LONDON (Reuters) - The London suicide attacks of July 7, 2005, might have been planned for the previous day and the bombers were prepared to fight police and throw improvised bombs at them, the victims’ inquests were told on Monday.
The first day of the inquests into deaths of the 52 people heard the victims had been killed in acts of merciless savagery during an “unimaginably dreadful wave of horror.”
Four British Islamists — Mohammad Sidique Khan, 30, Shehzad Tanweer, 22, Hasib Hussain, 18, and Jermaine Lindsay, 19, — detonated homemade bombs on three packed underground trains and a bus in the worst peacetime attacks in London.
The long-awaited inquests at London’s High Court — which had to wait until all criminal trials of alleged associates of the bombers had ended — are the first public examination of the blasts and the events leading up to them.
They are expected to last five months, will call 240 witnesses as well as a couple hundred more statements, and use the largest investigation database created by the Metropolitan Police containing more than 40,000 exhibits.
On Monday, the inquests heard how London Underground, responded, somewhat chaotically, to the unfolding outrage. Senior managers initially thought there had been a power outage or power surge hitting many train lines.
Emergency calls made to the tube’s control center by station staff played to the court talked of a “person under a train” or a train “hitting a tunnel wall.”
The court also heard that a text message from ringleader Khan to fellow bomber Tanweer suggested plans to carry out the attacks 24 hours earlier had to be abandoned.
The coroner, Lady Justice Heather Hallett, who is sitting without a jury, opened the hearing by pledging to release as much material as possible to the public.
“I will balance carefully the needs of national security with relevance and fairness,” she said. She will examine the role of the security services and whether MI5 could and should have stopped the attacks.
Hallett promised the families of the victims that though it will be necessary to see and hear extremely disturbing material “no graphic images” of the bombings or of their injured loved ones will be made available on the web.
Apart from those killed, some 700 people were injured or severely maimed. Many still bare deep psychological scars.
After a minute’s silence for the victims, lawyer to the inquests, Hugo Keith, outlined how the four suicide bombers carried out the bombings but admitted that some of the questions revolving around the attacks might never be fully answered.
“They detonated amongst the innocent and the unknowing, indiscriminately killing and maiming passengers who were simply going about their daily business,” he said.
“The bombs struck down men and women, the old and young, British nationals as well as foreigners. They had no regard to whether the victim was Christian, Muslim, a follower of any of our other great faiths, an adherent to none.”
Keith said the four bombers unleashed an “unimaginably dreadful wave of horror” which they hoped would attract worldwide publicity.
“They were acts of merciless savagery which could only outline the sheer inhumanity of the perpetrators,” he said.
Keith noted there have already been a series of investigations into the 7/7 attacks, including a major report by the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).
Families of victims and survivors have long called for a full public inquiry into the bombings, arguing that official accounts have been insufficient, inaccurate and misleading.
Their demands have been fueled by revelations in subsequent years that two of the bombers had come onto the radar of the security services but were not deemed significant threats.
In the aftermath of the attacks, ministers had stated the men were unknown to the authorities and were “clean skins”
Evidence given at court cases since 2005 has shown that Tanweer and the bombers’ ringleader Khan were photographed, recorded and followed by intelligence operatives several times in early 2004 in the company of plotters later jailed for planning attacks using fertilizer-based bombs.
However, a report by the ISC last year concluded the domestic spy agency MI5 could not have prevented the bombings because it lacked the resources to investigate Khan properly.
Police have always maintained that the four bombers received help from other people with links to al Qaeda. However, no one has ever been convicted of any involvement and last year three men were cleared of helping to plot the attacks.
Additional reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Steve Addison