Suicide bombers or dupes?

One thing puzzled me in the immediate aftermath of the 7/7 London bombings. Media reports, presumeably sourced from police accounts, claimed that the CCTV footage of the bombers at King’s Cross station showed them laughing and joshing as they went to their deaths.

Now, even allowing for the fact that Islamic fundamentalists allegedly believe that 77 vestal virgins and other delights await them after martyrdom, this seemed a bit odd. It contrasted sharply, for example, with the CCTV footage of the 9/11 hijackers, most of whom looked sombre, or at least serious, as they queued to board the planes.

I had no way of knowing whether the London media reports about the King’s Cross footage were accurate, but was left with the thought: what if these guys were just monkeys who were unaware that their organ-grinder(s) had set them up for involuntary martyrdom?

Now comes an interesting report in the New York Times raising much the same question. Excerpt:

LONDON, July 26 – Within hours of the July 7 attacks here, many British police and intelligence officials assumed that the four bombers had intended to die with their bombs.

But in recent days, some police officials are increasingly considering the possibility that the men did not plan to commit suicide and were duped into dying.

Investigators raising doubts about the suicide assumption have cited evidence to support this theory. Each of the four men who died in the July 7 attacks purchased round-trip railway tickets from Luton to London. Germaine Lindsay’s rented car left in Luton had a seven-day parking sticker on the dashboard.

A large quantity of explosives were stored in the trunk of that car, perhaps for another attack. Another bomber had just spent a large sum to repair his car. The men carried driver’s licenses and other ID cards with them to their deaths, unusual for suicide bombers.

In addition, none left behind a note, videotape or Internet trail as suicide bombers have done in the past. And the bombers’ families were baffled by what seemed to be their decisions to kill themselves.

While some of these clues could be seen as the work of men intent on covering their trail, some investigators increasingly believe that the men may have been conned into carrying the bombs onto the trains and leaving them, thinking they were going to explode minutes later.

There remains some evidence suggesting that these were suicide bombers, beyond the fact that all died in the blasts. Their bodies, all of which were recovered, were positioned in a way that led investigators to make a preliminary determination that these may have been suicide attacks.

One of the remaining mysteries that neither camp can explain away is that the attacker on the bus died 57 minutes after the blasts on the trains; witnesses saw him putting his hand in the backpack. The bus bomber could support either theory.

To further complicate the matter, there are conflicting witness accounts of the behavior of the July 21 attackers. Some fled after the bombs failed to explode; at least one, on the bus, was said to have left the scene before the failed detonation.