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Blair vows not to yield on policies

Denies Britain's role in Iraq war raised terror risk

LONDON -- Prime Minister Tony Blair emphatically rejected accusations yesterday that Britain's Iraq war involvement had worsened the danger of terrorism here and vowed not to ''give one inch" on his country's policies in the Middle East.

Not only had London already been a target, the causes of Islamic terrorism go much deeper and farther back in time than the Iraq conflict, Blair said. He denounced those who justify terror attacks by blaming US and British foreign policy.

''Whatever excuse or justification these people use, I don't think we should give one inch to them," Blair said at a news conference, asserting that his government is determined to toughen laws against terrorists and their supporters. ''Not in this country and the way we live our lives here, not in Iraq, not in our support for America."

Authorities announced yesterday that two of the four fugitives in last week's failed transport bombings immigrated to Britain from war-torn east Africa as children and have been legal residents here for more than a decade.

As the nationwide manhunt entered its fifth day, police searched for explosives-related evidence in an abandoned white Volkswagen and a housing project where the suspects lived. Forensics investigators made ''significant finds," the commissioner of the Metropolitan police said yesterday.

But all four would-be bombers -- two of whom have not been publicly identified -- remained on the run despite widespread distribution of their photos and repeated appeals for help from the public. Police believe the plot was linked to the July 7 bombings of three subway trains and a bus that killed 56 people, but a connection has not been confirmed.

The roots of the two publicly identified suspects are in East Africa, one of the world's poorest, most violent regions, and a longtime hotbed of Islamic radicalism. The two joined a diaspora of immigrants and refugees who have found safe haven in Britain. The country has for years been Europe's foremost magnet for immigrants, with one of the continent's most open policies for granting political asylum and for providing benefits and residence to refugees. Somalis in particular have been granted asylum or permission to stay because of the turmoil in their country.

Because the two men, now in their 20s, arrived here as children, they may well have been radicalized in Britain. That's a possible parallel to the July 7 bombers, three of whom were British-born sons of middle-class Pakistani immigrant families.

''We still have to understand what lies behind this," said Ian Blair, the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, in a televised interview. ''But we do know that Al Qaeda is a shadowy organization which has links in East Africa, it has links in Pakistan, it has links in North Africa."

Muktar Said Ibrahim, 27, the alleged attempted bus-bomber, was born in Eritrea, a former Italian colony that was absorbed by Ethiopia and finally won its independence in 1993. Said came here with relatives as a child, gaining permission to remain in 1992 when he was 14, according to the Home Office, which handles law enforcement affairs including immigration. Said applied for naturalization in late 2003 and was granted a British passport last September, a Home Office official said.

Said's family went to the police as soon as they saw his picture on television, according to a statement they released yesterday. The family distanced themselves from him and the attempted attacks. They said he had left home in 1994, when he would have been only 16 or 17.

BBC television reported last night that Said had a criminal record and had spent three years in prison, a familiar pattern among European militants from working-class families.

Some British investigators, meanwhile, are still considering the possibility that the July 7 bombers may not have planned to commit suicide but rather were duped, The New York Times reported today.

They cite evidence showing that each of the four men who died in the attacks had purchased round-trip train tickets; one had left a rental car in the town of Luton with a seven-day parking sticker on the dashboard and a large quantity of explosives stored in the trunk of that car.

The men carried driver's licenses and other ID cards with them, which is unusual for suicide bombers. And none left behind notes, videotapes, or Internet trails, as suicide bombers have done in the past.

Targeting terrorism

Political parties in Britain have reached agreement on speeding up new legislation in the aftermath of the London bombings. Two key proposals would outlaw:

''Acts preparatory to terrorism," such as receiving training in terrorist techniques in Britain, planning an attack, or downloading bomb-making instructions from the Internet.

''Indirect incitement" of terrorism, including praising those who carry out attacks. Aimed at extremist clerics accused of radicalizing disaffected Muslim youths in Britain.


GLOBE STAFF GRAPHIC/Kathleen Hennrikus

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