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Friday, April 30, 1999 Published at 20:29 GMT 21:29 UK

The tough task of hunting the bombers

The police are facing many difficulties in their investigations

The Metropolitan Police are facing one of their biggest tests - catching those responsible for the Brick Lane, Brixton and Soho bombings.

The nail bomb terror
Minority communities are watching closely to see how the police handle the investigations, and they want results. But it is a tough task for the force.

The main problem, according to a number of commentators, is the strong possibility that a lone bomber or a small cell of people is responsible.

'Unknown quantity'

This would make it even more difficult for the police, because it would mean they could not use infiltration tactics as they could with larger groups or organisations.

Police Review editor Gary Mason said: "The major problem it that it is an indiscriminate action by an unknown group, which makes it notoriously difficult.

[ image: An individual could be responsible for the two blasts]
An individual could be responsible for the two blasts
"Right wing groups are so unorganised and fragmented, which makes it very, very difficult for the police to follow through any leads.

"It is very different with regard to IRA attacks. Those reponsible for these bombings are an unknown quantity."

The attacks may have been carried out by an individual claiming sympathy with a neo-nazi organisation, but who is himself unknown to that organisation, he said.

"If the police have no files on them, it is more difficult. Increasingly a lot of police efforts are concentrated on forensic evidence, but there doesn't appear to be much.

"The Mardi Gra bomber was caught eventually because his luck ran out, but he left no clues after his first attacks."

Infiltration and surveillance

Terrorism expert David Capitanchik, of Aberdeen University, said the use of coded messages on the Internet by right-wing groups and individuals added to the problem facing police.

Speaking before the Soho bomb he said: "If it is an organised group, it will be very small - two or three people maximum, or it could be a lone bomber.

"The problem is that a large group is easy to infiltrate, once it is large enough that people don't know each other.

[ image: Ethnic minority communities are watching police closely]
Ethnic minority communities are watching police closely
"But very small groups work on the theory that if you have a very small cell, you know each other, and if a cell is busted by the police, it is only that cell, and the organisation carries on."

The neo-nazi organisation Combat 18 is one of the groups which claimed responsibility for the Brixton bombing. It also contacted police to say it was behind the Brick Lane attack.

But Mr Capitanchik said it was unlikely Combat 18 was responsible, because of the level of police infiltration and surveillance of the organisation.

However it was possible that a splinter group which had broken away from Combat 18 could be responsible.

A far-right group, the White Wolves, claimed in a telephone call to the BBC that it was responsible for the Soho bombing.

Mr Capitanchik said: "Nowadays people don't need to communicate on a face-to-face basis, and these groups use encryption on the Internet to communicate with each other, which is very difficult to crack.

Internet access

"They organise events that way, so you can no longer tap telephones and open letters. With the Internet it's a whole new ball game.

"What is a puzzle to me is the timing - I'm not sure why it's happening now. It is possibly related to the Lawrence case, but it seems purely spontaneous in a sense.

"I think there's a sort of link with the shootings in Denver, in that individuals and small groups of people with the same sort of ideas, probably across the world, get on to Internet sites and access the same material, and encourage each other.

[ image: Officers at the scene of the Brixton bombing]
Officers at the scene of the Brixton bombing
"The problem the police have got is that an individual doesn't even need a garden shed to make a bomb - they can do it in their bedroom or bedsit.

"Unless the police have a bit of luck, it is going to be extremely difficult. They need people to be eyes and ears, and to report anyone suspicious.

"But they are more likely to get somewhere once a pattern develops, and for example there is more of a bomb to show what the ingredients are and the 'signature' of the person making them."

Nick Lowles, co-editor of the anti-racist magazine Searchlight, said the magazine had informants in various right-wing groups who had not heard anything about any plans for the bomb attacks.

'Inciting violence'

"It is either one person acting alone who is politically motivated or crazed, or it is a small group of two to five people", he said.

"In the past six years there has been an increasing trend for neo-nazi groups to be very small, without an ordered or hierarchical structure.

"One person is very difficult to catch, unless they either boast about it or a bomb doesn't go off and fingerprints are found, for example."

He added that he thought the aim of the bombs was not just to injure and maim as many people as possible, but to incite wider racial violence by attempting to trigger a reaction in black and Asian communities against white people.

The police had not taken the threat of right-wing terrorism seriously enough in the past, and had not responded to recent threats made to black and Asian people, he said.

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