British police stand by shooting policy
The British police on Sunday defended their shoot-to-kill policy in the wake of the slaying of an innocent man on a subway train as much of Britain's political establishment rallied around the policies of Prime Minister Tony Blair in his antiterror campaign.
Ian Blair, London's commissioner of police, stopped short of an outright apology, even as he expressed "deepest regrets" and accepted "full responsibility" for the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, a 27-year-old Brazilian electrician who died after he was shot five times in the head on Friday by the local police at the Stockwell subway station in south London.
[The British police arrested a third suspected terrorist after a failed attack on Thursday against London's transit system that Blair, the commissioner, indicated Sunday might be linked to Al Qaeda, according to The Associated Press. The arrest came in the same south London neighborhood that was home to Menezes.
[Blair indicated to Britain's Sky News television that he believes Qaeda-linked terrorists were involved in the failed attacks.]
The commissioner warned the British people that more killings of potential suspects lie ahead. "It wasn't just a random event, and the most important thing to recognize is that it is still happening out there," he said Sunday in an interview with Sky News TV.
He described the environment in which his police officers are working as "terrifying," adding that "there is no point shooting at somebody's chest, because that is where the bomb is likely to be."
British opposition politicians largely have supported the actions of the government, but Brazil's foreign minister, Celso Amorim, said he was "shocked and perplexed" by the killing and demanded an explanation of the killing after speaking to his British counterpart, Jack Straw, by telephone and meeting a Foreign Office minister in London.
"Here was a peaceful, innocent person who was killed," Amorim told reporters, adding, "Even in the fight against terrorism we should also be cautious to avoid the loss of innocent life."
Straw, who was not in London to meet Amorim, offered expressions of regret and assurances of a thorough, if lengthy, investigation into the killing, Amorim said.
Family members of the victim struggled to make sense of why Menezes had been killed. "Their explanation is that they had to kill someone to show the population that they are making the country safe," Alex Alves Pereira, a cousin, who reportedly identified his body, said on BBC television. "I ask all the people to ask the Metropolitan Police and Tony Blair, 'What kind of job are they doing?"'
About three dozen people, apparently Brazilians, demonstrated in front of police headquarters in London.
They brandished a banner that read, "Sorry is not enough."
In his remarks Sunday, Ian Blair struggled to defend himself against charges that his police had overreacted. "There is nothing gratuitous here in what is going on," he said. "There is nothing cavalier. There is no conspiracy to shoot people."
Acknowledging that minority communities in Britain had criticized the shoot-to-kill policy, he offered a confusing distinction, saying the policy was not "shoot to kill," but "shoot to kill in order to protect."
But as was the case in the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, there has been a political circling of the wagons as even Tony Blair's opposition has been reluctant to look soft in the campaign against terrorism.
"I'm proud we have a prime minister who knows what he's doing," David Cameron, a conservative member of Parliament and the shadow education minister, said on Sky News TV on Sunday. He said this was not a time to play politics, adding, "We are all in this together." The shoot-to-kill policy was also staunchly defended.
"We are living in unique times of unique evil, at war with an enemy of unspeakable brutality, and I have no doubt that now, more than ever, the principle is right despite the chance, tragically, of error," Lord Stevens, the former London police commissioner until he was succeeded by Blair six months ago, wrote in an opinion piece in Sunday's tabloid, News of the World. He added, "There is only one sure way to stop a suicide bomber determined to fulfill his mission: destroy his brain instantly, utterly."
Peter Hain, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, put it more bluntly in televised remarks on Sunday, offering a message to the police officers: "They have our full support."
As a gesture of outreach to the families of the dead and wounded in the July 7 attacks, the police for the first time invited them to a briefing to explain the status and progress of the investigation. Jed Ashcroft, deputy inspector of the London police, told reporters it was a way of "demystifying the criminal justice process."
But there was also sharp criticism of Britain's foreign policy and charges that its participation in the American-led war in Iraq and in fighting the insurgency since then had created an atmosphere that encouraged terrorism.
"Undoubtedly it boosted terrorism," said Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary who resigned in protest over Britain's Iraq policy, referring to the American-led Iraq war and the insurgency that has followed. In remarks to the BBC, he said that the death of the young Brazilian dealt "a very serious blow to our relations" with Brazil, an important ally.
The dead man's cousin, Alves, interviewed on Brazil's leading television network, said Menezes was an electrician who had been working in England for more than three years.
Menezes was from the interior state of Minas Gerais and had been in Britain legally, Alves said. He would have been on his way to work that morning, he said, and had no reason to flee the police.
"How could they have done such a thing as to kill him from behind?" Alves told the Globo Television Network.
Another cousin, speaking to Brazil's national radio network, said Menezes understood English well and would have understood the officer's instructions.
The shooting occurred the day after the copycat attackers tried to bomb three other Underground trains and a bus, but their bombs failed to explode. Plainclothes police officers staking out an apartment followed a man who emerged from it - Menezes - then chased him into the Stockwell subway station and onto a train. Menezes tripped, and one of the officers in pursuit fired five rounds at point-blank range.
After the shooting, Blair, the police commissioner, said the dead man was "directly linked to the ongoing and expanding antiterrorist operation," and the police issued images taken from closed-circuit cameras of four suspects in the failed attacks. They said that, while the man they shot may not have been one of the four, he was still being sought in their inquiry.
A statement Friday said that Menezes' "clothing and his behavior at the station added to their suspicions," apparently referring to reports that he was wearing a bulky jacket on a summer day.
Through most of Saturday, the police refused to give further details. Then, in the late afternoon, Scotland Yard issued its statement admitting the "mistake."