SAS joined police for terror raids
- SAS joined police for terror raids
By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent
London under attack
The dramatic scenes that played out live on television on Friday morning
were the result of intelligence gathered during a dawn raid by police two
days earlier in the Hay Mills area of Birmingham.
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In that operation, Anti-Terrorist Squad officers and members of the
Metropolitan Police's firearms unit, SO19, stormed two houses and arrested
It was the first big breakthrough in the hunt for a team of bombers who had
tried to replicate the devastating Tube and bus attacks of three weeks
earlier which had killed 52 people and injured 700.
Yassin Hassan Omar, 24, who was believed to have attempted a suicide attack
at Warren Street station six days earlier, was in police custody and was
beginning to talk.
It is believed that information obtained from Omar's interrogation led
police to two addresses in west London, which were being used as safe
houses. By this stage the police knew the identities of all five suspects,
to whom they referred as Bravo 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, while the addresses they
were occupying were known as Alpha 1 and Alpha 2.
Almost 10 days earlier at a Cobra meeting - which consisted of the Prime
Minister, Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Eliza
Manningham-Buller, MI5 director-general, and other government ministers -
approval was given to use the Special Air Service's counter-terrorist (CT)
team in any hostage or siege situation.
The CT team, which is made up of about 30 SAS troopers, had been moved to a
"holding area" just outside London on at least two occasions since the
attacks of July 7 in anticipation that they might be needed.
At around lunchtime on Thursday an SAS liaison officer working with S013,
the Anti-Terrorist Squad, contacted the operations officer at the SAS
headquarters in Hereford and requested that two four-man teams trained in
"explosive entry" techniques should be dispatched to London.
Their use, they were told, would be limited to forcing an entry into two
buildings and, because it was still a police and not a military operation,
they would not be used in any assault and would be armed only with pistols
for personal protection.
Any further use of the SAS would have required a "transfer of authority"
signed by the police officer in charge of the operation to put the SAS in
control. The last time this happened was during the Iranian Embassy siege in
Later on Thursday, Sir Ian Blair said on television that it would be only a
matter of time before the terrorists were caught. At the same time, SO13 was
briefing officers on the forthcoming operation, which would prove to be the
turning point in the investigation. Police had already inserted microphones
in two properties and they were certain that they had located terrorist safe
By 8am on Friday, the SAS teams had conducted a "walk by" reconnaissance of
the front door of flat number 14 in the Peabody Trust complex in Dalgarno
Gardens, where they believed that Ramzi Mohammed and Ibrahim Muktar Said
were hiding. A similar reconnaissance was conducted on a flat in Tavistock
Crescent where Whabi Mohammed, the so-called 5th bomber, was thought to be
By this stage specialist firearms officers from SO19, were receiving their
final briefings for the assault.
The SFOs are taught the same tactics and close-quarter battle skills as the
SAS and train in the black rubber-clad "killing house" at the regiment's
headquarters. They are not, however, trained in explosive entry techniques,
which is why they are sometimes accompanied by SAS troopers during
In March last year the terrorists who bombed trains in Madrid blew
themselves up and several members of the Spanish police rather than face
capture. The SAS and SFO teams waiting outside the target addresses in West
London knew they, too, faced the same danger.
The tactics that they had decided on were relatively simple. The SAS would
make entry into both of the flats through the front door, either by using a
small explosive charge or by using a pump-action shotgun. SFOs would then
fire CS gas through windows and doors, after which police negotiators would
try to talk to the suspects.
Although the police wanted to capture the men alive, no chances were to be
taken and anyone who represented a threat or failed to follow commands would
be shot dead.
By 9.30am the SFO teams and their SAS entry men were ready to go. Snipers
moved into position and neighbouring houses were evacuated. The assault
teams were given a three-minute warning and at 11am began the raids on the
two suspect addresses.
After CS gas was fired into both houses, police knew that the suspects would
eventually emerge - the only question was whether they would try to detonate
Within minutes of the start of the assault, police negotiators began a
dialogue with the occupants of flat 14 in the Peabody Trust complex. The men
were ordered to come to the door, and were warned that they were surrounded
but told that they would not be harmed if they did as they were told. One
suspect began crying, declaring that he was "scared" and that he "had
With tension mounting and the suspects still inside, one officer was heard
shouting: "What is the problem?"
After a 30-minute stand-off, the police fired another volley of CS gas into
the flat. Choking and wiping away tears, the suspects emerged with their
hands in the air and stripped to their underwear.
After their surrender, all three suspects were dressed in white boiler suits
and taken to Paddington Green Police station.
While the SFOs and the SAS troopers celebrated their successful operation,
the five suspects were about to face the first of many hours of questioning.
One security official said: "We have just won round two in the first battle
of what will be a very long war."
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