps the most pressing question, the one that keeps the situation on edge, is how many other would-be terrorists are still in Britain, awaiting an opportunity to strike.

    Rohan Gunaratna, an expert on terrorism with experience in Great Britain, the United States, Singapore and elsewhere, warns that a dozen or more people involved in the cells responsible for the two sets of July bombings could be on the loose.

    And that's just if these cells are connected. The numbers could be higher if people are acting independently, or brand new cells inspired by the initial attacks are emerging.

    "You need people to mount surveillance and reconnaissance on the targets, you need people to study the security procedures, you need people to study the transportation system," said Gunaratna, the author of "Inside al Qaeda," of the many people needed to make a terrorist cell effective.

    "And you also need people to maintain the safe houses, the communication, to procure the equipment and the chemicals, and also to prepare the devices, and finally to transport the devices and the bombers to the target location."

    Little fear, but the problem persists

    Every day, the investigations into these terror attacks seem to lead to more places around Britain. And the very real possibility of more bombings, and more deaths, lingers.

    Yet despite the many unknowns, you don't sense a state of fear.

    Riding the Tube, London's subway, on a daily basis, you don't see people eyeing each other warily.

    And the night of the July 21 bombings, the pubs were jammed as people enjoyed a beautiful midsummer's evening, knowing these terrorists had failed in their mission.

    But that's not to say that everything is resolved.

    Just around the corner could be another police cordon, another sign that the plague of terrorism and of uncertainty are here.

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