Were the London attacks suicide bombings?--

The question whether the London attacks were done by suicide bombers or instead by bombs on timers is an interesting one. The early suspicion that they were suicide bombings quickly changed to a tentative consensus that the bombings were on timers, the primary evidence being that the 3 bombs in the Underground were exploded within a minute of the others.

On the day after the bombing, Debka.com took a different view on several points:

The bombing attacks on London's Underground railway and a double-decker bus Thursday, July 7, were the work of a team of 6-8 terrorists wearing explosive vests.

This is the first conclusion drawn by DEBKA-Net-Weekly's terror experts from the type and strength of the explosives used and they way the bombers, in three out of the four attacks, were able to deliberately spread the damage to secondary vehicles outside their primary targets.

The explosion on the trains at Kings Cross and Edgware Road stations--and the bomb that wrecked the bus at Tavistock Square--were also aimed at hitting passing trains and cars to maximize the casualty toll. To accomplish this, the bomber needed to watch out for moving vehicles and judge the exact moment for detonating the explosive with zero chances of surviving the blast.

The bombs were not large, smaller than the ones that were planted on the Madrid trains in March 2004, because they had to be worn on the terrorists' bodies without arousing suspicion. In Madrid they were left in bags.

At the big Kings Cross station, two trains were caught in the blast; at Edgware Road station, three trains were hit.

As for the bus, two suicide bombers sat at the back of the bus well separated, ready to detonate their vests as soon as they saw a second bus came close through the rear window. They then both tripped the cords on their bombs. The bus's upper deck was ripped off and hurled in the air. Had there been one bomber, only one side of the bus would have been wrecked. . . .

More than a few British Muslims have spent time in Arab countries studying at religious institutions whose curriculum includes military training and bomb-making instruction.

Two such British Muslim suicide killers, Asif Mohammed Hanif and Omar Khan Sherif, were dispatched to Tel Aviv to blow up the American embassy on April 30, 2003, When they saw the building was a fortress, they switched to an attack on the neighboring Mike's Bar.

A joint British-Israeli probe traced the two bombers' movements from London to Damascus where they studied and were recruited at a medressa run by al Qaeda's adherents. The pair picked up their bomb vests from Hizballah agents in the Gaza Strip which they entered as British tourists supporting the Palestinian cause.

The London bombers' modus operandi recalls that of Hanif and Sherif two years ago.

I considered blogging it at the time, but Debka's version of events was so different from what most were saying (and the certainty with which some of their speculations were presented was so unjustified) that I thought that I'd wait to see if anything checked out. Now some of Debka's more unusual ideas are being echoed in a few other stories, though there is still no evidence mentioned by others pointing to the bombings in the Underground being the work of suicide bombers. The bus bombing, however, may have been either a suicide bombing or an accidental detonation.

The Times (London):

It is understood that the examination of the No 30 bus at Tavistock Square has yielded vital fragments that have sharpened the focus of the police inquiry. Forensic pathologists have been paying particular attention to the remains of two bodies found in the mangled wreckage of the double-decker.

A senior police source said: "There are two bodies which have to be examined in great detail because they appear to have been holding the bomb or sitting on top of it. One of those might turn out to be the bomber." A decapitated head was found at the bus scene which has been, in Israeli experience, the sign of a suicide bomber.

The Australian:

The revelation came as it emerged that the severed head of a man had been found near the bus torn apart at Tavistock Square in the London bombings, strengthening suspicions that a suicide bomber was behind the blast. Suicide attacks in Israel have shown that a head is often the only remnant of a suicide bomber, as an explosion close to the torso can force the head to fly up, remaining intact while the rest of the body disintegrates.

London's Daily Telegraph reported yesterday that the head found near the bus had almost certainly been blown out of the upper deck where a rucksack-sized bomb is believed to have been planted on a seat. The head may be that of an innocent passenger who picked the bomb up just before it exploded, but police have believed from the start that the bus could have been hit by a suicide bomber. . . .

One passenger who got off the bus just before the explosion had noticed a nervous young man behaving oddly on the bus and frequently dipping into a bag at his feet.

Investigators are convinced three other terrorists escaped after leaving bombs on three Underground trains about 47 minutes before the bus blast.

Arutz Sheva:

Israel police have revealed that the explosives used in the multi-pronged terrorist attack in London last week were materially identical to the explosives used by two British Muslim suicide bombers who struck in Tel Aviv more than a year ago.

It is unknown at this time if the apparent explosives link points to an Israel-based connection, or if it points to a common source of materiel outside both the UK and Israel.

One of the two bombers, who had entered Israel on authentic British passports, blew himself up in Mike's Place pub in the city, killing three people.

The Telegraph:

Police believe one bomber blew himself up, possibly accidentally, on the upper deck of the bus, in Tavistock Square, and are trying to establish whether a head found nearby was that of a suicide bomber. Decapitation is a classic effect in suicide bombing where explosives are packed close to the torso.


Richard Jones, who was travelling on the packed Number 30, said he is convinced he saw a bomber on board setting a device.

The 61-year-old told The Sun: "I noticed him as he looked nervous. He was continually diving into his bag, rummaging round and looking in it."

Seconds after Mr Jones stepped off the bus, it exploded with the "bomber" still on board. Terence Mutasa, 27, a staff nurse at University College hospital, told The Sun: "I treated two girls in their 20s who were involved in the bus bomb.

"They were saying some guy came and sat down and that he exploded."

He added: "They said the guy just sat down and the explosion happened. They thought it was a suicide bomber."

Israel Insider:

The terror attack in London last week may be tied to a suicide bombing on Tel Aviv's beachfront in April 2003, German newspaper Bild am Sonntag reported.

According to the paper, Mossad officials informed British security officials that the explosive material used in the Tel Aviv attack on Mike's Place pub was apparently also utilized to stage the bombings in London on Thursday.

Cape Times:

Authorities said a fresh analysis of data from eyewitnesses and the Underground's computer and electrical systems showed the three blasts occurred within 50 seconds of one another, starting at 8.50am.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Brian Paddick said at a Metropolitan Police briefing that authorities had not ruled out the possibility of suicide bombers but now believed it was more likely the attackers had used timers.

Michael Oren of the Shalem Centre panel in Jerusalem agreed. "In Israel, we've had co-ordinated suicide bombings but they've never been that close," he said. "If they've got down to a minute that would be an all-time record."

Paddick said no timing devices or other detonators had yet been discovered in the wreckage. When they are found, they are "probably going to be in millions of pieces", he said.

He said early analysis suggested that each bomb consisted of a "device in a bag, rather than something that was strapped to the individual".

A string of stories are now saying that the explosives are of the same type as was used in the Mike's Place bombing in Israel. Some of the stories tend to support there having been a suicide bomber on the bus, and one story even raises the possibility of two bombers on the bus, though the bombs are still believed to have been in bags rather than strapped to bodies. My conclusion is not that Debka is right about any of this, but rather that we should wait for evidence before jumping to conclusions on what happened. The conventional wisdom can change as new evidence is sifted through.

UPDATE (Tuesday): Several UK media outlets are now saying that the London bombings were the work of suicide bombers (tip to Instapundit).

"Homicide Bomber":

The term has long annoyed me (well, as long as Fox and others have been using it, which I suppose hasn't been that long), so I thought I'd repost Juan Non-Volokh's post on this from two and a half years ago (one paragraph break added):

"HOMICIDE BOMBERS": I know that it has become fashionable in some circles to use the term "homicide bomber" in place of "suicide bomber." This is unfortunate. Even though I am generally sympathetic to the political views of those who use the term, I think that it represents a positively Orwellian misuse of the English language for political purposes of exactly the sort that many who use the term would otherwise condemn.

Would it make any sense to refer to a murderer as a "homicide killer"? Should we have called the D.C. snipers the "homicide snipers"? Of course not. Why not? Because it is redundant and the addition of the word "homicide" does not clarify or provide additional detail. If a killer took his own life after that of his victim(s), it would make no sense to refer to him as a "homicide killer." The same is true here.

Indeed, the only purpose of inserting the word "homicide" is to make a political statement. Unfortunately, it comes at the expense of the English language. Any terrorist bomber who kills is a "homicide bomber." What is unique in these situations is not that a terrorist is killing people -- terrorists do that as a matter of course -- but that the terrorist is taking his (or, in at least one case, her) own life in the process. This is what makes suicide bombings different from an "ordinary" terrorist bombing -- and what makes this sort of attack particuarly difficult to stop.

I know what some of you are thinking: Somehow, using the phrase "suicide bomber" unnecessarily validates the actions of these terrorists, and downplays the evil nature of their attacks, whereas the phrase "homicide bomber" makes clear how terrible they are. Sorry, but I don't buy it. The phrase "suicide bomber" is simply more descriptive and accurate.

UPDATE: Many readers disagree with me -- as I suspected some might. A few have suggested alternative appellations for these deranged murderers. One is "kamikaze bomber." I agree that this is very descriptive. My one question would be whether this phrase implies an elemnet of martyrdom.

Another alternative is "suicide killer," though I tend to think "suicide bomber" conveys the same message. While it is conceivable that someone could be a "suicide bomber" without trying to kill others, I can not think of an example of this ever happening. The closest thing I can recall are political protesters who lit themselves on fire, but such acts are far more contained act than bombing.

I'm not quite as troubled by this as Juan is -- I don't think there's much damage done to the language as a result -- but "bomber" is a pejorative enough term, adding "suicide" adds important information while doing nothing to soften the pejorative, and adding "homicide" does little to strengthen the pejorative (especially since "homicide" is a bit legalese) while stripping away the information that "suicide" added.

Londoners are Buying bikes to get to work.--

The Guardian reports that Londoners are buying more bicycles:

Public transit officials said the number of passengers using London's vast bus and subway network, which handles 3 million people on a typical day, was back to normal Monday.

Sales of bicycles have climbed since the bombings as workers look for alternatives to public transport, the capital's biggest cycle retailer said.

Scotland Yard Investigates Whether 4 Suicide Bombers Died in the London Attacks.--

Scotland Yard held a news conference today revealing some details suggesting that the London bombings might have been done by 4 suicide bombers. Indeed, besides the probable suicide bomber on the bus (who has been tentatively identified), documents with the names of two of his friends were found on the trains, which at least suggests that they did not survive.

The Guardian reports:

Police are investigating whether four attackers died in last week's London subway and bus bombings and have arrested one suspect after a series of raids Tuesday in Leeds, a northern city with a strong Muslim community.

At least three of the suspected bombers came from the West Yorkshire region, which includes Leeds, said Peter Clarke, head of the Metropolitan Police anti-terrorist branch.

Closed-circuit TV video showed that all four had arrived at King's Cross station by 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, about 20 minutes before the blasts began that killed at least 52 people, Clarke said.

In a Scotland Yard news conference, Clarke said police had ``strong forensic and other evidence'' that the man believed to have carried a bomb onto the subway train that exploded between the Aldgate and Liverpool Street stations died in the blast, and they were awaiting confirmation from the coroner. Police were trying to determine whether the other three also died in the explosions.

Police indicated that there had been a breakthrough in their inquiry.

``The investigation quite early led us to have concerns about the movements and activities of four men, three of whom came from the West Yorkshire area. We are trying to establish their movements in the run-up to last week's attacks, and specifically to establish if they all died in the explosions,'' Clarke said.

One of the suspects had been reported missing by his family at 10 a.m. Thursday, and some of his property was found on the double-decker bus in which 13 died, Clarke said. The family said the man had traveled to London with three other men.

Investigators also found personal documents bearing the names of two of the other men three near seats on the Aldgate and Edgware lines. Police did not identify the men.

Acting on six warrants stemming from those developments, British soldiers blasted their way into a modest Leeds row house Tuesday to search for explosives and computers. Streets were cordoned off and about 500 people were evacuated. Hours earlier, police searched five residences elsewhere in the city.

So it appears that Debka.com may be right in its speculations about the terrorists being suicide bombers. Besides the forensic evidence that Scotland Yard refers to, Debka says that the small size of the bombs was more consistent with suicide bombers. Debka also claims that the bombs were detonated when other trains or buses were adjacent, a claim that I have not seen addressed elsewhere. It appears that Debka may have also been correct about the explosives used being the same as used in the Mike's Place bombing in 2003 in Tel Aviv, which was committed by British radical Islamicists. So far there is nothing to support other Debka speculations: that there were 6-8 suicide bombers and that the bombers wore vests.

"Homicide Bomber" Revisited.--

I was interested to see Eugene's post on the use of the term "homicide bomber" instead of "suicide bomber"--a post that reprinted some of Juan Non-Volokh's criticisms of the term. I considered posting on it when I linked an article from Sky News/Fox News, and was happy to see that my colleagues had weighed in against it years ago. Certainly, the term is Orwellian in it makes conveying information difficult. But it is particularly bad in a situation like London bombing.

Let me explain. In the typical case, it is OBVIOUS that the bombing was a suicide bombing. Then by calling it a "homicide bombing," a news service tries to reflect the fact that the crucial lives lost are those of the (usually multiple) victims. But in London, where there is uncertainty whether it was a "suicide bombing" or instead a "homicide bombing" in which the bombers escaped, the term "homicide bombing" is not a synonym for "suicide bombing." We know it was a homicide bombing--50-80 people were killed. What is unclear is whether it was a suicide bombing, in which the terrorists intended to die with their bombs. Current evidence suggests Yes.

There is a counter-argument: that the term "suicide bomber" doesn't indicate whether anyone was killed other than the bomber, while "homicide bomber" does. But in the context in which bombings are generally discussed in the press, the death of victims is usually what triggers press coverage, so the term "suicide bomber" is more descriptive, as well as being conventional. Not only do I agree with my fellow conspirators, but I think that the London bombings illustrate just how unfortunate term "homicide bomber" is.

Transcript of the Scotland Yard News Conference Now Up.--

Counterterrorism blog links to the transcript of the Scotland Yard press conference.

Why Mention the "Suicide" in Suicide Bomber At All,

some readers ask? Because it's very relevant to how we can fight this sort of killing.

It's much harder to deter suicide bombers than nonsuicide bombers. It's harder to watch for suspicious objects (it's one thing to watch for abandoned backpacks, another to watch for backpacks on people's backs). Techniques used for blocking nonsuicide bombers (for instance, preventing nonpassengers from getting bombs on the plane) won't work as well for suicide bombers.

More broadly, knowing that your enemy is willing to blow themselves up in order to kill you is also surely relevant for understanding the enemy -- not as a means of forgiving them, but as a means of better fighting them. That so many Islamist terrorists are willing to face not just the risk of death but the certainty of death tells us something about the nature of Islamist terrorism (though doubtless different people have different views about what exactly it tells us). That Islamist terrorism seems to be the one form of terrorism -- at least of the forms seen recently in the West -- that employs suicide bombing may itself be an important datum.

So the "suicide" in "suicide bomber" is actually important information. Omitting it strips away important information, and adding "homicide" adds very little: While bombings aimed only at destroying property are possible, I suspect few people think of them these days when they hear "bomber" on the news. And since it seems quite unlikely that someone would deliberately kill himself just to bomb property, I'm pretty sure that when people hear "suicide bomber," they almost always assume that he was trying to kill others.

Fox Gets Confused By Its Own Stylistic Innovation:

Gabe (A Handful of Sand) writes (emphasis added, see the post for links):

I wanted to add a clear example of just how presposterous [Fox's "suicide bomber"-to-"homicide bomber" conversion] ends up being, especially when it seems like someone just went through and replaced the word "suicide" with "homicide":

New evidence suggests four bombers blew themselves up on the London transportation system last week, killing at least 52 in what could be the first homicide attacks in Western Europe, officials said Tuesday.

The first homicide attacks? Even if one limits this to the first homicide attacks by Islamist terrorists, that's surely false — consider the Madrid bombings. They may well be the first major suicide attacks by Islamist terrorists, though. People who use the clearer, less redundant, and more information-laden "suicide bomber" formulation wouldn't have made this mistake. But people who talk of "homicide bomber" when they mean "bomber who kills people and also commits suicide" did make the mistake.

UPDATE: Some readers correctly pointed out that Fox borrowed the term from others -- most proximately the Bush Administration, though it had been coined earlier. "Its own stylistic innovation" was thus imprecise; I was focusing on the fact that this is Fox's little crotchet, not shared by any of its competitors, and thus innovative within its field, but I should probably have said "its own stylistic idiosyncracy" or some such.

The first uses of this term that I could find in NEXIS, by the way, were in two letters to the editor (Sally Kannemeyer, Newsweek, Oct. 1, 2001 and Daniel Rosenfield, Wash. Post, Oct. 2, 2001) and in a piece by a David Mittman, in Clinician Review, dated Oct. 1, 2001. Then there was a lull, which suggests that it hadn't been used by anyone really famous, or else there probably would have been more reportage or other echoes; but the cluster of publications near Oct. 1 suggest a likely common source, though I don't know which one.

Then in late March 2002, the phrase is used by several Israeli sources, outraged by suicide bombers in Israel. The Bush Administration picked it up in mid-April 2002, and some news outlets followed suit; as best I can tell, Fox is the one that has really made it a part of its lexicon. A quickie search suggests that Administration officials (including Bush) have largely reverted to "suicide bomber," with a few exceptions.

FoxNews "Homicide Attack" Trope Criticized

by OpinionJournal's Best of the Web here (item 3).