Ministers reject Blair's linkage of bombings to Mideast conflict

By Aluf Benn, Yossi Melman and Roni Singer


Tamuz 3, 5765

Cabinet Ministers on Sunday rejected British Prime Minister Tony Blair's contention that the Mideast conflict is one of the underlying causes of terror, saying the London bombings are part of a wider terror war being waged against Western countries.

Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday that "the terrorists operating in London last week were doing it as part of a comprehensive terrorist war against the Western civilization similar to what they've done in America, similar to what they've done in Spain."

Israeli officials have long stressed the global nature of terror, apparently wary that a connection between attacks on Western countries and Middle East policy could increase pressure on Israel to resolve its conflict with the Palestinians.

Cabinet Minister Matan Vilnai said Western democracies, including Israel, are being targeted by terror. "We are part of it and the whole free world is now part of it," he said.

In a weekend interview on BBC Radio, Blair said it was crucial to address terrorism's underlying causes, which he identified as deprivation, lack of democracy and the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.

"I think this type of terrorism has very deep roots. As well as dealing with the consequences of this - trying to protect ourselves as much as any civil society can - you have to try to pull it up by its roots," Blair said, adding that this meant boosting understanding between people of different religions, helping people in the Middle East see a path to democracy and easing the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that Blair had "touched reality and spoke strategically of the need to deal with the problems of this region."

"I believe a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not involve reinventing the wheel. We all know the parameters. We all the know that this is going to be a two-state solution. We all know that Israel needs to end its occupation and secondly we need to see democracy in this region," he said.

Report: Death toll rises to at least 70
The official death toll in Thursday's terror attacks is still set at 49 but the British press said the number has risen to at least 70, Israel Radio reported on Sunday morning.

Investigators struggled in extreme heat to retrieve bodies still trapped underground after the attacks, while anxious relatives frantically looked for loved ones missing since the rush-hour blasts on Thursday morning.

Police said the process of recovering bodies could continue for days in a hot, narrow and rat-infested tunnel deep below ground at King's Cross station.

Tube bombs triggered 'within seconds of each other'
British police said Saturday that the three bomb attacks on London Underground trains occurred almost simultaneously. Another bomb went off almost an hour later on a bus in central London.

"All three bombs on the London Underground system actually exploded within seconds of each other at around 8.50 in the morning," Scotland Yard deputy assistant commissioner Brian Paddick told a news conference Saturday.

He said this pointed towards the use of timers to trigger the devices.

The explosions were so destructive that authorities have not been able to identify a single body and are depending on fingerprints, dental records and DNA analysis, detectives said Saturday.

Sophisticated coordination is a hallmark of Al-Qaida, the terror network blamed for the September 11 attacks on the United States and said by British officials to have possibly been behind the London blasts.

Probe focusing on Moroccan national
In the meanwhile, the investigation into the perpetrators of the attacks appeared to be focusing on a Moroccan national who has mysteriously gone missing from the British capital in recent days.

Scotland Yard and MI5 have urgently requested help from European agencies in tracking down a Moroccan national who has been living in Britain for 16 years and who is suspected of past terrorist activity in Europe and North Africa, the daily newspaper The Independent reported in Saturday's edition.

Mohammed al-Gerbouzi, who has also been linked to terrorist attacks in Madrid and Casablanca, disappeared from his home in London recently.
Al-Gerbouzi later told the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite channel that he was innocent.

French and German security officials have accused al-Gerbouzi of having links to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born leader of the Islamic insurgency in Iraq said to be connected to Al-Qaida, The Independent reported.

Morocco has repeatedly requested the British government extradite al-Gerbouzi, who was granted political asylum in the U.K. Al-Gerbouzi was convicted of involvement in terrorist attacks in Casablanca which killed 44 people. After being tried in absentia, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison, the paper said.

The London-based Arabic language daily Al-Hayyat reported Saturday that British security forces had raided the homes of, and taken into custody, two Muslim students currently enrolled at the University of London.

The newspaper also reported that police have detained and questioned scores of Muslims, including those holding British citizenship, within the last two days.