Leading article: Britain is well equipped to cope in this dangerous era


There can now be little doubt about the identity of those who committed last week's terrorist outrage in London. The investigation continues, but a general picture of what happened has now emerged. Shahzad Tanweer, Mohammed Sadique Khan and Hasib Hussain - three British citizens of Pakistani descent - drove to Luton from Leeds on Thursday morning, where they met up with a fourth man. Together, they travelled to London, each with a rucksack packed with explosives. By the end of the morning, they had committed one of the greatest terrorist atrocities in Britain's history and introduced Europe to the phenomenon of the suicide bomber.

On learning that those responsible had died with their victims, some may have felt a sense of relief. But the truth is that knowledge of their identities and the manner in which they set about terrorising London makes the implications of this crime even more troubling.

The fact that we are faced with suicide bombers changes everything. Asking passengers on public transport to watch out for unattended bags looks futile. If bombers are prepared to die in the process of killing civilians, there is little the public can do to prevent them.

The four men behind this atrocity appear to have been unknown to the intelligence services. If they could slip under the net, others can too. And the fact that these bombers were British citizens is cause for particular concern. Even those who believe that ID cards would help combat terrorism would have to admit that, as a defence against such criminals, they have no use.

For community relations, Tuesday's revelations are little short of a disaster. Suspicion will now, inevitably, focus on young Asian males. And the security services will be encouraged to "profile" potential threats. The result is likely to be the harassment of perfectly innocent individuals and a rise in inter-ethnic tension.

There are better ways to combat terror in the aftermath of last week's assault. There is a strong case for allowing the security services greater access to public e-mail and telephone records in pursuit of those who might be planning attacks. This will, sadly, entail greater intrusion by the state into our private lives than we have been accustomed to, or would like.

Yet, we must not accept emergency measures that would fundamentally alter our way of life. The key to combating terrorism - whether "home grown" or from abroad - remains good intelligence. The most important task for the Government now is to ensure that our security services have the financial and human resources necessary to do their job.

This must be a Europe-wide effort. The Home Secretary Charles Clarke was right yesterday to call a special meeting of EU interior ministers to demand greater co-operation on security matters. And it is encouraging that EU ministers have now agreed to this.

Tribute must be also paid to the way the British police have acted since the attack. The phone call from the family of one of the suicide bombers to report him missing was a stroke of good fortune for detectives. But the important thing is that it was followed up. And the London transport system's security apparatus was used to good effect. The CCTV equipment on the bus that was blown up in Tavistock Square may not have been working - but it functioned perfectly in King's Cross station. The footage gave detectives their breakthrough.

This week's revelations are deeply disturbing. We have entered a dangerous new era. But there is no cause for defeatism. Through a combination of good intelligence, sound police work and firm adherence to our principles, Britain is as well equipped as it can be to cope with this menace.

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