London // The questions of families bereaved by the 7/7 suicide bombings in London will finally start to be answered today, more than five years after 52 people were killed in the capital's public transport system. Three Britons of Pakistani origin and a fourth Jamaican Muslim detonated the bombs on three underground trains and a bus in July 2005, in what was regarded as the UK's "9/11 moment". Apart from the deaths, about 700 people were injured.
A string of legal struggles, a trial of three people accused of helping the dead terrorists, plus an inquest into the shooting by police of a fifth suspected suicide bomber - who turned out to be an innocent Brazilian immigrant - have delayed the start of the inquests until now. Families who lost loved ones have been demanding answers to a string of questions, most focusing on whether the police and intelligence services could have prevented the attacks.
The bombers' ringleader, Mohammed Sidique Khan, 30, and his lieutenant, Shehzad Tanweer, 22, were identified 17 months before the bombings when they attended a meeting with known terrorist suspects. Officials from MI5, Britain's internal intelligence agency, are expected to tell the inquests that, at the time, its officers were swamped with leads about terrorist suspects and that they did not have any information to suggest that Khan and Tanweer were priority suspects.
Potentially important information about exactly what the intelligence services knew might be withheld from the inquests because revealing it might compromise operations. The Secret Intelligence Service, which oversees the UK's various intelligence agencies, has angered families by proposing that the coroner, Lady Justice Heather Hallett, should be allowed to sit in closed sessions to hear highly classified evidence.
Graham Foulkes, whose 22-year-old son, David, was killed in the bombing, says MI5's attempts to keep details secret were "really distressing" to the families. "By every kind of moral standard that you're brought up with, that's wrong. You're told, if you make a mistake, you hold up your hands," he told reporters at the weekend. "Here they are, drawing a salary to do a job which they clearly have not done. And they're employing every legal twist they possibly can to not be accountable. It really adds to the anguish that we're all feeling.
"Their incompetence allowed Mohammed Sidique Khan to get through." The inquest will also look at whether the entire public transport system in London should have been shut down immediately after the three underground trains were blown up. If there had been such a shutdown, the lives on the bus could have been saved because that bomb was not detonated until almost an hour after the train explosions, it has been suggested.
There have also been questions raised over the equipment available to the emergency services in the aftermath of the explosions. An inquiry by the London Assembly, the city's elected governing body, reported in 2006 that while the heroism of individual paramedics, firefighters and police was of the highest order, they were hampered by communication problems and a shortage of basic medical supplies.
There have been suggestions that more lives could have been saved after a legal hearing before the inquests established in April that 17 of the 52 victims had not died instantly. The husband and children of Behnaz Mozakka, 47, had always assumed that she was killed immediately in one of the train blasts, but discovered at the hearing that, in fact, she survived for up to 45 minutes. Gareth Patterson, the family's lawyer, said: "They want to know what happened to her in the crucial moments after the explosion and whether she would have survived if there had been a timely response. There is reason to believe there may have been failings."
There has also been criticism of the amount of time it took for the police to identify the dead and inform families. In one case, it took police 11 days to tell the parents of one of the victims that their son had died. Expected to last five months, the inquests in London will also see hitherto unseen video footage of the carnage on the trains. Scotland Yard has raised concerns that this footage, once published, could be used for "cynical purposes" by jihadists in internet propaganda, even though gruesome detail showing the dead has been edited.
Ros Morley, whose husband, Colin, 52, was killed in one of the train bombings, said: "I want the inquests to look at whether any mistakes were made or flawed systems were in place. "Innocent citizens in the UK and worldwide need to know that they are protected now and in the future. "I hope it is possible to gain something positive out of a deeply tragic event in which 52 innocent people lost their lives."