Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
International

Near-Shooting, 'Burqa Escape' in U.K. Bomb Case

British police nearly shot a terrorism suspect after finding him in his apartment, standing in the bath and wearing a back-pack, according to testimony heard in a British court Tuesday. "To this day, I still don't know how I didn't shoot him," an officer said.

Speaking about the day of the arrest, one police officer said he feared the man's bag contained explosives, so he released the safety catch on his sub-machine gun and took aim at the suspect's head.

He told the court he could not explain why he had not fired when the suspect moved his hands toward his chest.

Advertisement

The suspect, Yassin Omar, is one of the men accused of trying to blow up the London underground on July 21, 2005, just two weeks after four British Muslim suicide bombers killed 52 people on July 7. The court in London heard details of Omar's arrest and was shown video footage of 26-year-old Omar arriving at Birmingham bus station the day after the attempted bombings took place.

For fear of arrest, the 6'2" Omar had disguised himself by wearing a black burqa, of the type worn by some Muslim women. It covered his entire face and body; he was also carrying a woman's purse.

Police later traced him to a house in Birmingham, and the most gripping testimony came from one of the armed police officers who stormed the house six days later.

The BBC's June Kelly was in court, says the officer testified that, "He threw stun grenade; he said he threw a grenade into the kitchen" before seeing the man standing in the bathroom.

But after Omar put hands up, the officer reapplied his safety catch.

Advertisement

The officers finally subdued Omar by punching him in the face, and using a Taser stun gun, as Omar put up a ferocious fight. All the time, the court heard, the officers didn't know if Omar's backpack contained a bomb.

Some commentators have expressed surprise that the officers didn't kill Yasin Omar.

But Roy Ramm, a Former Commander in London's Metropolitan Police says he has no doubt that the officers' actions were affected by the killing in London just five days earlier of an unarmed Brazilian electrician.

The man, Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, was shot seven times in the head by police officers who mistook him for a suicide bomber.

"It's the hardest of calls," Ramm says. "I'm in some ways surprised he didn't pull the trigger. Unless you're there, perhaps you catch the body language, or the glint in the eye, and it's impossible for anyone to second guess that and make a judgment call for him."

Five other men are charged with Omar. All of them deny the charges against them.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.