We’ve recently learned that London’s Metropolitan Police has a shoot-to-kill policy when dealing with suspected suicide terrorists. The theory is that only a direct headshot will kill the terrorist immediately, and thus destroy the ability to execute a bombing attack.

Roy Ramm, former Met Police specialist operations commander, said the rules for confronting potential suicide bombers had recently changed to “shoot to kill”….

Mr Ramm said the danger of shooting a suspected suicide bomber in the body was that it could detonate a bomb they were carrying on them.

“The fact is that when you’re dealing with suicide bombers they only way you can stop them effectively—and protect yourself—is to try for a head-shot,” he said.

This policy is based on the extremely short-sighted assumption that a terrorist needs to push buttons to make a bomb explode. In fact, ever since World War I, the most common type of bomb carried by a person has been the hand grenade. It is entirely conceivable, especially when a shoot-to-kill policy is known to be in effect, that suicide bombers will use the same kind of dead-man’s trigger on their bombs: a detonate that is activated when a button is released, rather than when it is pushed.

This is a difficult one. Whatever policy you choose, the terrorists will adapt to make that policy the wrong one.

The police are now sorry they accidentally killed an innocent they suspected of being a suicide bomber, but I can certainly understand the mistake. In the end, the best solution is to train police officers and then leave the decision to them. But honestly, policies that are more likely to result in living incarcerated suspects—and recover well from false alarms—that can be interrogated are better than policies that are more likely to result in corpses.

EDITED TO ADD these comments by Nicholas Weaver:

“One other thing: The suspect was on the ground, and immobilized. Thus the decision was made to shoot the suspect, repeatedly (7 times) in the head, based on the perception that he could have been a suicide attacker (who dispite being a suicide attacker, wasn’t holding a dead-man’s switch. Or heck, wire up the bomb to a $50 heart-rate monitor).

“If this is policy, it is STUPID: There is an easy way for the attackers to counter it, and when you have a subway execution of an innocent man, the damage (in the hearts and minds of british muslims) is immense.

“One thing to remember:

“These were NON uniformed officers, and the suspect was brasilian (and probably didn’t speak very good english).

“Why did he run? What would YOU do if three individuals accosted you, speaking a language which you were unfamiliar with, drawing weapons? You would RUN LIKE HELL!

“I find the blaming the victim (‘but he was running!’) reprehensible.”

ANOTHER EDIT: The consensus seems to be that he spoke English well enough. I don’t think we can blame the officers without a whole lot more details about what happened, and possibly not even then. Clearly they were under a lot of stress, and made a split-second decision.

But I think we can reasonably criticize the shoot-to-kill policy that the officers were following. That policy is a threat to our security, and our society.

Posted on July 25, 2005 at 1:59 PM131 Comments


Andy July 25, 2005 2:14 PM

Well, the policy will also have the effect of making people stop when confronted and not “vaults the automatic ticket barriers” instead. One other not-so-bad effect of switching to ‘release mechanism’ will be a few ‘work accidents’.

blankmeyer July 25, 2005 2:22 PM

I already posted about this on my site – :

“Of course, this is a tragedy. Innocent people should not be shot and killed. I pray for his family and friends and hope they can find comfort in this dark time.

“I still believe the police acted in the appropriate manner. Reading this ( on the BBC’s site, raises many questions and certainly seems to indicate the police were justified. The man was under surveillance, he vaulted the ticket stall, he ran from police, and he was wearing a bulky jacket in the middle of the summer. Had I been one of the police officers, I certainly would have done the same. The police were thinking of not only their own safety, but also the safety of all the other people in the subway station at the time.

“In a city where bombs are being set off in the subways, why would you run from police? Why, when you know there is more security than ever, would you hope the ticket stall? Why, once the police caught up with you again, would you not obey their instructions? Why on a hot July day would you wear a heavy jacket?

“Again, I feel this was a tragedy and I do hope that it does not happen again. Innocent civilians need to have a bit more common sense than this guy did. Most police in London do not carry firearms. As soon as he saw they were armed, he should have made the connection that this was an anti-terror force and immediately complied with their instructions. That’s not to say that it is ok for someone to run from unarmed police officers, just that he should have been able to realize that with everything that has been going on in London in the past month, maybe it would be a good idea to listen to those charged with protecting the public from further attacks.”

When dealing with suicide bombers you have to assume that they are going to go through with the attack, even when confronted with police. You make the argument that the terrorists might have a dead-man’s trigger device and thus killing him will only serve his purpose. However, if no such device exists, and the police try to take the would-be bomber alive, he’ll blow himself up. I’d argue that police using caution and going ahead and killing him is safer than waiting to see if he’s going to go through with it.

Daedala July 25, 2005 2:23 PM

From the “sorry”-link article:

“Sir Ian told Sky News: ‘This is a tragedy. The Metropolitan Police accepts full responsibility. To the family I can only express my deep regrets.'”

The whole thing is heartbreaking, but I’m really impressed that they owned up to it so promptly. This is actually good security policy, as you can actually fix the mistakes you admit to, and people can’t flog you forever for the coverup. I would that the U.S. administration would learn this.

David B July 25, 2005 2:26 PM

My first thought, after reading about the shoot-to-kill policy was exactly this workaround. My second thought was to see if this same idea had already been posted here.

The sad part is that the police are now part of the terror machine–frankly, I’d be just as worried about being shot as I would be about being blown up. Of course I’m far more concerned about being killed in a mundane automobile accident, but I do wonder how many average Londoners are putting off travel due to fear of the police in addition/contrast to terrorists.

Frank July 25, 2005 2:27 PM

“The police are now sorry they accidentally killed an innocent they suspected of being a suicide bomber, but I can certainly understand the mistake.”

Can you? If the police suspected this man of being a suicide bomber, why did they allow him to board a bus?

“In the end, the best solution is to train police officers and then leave the decision to them.”

We’ve seen how well that works.

How about a policy that does not allow innocent people to be gunned down on evidence that would be barely sufficient to arrest, never mind kill?

And for what? To protect against a threat that barely exists? The average person is still about as likely to be struck by lightning or to win the lottery as they are to be seriously injured or killed by a suicide bomber.

In fact, in this country, long before we had suicide bombers we had trains that left the tracks of their own accord and/or crashed into each other without any help on a pretty regular basis. The suicide bombers will have to go some before they kill and injure as many people as the train operators have already, and as traffic accidents in London do on ongoing basis, and so on.

Yet people here are so ready to accept proactive killing (shooting someone eight times is no ‘accident’) of innocent people in order to deal with this ‘threat’.

Sorry, I don’t understand the mistake. Not sure I ever will.

Mike Sherwood July 25, 2005 2:32 PM

I think a significant part of the problem is and will be that everyone who is doing anything illegal is pretty much screwed the moment they’re tagged as a potential terrorist. If the officers were only tasked with looking for terrorists, there would be no reason for people to run for carrying drugs, illegal immigration status, etc. Since the targets include people who are used to running from police, I would expect to see a sharp increase in the number of people shot for reasons other than being a suicide bomber.

If this shoot to kill policy is kept, I would expect to also see a lot more muggings by people claiming to be undercover officers. There’s something fundamentally wrong when the good guys and the bad guys are indistinguishable through their appearance or actions.

Glauber Ribeiro July 25, 2005 2:37 PM

This was no accident, it was a deliberate murder / execution. The man was already immobilized when the gunner started shooting. I believe the police thought it had made positive identification of one of the bombers and decided to make a demonstration of efficiency – a gamble that went very wrong. These were plain clothes men, and the victim may even have thought he was being chased by skinheads or other thugs that prey on immigrants. That’s a worst-case consequence of the policy of “doing something” to keep the appearances and perhaps convince the population that you’re protecting them.

Glauber Ribeiro July 25, 2005 2:39 PM

One way to curb this policy is to make it expensive. Tony Blair is “desperately sorry” for the mistake; I wonder how much this translates to, in pounds.

Ari Heikkinen July 25, 2005 2:43 PM

This also opens a door for abuse. Why arrest someone and go through a lengthy trial when they can just shoot someone to head and then claim he was a “suspected” suicide bomber afterwards. Shoot-to-kill merely on suspicion is as idiotic as it could possibly get.

Fred F. July 25, 2005 2:48 PM

I understand this doesn’t apply everywhere and for every situation, but doesn’t the Israel MP or other security groups there force people to stay put and strip?

Warren Moore July 25, 2005 2:52 PM

Sorry for the mistake…and extremely sad for the family; but when I was much younger, I was taught that when an armed police officer identified himself as such and yelled “stop,” it would be the sensible thing to do. (And I doubt quite seriously that armed thugs tend to use this as a mugging technique in the London Tubes.) Having been shot at more than once in my life under other circumstances I most definitely do not wish to be on the receiving end. Sometimes the “freeze” portion of the freeze or fight reflex is the proper response.

the professor July 25, 2005 2:53 PM

Wow – the police just aided the robbers. If I’m a bad guy, I’d purchase a toy gun and yell “police stop!” Everyone now is scared to death of a cop and a gun you know they’ll stop. Then I’d go through their belongings like i’m looking for evidence of a bomb and make off with the goods. This can all be done well before anyone knows I’m NOT a cop. I’m sure this will work outside of the underground, too. Thanks Mr. Policeman!!!!!

Source July 25, 2005 2:55 PM

It’s hard too get everything so all wrong as this guy. None of his defences for the brutal, uncalled for police killing hold up. For example, the guy was NOT wearing a heavy coat but a pullover, and if you come from a warm county a London summer day is cool to cold. Yeah, he jumped a turnstile – not yet a capital offence, but I would too (were I agile enough) if a gand started chasing me.
I understand, but can not confirm, that the British special action squads were trained by Israeli and U.S. special forces. Not a good background.

Ari Heikkinen July 25, 2005 2:57 PM

While at it, why not just combine the Secure Flight and that shoot-to-kill. So each time the system flags someone as terrorist shoot him/her on sight (to prevent those suicide bombers from detonating their explosives, ofcourse).

McGavin July 25, 2005 3:00 PM

Shoot-to-kill is an unfortunate name for their policy. I learned early on in life (as a hunter) that you never shoot something with a deadly weapon without the intent to kill. In other words, you never use non-lethal force with a lethal weapon.

To reflect this basic piece of gun safety, law enforcement agencies ALWAYS have a shoot-to-kill policy with respect to their guns. If the intent is to maim and not kill, then the use of a gun is too risky, as gun wounds are often deadly. This is why beanbag guns exist.

I think that the “shoot-to-kill” policy in this context is really a dictation to use deadly force in this situation, and in this special case, to go for a head shot.

Nicholas Weaver July 25, 2005 3:13 PM

One thing to remember:

These were NON uniformed officers, and the suspect was brasilian (and probably didn’t speak very good english).

Why did he run? What would YOU do if three individuals accosted you, speaking a language which you were unfamiliar with, drawing weapons? You would RUN LIKE HELL!

I find the blaming the victim (“but he was running!”) reprehensible.

Nicholas Weaver July 25, 2005 3:17 PM

One other thing: The suspect was on the ground, and immobilized. Thus the decision was made to shoot the suspect, repeatedly (7 times) in the head, based on the perception that he could have been a suicide attacker (who dispite being a suicide attacker, wasn’t holding a dead-man’s switch. Or heck, wire up the bomb to a $50 heart-rate monitor).

If this is policy, it is STUPID: There is an easy way for the attackers to counter it, and when you have a subway execution of an innocent man, the damage (in the hearts and minds of british muslims) is immense.

Andy July 25, 2005 3:31 PM

@Nicholas Weaver: the link says that he was living since three years in London working as electrician; other news claim that he could speak or understand well English.

Rory July 25, 2005 3:40 PM

Utterly reprehensible. This, along with the moronic media hype which always goes along with instances like this is exactly what terrorists want. One of the best ways to fight the terrorists is force the media to just report the news honestly and without bias (yeah I know, some hope.)

I am in London at the moment, and I have to say I am far more concerned with being shot by the police than any terrorist action. I am having to make sure I don’t run anywhere – although I prefer to run for fitness reasons, especially as I always carry a rucksack!

Andre LePlume July 25, 2005 3:41 PM


The dead man spoke very good English, according to press accounts I read.

If the officers were not uniformed, then people are being asked to stop for anyone who yells “Stop! I am a police officer!”

That is ridiculous on its face.

This case seems to have been a very unfortunate serious of mistakes/coincidences, culminating in the killing of this man:

  1. He happened to live in a building under surveillance, but he himself was not under any individual suspicion.
  2. His clothing was a bit unusual and could have hidden a bomb.
  3. He happened to use public transprt when that was thought to be a likely target.
  4. When confronted by persons not in police dress (did they show badges?), he fled (and thus vaulted the turnstile).
  5. When the police had him on the floor, they still considered him a threat (although by this time he had complied with their demands, having no other choice, and perhaps realizing by now that they were indeed police), and therefore killed him.

If, contrary to fact, one needs to be alive to trigger a bomb, then the policy of the police makes some sense. Since anyone with any experience knows otherwise, the policy in conjunction with the use of plainclothes officers deployed as they were in this case is bound to be counterproductive.

@Warren Moore:

Not every gun-user was taught by the NRA. Some European “rules of engagment”, believe it or not, prescribe attempts at non-lethality. “The rules” for shooting at a deer do not always apply to LEOs drawing their guns on people (especially unarmed people).

Jason Marshall July 25, 2005 3:45 PM

Someone pointed out to me that the first indication that the police had that he was not a suicide bomber was the fact that, even though they were chasing him, he continued to not explode. It’s rather an important observation, and one they should have been able to make.

chuck July 25, 2005 3:55 PM


This was an excellent post. My thoughts exactly.

I really feel bad that someone died; however, the actions that the man took lead police in that direction and now we have the consequences to learn from.


blankmeyer July 25, 2005 3:57 PM

“It’s hard too get everything so all wrong as this guy. None of his defences for the brutal, uncalled for police killing hold up. For example, the guy was NOT wearing a heavy coat but a pullover, and if you come from a warm county a London summer day is cool to cold. Yeah, he jumped a turnstile – not yet a capital offence, but I would too (were I agile enough) if a gand started chasing me.”

I have read several reports that said he was wearing a unseasonble jacket that was “padded”. I have read only one report that was a friend being interviewed that said he only wore a jean jacket every day. Just because he normally wears a jean jacket, doesn’t mean that on this day he was wearing something else.

I have been to London. I know what the weather is like. I can understand the need to wear heavier clothing in the early morning hours. But I also take into account that witnesses on the scene were describing it as “unseasonable” and “padded”.

As for jumping the turnstile, it’s just one more thing. Take all of them together and what were just bad circumstances/coincidences influence the police response and decision to shoot.

My point was that the guy should have had a bit more common sense. You say that if a gang was chasing you, you’d do the same thing. First, they were identifying themselves as police. Second, with all the added security, surely he knew that there was likely to be armed anti-terror police at the transit stations. Third, why would he assume a gang was after him and not the police? Normally gangs are not going to single out one person in a crowded environment (especially with increased security).

Dom De Vitto July 25, 2005 4:05 PM

Woooooooh there ?

What country is this again? We don’t have a death sentance for them if they are convicted, following a detailed prosecution, so why does a police officer have the right to kill, without ANY evidence they are actually carrying a bomb?

I’m dumbfounded that an INNOCENT PERSON can be killed and the UK reacts like this. We don’t shoot known IRA terrorists – except in Malta, but we do shoot innocent, not-connected-to-terrorism people, because they rented a flat that was under investigation? Oh, and they have poor hearing…

If it would have been a 92 year old woman, would the reaction been he same? No? Why? BECAUSE HE LOOKED LIKE A TERRORIST. SO HE WAS SHOT DEAD. poor guy.

Sad. Very sad. I worry more about British society, than the death of 50 people – after all over 80 UK people have died in Iraq so far…..

Curt Sampson July 25, 2005 4:06 PM

I find it interesting the number of people here making the assumption that the fellow, in his situation, would have the capability to make a clear analysis of what’s going on and make better decisions than he did based on that analysis.

I’ve been on the receiving end of several assualts or potential assaults, and if you’ve not rehearsed these situations before (at least in your mind, if you can’t be trained formally), and you’re not thinking about this sort of thing at the time, it’s extremely hard to maintain a clear mind and make good decisions, especially when your first instinctive decision is, “I’d better do something now, because standing around and thinking about it seems as if it would increase the danger.”

I don’t think I’m completely out of line in thinking that this is the common case, either. The military in any nation have always had problems with solders who make sub-optimal decisions in actual battle situations, and a great deal of military training goes into how to change a solder’s instincts so that he does something different than he would naturally do in such a situation. If we’re expecting civilians to do the same thing, how are we training them to do so?

perianwyr July 25, 2005 4:07 PM

Some European “rules of engagment”, believe it or not, prescribe attempts at non-lethality.

You just go right ahead and try to shoot something in other than center-mass in a critical situation. That’s the absolute best that should be expected of anyone.

That having been said, I hardly think 8 shots to an unarmed and subdued opponent makes a great deal of sense. As Jason above pointed out, he could have just blown himself up right there and been done with it.

But I do not think it is reasonable to criticize law enforcement policies with the expectation that every officer is a John Woo-style action star.

Dom De Vitto July 25, 2005 4:08 PM

Bloody hell.

They just announced THE GUY WAS SHOT 8 EIGHT TIMES.

Once in the shoulder, and SEVEN TIMES IN THE HEAD.

New definition of “Overkill”…..

Josh O. July 25, 2005 4:10 PM

I have heard reports that he had a run in with some white londoners only a couple weeks before that, where he was roughed up a bit.

I’m almost always on the cops side in suspect shootings, but this one seems a little over the top. Humans have a flight reflex just like any other animal, and I think I would be pretty scared if this happened to me.

And the turnstile jumping makes no sense, either he was running from them, or if he wasn’t running yet, if he was a bomber, he surely wouldn’t draw extra attention to himself by commiting a minor crime.

In Rockland County New York, the public has been told not to stop for unmarked cars on the road, because there have been several cases of people impersonating officers and raping woment that they pull-over. Now I don’t know what they should do. Pull over and risk rape, or not and get shot. Confusing for sure. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a lot more muggings in London, since you only need to claim your a police officer now to get someone to succumb. People will be so scared of the police now, that they will hurredly comply even if there is only some chance that it’s a real cop.

Ricardo Barreira July 25, 2005 4:28 PM

So far, every person I’ve heard defending the police on this case is either stupid or ignorant of the facts. This should be fixed, so please spread the word of the following facts. You can do this either online (for example, replying to blog entries which people make about this matter, asking them to correct their words) or offline.

  • The policemen were working as undercover agents, which means they weren’t wearing uniforms. This was certainly the biggest reason why he chose to ran away. Furthermore, he had been attacked by a gang a few weeks before. Put yourself into his position and think about what you would have done if you saw a couple of armed guys shouting at you.
  • They shot him when he was already pinned to the ground, and therefore didn’t have any chance to activate any explosives.

grahamc July 25, 2005 4:46 PM

“What would YOU do if three individuals accosted you, speaking a language which you were unfamiliar with, drawing weapons? You would RUN LIKE HELL!”

Absolutely! This highlights one aspect which has not yet been aired – the procedure followed by the police to initially get him to stop. It is not enough to yell out a garbled warning (“Stop or I shoot! Oh, er, and I’m the police.”) and then blame the victim if they don’t immediately stop.

So what procedure did they use, why did it not work, and what are they going to do to improve it?

Ian Mason July 25, 2005 5:02 PM

@Andre LePlume following @Warren Moore

Normal British police tactics are to “shoot to incapacitate” with the knowledge that this MAY lead to a fatality. This involves firing at the centre of mass. In fact, a number of people shot in such a fashion have, with medical care, survived and been subsequently prosecuted for the crime that forced the shooting. Equally some have not.

There is a difference between “shoot to incapacitate” and “shoot to kill”. It is in intent. This is important legally and also morally. In one case the officer firing is thinking “I hope I stop him, I hope it doesn’t kill him” in the other it is “I have been ordered to kill him, I am trying to”. If nothing else it makes a difference where use of force is found to be unlawful between a verdict of manslaughter or murder.

fish July 25, 2005 5:06 PM

Anyone remember Bin Laden’s stated goal? It’s to start a holy war between the east and the west, the muslim and the non-muslim world.

He’s also clearly demonstrated he’s not worried about loss of life, on his side or on ours.

When we start shooting people who’ve already been immobilized 7 times in the head because they look a certain way, we tell normal people who look that way, people who would normally be on our side, that we don’t value their life.

If you were trying to start a war, could you ask for a better scenario than this? Is there a better way to disenfranchise entire populations than to shoot them in the head 7 times because they look a certain way?

Every incident of this nature is parlayed into justification for many more to join his side. We can take comfort in “steeling our resolve” and employing “shoot-to-kill”. We can feel temporarily better that we’re going to shoot anyone that looks remotely like a terrorist. But while we’re fighting these battles, Bin Laden is keeping his eye on the war. What he gains from our killing of an innocent man far outweighs what he loses if we catch and kill one of his real operatives. He has no incentive to stop. We, apparently, are not smart enough not to help him in his quest.

Keep this in mind folks: each step we take towards a society of violence where people are judged by their appearance, nationality, and religion, is one step away from our system of belief and one step closer to Bin Laden’s end goal.

Gopi Flaherty July 25, 2005 5:07 PM

I think that a dead-man’s switch is a lot harder to wire up than most people believe. I’ve tried, at various times, to hold a button for a long time. It’s hard, unless the switch is lightly sprung and has a lot of travel.

A standard button that only goes down 3 to 5 mm isn’t easy to keep held. You need something that’s more like 15-25mm to be comfortable. It also needs to be large, so you don’t accidentally slip your finger off of it.

I think this would make most designs for a dead man’s switch relatively obvious to see.

A heart monitor would be also be difficult to reliably interface. Certainly possible, but it would be complex, and there are enough problems with home-made explosives already that I think it would be a bad idea for them to add that much complexity.

Jarrod July 25, 2005 5:15 PM

The hindsight armchair quarterbacking has begun quickly in this case. I noticed that Bruce went from a cautious stance on things to what seems to be a castigation with his inclusion of the poster’s comments. The mixed information presented here shows that few people have a common idea of what the story was, and since the police are still investigating, I doubt anyone has a complete story at this time.

The same kind of hindsight armchair quarterbacking is going on in Los Angeles over the killing by the local SWAT team of a little girl being used by her father as a human shield. The information available on just what happened has changed a couple of times as more was learned by investigators, but the same situation seems to have happened here: An unfortunate misjudgement led to the death of an innocent at the hands of highly-trained personnel (London police trained to use guns get additional training) as the police were pursuing a legitimate activity.

They have indicated that they will pursue a full investigation. I think that it’s important that they be allowed to do this without second-guessing them prior to their chance to review what happened. Otherwise, it’s exactly the same panic response that we so often rail against in here when others leap into action without thinking.

Tom July 25, 2005 5:19 PM

Well many posters here have confirmed for me that hindsight is indeed 20/20.

Everyone must understand that it was many factors that came together that made police decide to shoot. It was not one single factor that lead to this mistake.

People are jumping to conclusions and making judgements based on what very little evidence the media is getting hold of.

BTW, police in the UK do not even have to issue a warning if they are dealing with suicide bombers.

And…. many people here assumed the plain clothes police were not wearing any police uniform when the challenge was issued when in actual fact they were (apparently) wearing their police caps.

Tom July 25, 2005 5:22 PM

One more thing:

Everyone here assumes it was a single policeman who fired all 8 shots, when in reality it was likely to be more that one all shooting at the same time.

Frank July 25, 2005 5:27 PM


“When we start shooting people who’ve already been immobilized 7 times in the head because they look a certain way, we tell normal people who look that way, people who would normally be on our side, that we don’t value their life.

If you were trying to start a war, could you ask for a better scenario than this? Is there a better way to disenfranchise entire populations than to shoot them in the head 7 times because they look a certain way?”

This is an excellent insight worth repeating. How many moderate people have been moved to a far more extreme position as a result of this action?

Looking at the reaction to this event in the UK (check out the BBC ‘have your say’ comments), who now believes Tony Blair when he says “we are not afraid”, and “we won’t let them change us”. What were those freedoms that we wouldn’t let ‘them’ take away from us again? We seem to be throwing them away as fast as we can without much in the way of terrorist assistance. What does the way of life we are supposedly defending mean if we can justify killing innocent people in irrational blind panic – and continue to justify it even in hindsight.


Coming up with a dead man’s switch that doesn’t require continuously holding a button is hardly beyond the realms of human ingenuity.

Joe July 25, 2005 5:31 PM

random thoughts;
London is suffering 30c temps at the moment not cool by any stretch of the imagination.
The man was followed from a building believed to be linked to 8 suicide bombs
He was dressed strangely for the weather (if he’d gone into a shop the store detectives would have thought shoplifter).
He headed towards the same transit system that those last 8 bmbs had been set off in.
When challenged by police in a language that he spoke well he ran towards the same transit system that had just been bombed.
1) He ran in a crowded place with station staff around – what did he fear? A mugging in a very public place – not likely especially when they’ve just ID’d as police and are carrying guns – which unlike America is not standard for muggers in Britain.
2) The police thought that he was acting ‘hinky’ – See Bruce’s previous posts – and acted in the way that they thought best suited the possible threat.

When someone shouts ‘Stop, armed police’ – which I believe is the challenge – in a crowded station in a city where bombs have recently gone off – you think very carefully before running.

Tom July 25, 2005 5:34 PM


We’ll never know the main reason he ran. However it’s come to light that he was in the UK on an expired student visa, so he may have felt compelled to run when challenged by police.

Unfortunately he ran into a tube (subway) station which was probably the deciding factor for the police to use lethal force.

But until all the facts are known it’s important not to jump to any conclusions, otherwise we may seek remedies for the wrong illness.

Roy Owens July 25, 2005 5:35 PM

The problem with the British police policy of shoot-to-kill is that, since their targets are extremely rare, and their detection methods have very poor sensitivity and specificity, then virtually everyone they kill will turn out to be a mistake. The police would be just as successful by not shooting at all.

I know this will be an unwelcome thought, as conservative as it is, but the man had a right of self-defense. He was right in trying to excape.

Suppose the police had mistakenly targeted a plainclothes police officer, who then slaughtered all his assailants? Whose side would the press take? My money says they’d write it off as ‘friendly fire’ and forget about it.

Gopi Flaherty July 25, 2005 5:50 PM

Actually, scratch that. It’s a lot easier to make a dead man’s switch if you’re willing to have it take a bit longer to time out. Just have a 10 second watchdog timer. Let go of the button for 10 seconds and the timer goes off. That means you don’t have to worry about momentarily letting go of the button when somebody bumps in to you and startles you or something.

I was really bothered by Ken Livingstone’s comments about how this was entirely the terrorist’s fault.

At some level he’s right, but I don’t think their responsibility is direct enough to blame for this sort of police mistake.

gandalf July 25, 2005 5:56 PM


To echo Jarrod. Including unverified Moonbat comments in your blog is not good practice. Would you not agree that it is at least doubtful that Brit police go round assassinating Argentinian electricians?

So spare us the histrionics until the facts are clear.

And how come it’s now 7 head shots rather then 5? Another “perfect” eye-witness? Don’t you know the stats on the unreliability of eyewitness accounts?

If you’ve ever travelled on the London Underground, you’ll know that they are not frequented by Glock-wielding assassins & vaulting the barriers is not standard practice.


Right, Friendly Fire – has historically killed about 20% of our soldiers, airmen and soldiers.

@ All

Get real, this is a war, Brits are burying 52 innocent victims, this guy is number 53.

Bob American July 25, 2005 6:14 PM

I just wonder if instead of a 3rd world citizen, the victimin were from american origin – what would be the reaction….

vijay July 25, 2005 6:17 PM

A few comments regarding Mr Blankmeyer’s conclusions:

“The man was under surveillance”
Actually the house from which he exited was under surveillance (it was a house that split into flats). The house was under surveillance because it had some link to information found near one of the “failed” bombs.

He then caught a bus to Stockwell tube station, at this point the number of policemen confronted the man.

Why did they wait until he reached the tube station to confront the man, would it not have been better to do so as soon as he exited the house instead of in such a public place.

“he vaulted the ticket stall he ran from police”

The police were plain-clothed NOT in uniform, and as Mr Weaver pointed out known that the men brandishing weapons were policemen.

At this point the police (or any witness) have stated exactly what the police said to the man. Apparently the man had been living in London for 3 years so I assume his English wasn’t that bad. In my opinion, the man probably just panicked; perhaps he thought he was being mugged (remember the policemen weren’t in uniform), or maybe he realised they were police but he thought they were after him from some other reason (like because his visa had expired). The police probably panicked too and decided to tackle him to the ground and then shoot him 4-8 times (depending on which paper you read!) in the head to neutralise the perceived threat. The problem is that there was little in the way of evidence to suggest that the man was a terrorist aside from the fact that he was a foreigner, he ran upon being confronted, and that he came out of block of flats that was under surveillance.

“and he was wearing a bulky jacket in the middle of the summer”

Should the police consider every person wearing a bulky jacket or backpack a terrorist? If the police are encouraged to just connect the dots based on the way a person looks or dresses, then as Sir Ian Blair himeself admitted more innocent people may be killed in the pursuit of the terrorists.

I’m not sure why they tackled him to the ground and then shot him. Although I’m not a bomb expert but I would be worried about setting off the trigger by jumping him.

What concerns me, is when people such as Tony Blair and Sir Ian Blair (The Metropolitan Police Commissioner) seem to put too much emphasis on stating that we’re dealing with ISLAMIC terrorists. In addition, once the suspects on the first bombings were named they (quite literally) surmised that: The suspects were very religous, so much so, that they considered them to be islamic fundamentalists. Moreover, they had all been to Pakistan (Ok I know even some of those details have found to be untrue) and they were very introvert and hence they were terrorists. These things may be true and they may well be terrorists, but the media, the police (the news articles were based on statements made by scotlant yard), and politicians should not brand (by implication or otherwise) all muslims to be terrorists, it only fuels our fear and prejudice against those who are different.

Already the number of assaults against asians have shot up in the aftermath of the attacks. I say asians and not muslims most non-asians cannot tell the difference between Indians, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans or Pakistanis. In particular, a number of those attacked were Sikh (many Sikhs do not cut their facial hair and wear turbans so I guess people thought they were muslim). This is not going to help police improve their image, after the 1999 Macpherson report described the police as “institutionally racist”.

Please excuse this rather long post (rant!).

Davi Ottenheimer July 25, 2005 6:30 PM

Overall good post, but this line stood out:

“Whatever policy you choose, the terrorists will adapt to make that policy the wrong one.”

Nothing is 100% secure — given sufficient determination, patience, and skill anything can be broken. Nonetheless, policies can survive the vast majority of adaptations when they are based on thorough investigation and proper enforcement.

Consider this slight variation: “whatever laws you follow, criminals will adapt to make that law the wrong one.” As we all know this is not necessarily the case (pun intended). Good laws withstand the test of time when they are meant to accurately represent the will of people who follow them. Here’s another way of saying this, often found at the start of good policies:

“The more you know about what constitutes ‘normal’, the more likely you are to notice when things are not right.”

The question at hand is whether a “shoot-to-kill” policy in London creates the right balance between security and disruption. We can not question the value of assets being protected, but does anyone agree that threats have been properly identified (profiled)? Moreover, does the current enforcement mechanism have the right technology, resources, tactics, and training to handle the policy as intended?

I see extremely typical causes of policy failure here. The next question, though, is whether anyone has planned for this policy failure and knows how to restart the cycle by analyzing the failures and incorporating them into a major revision to prevent a repeat disaster.

Davi Ottenheimer July 25, 2005 6:31 PM


“Get real, this is a war, Brits are burying 52 innocent victims, this guy is number 53.”

You are so quick to approve of the means, but what is the end?

Nick July 25, 2005 6:42 PM


It’s not a war, anymore than fully-armed soldiers are assigned to the war on poverty or the war on hunger. To accept a siege mentality is to accept the terrorists’ terms of engagement, and thus legitimize them.

The death of an innocent man at the hands of officials who are supposed to protect us from the bad guys cannot be equated to the victims of a terrorist attack.


Some other thoughts:

Apparently, it’s now illegal or suspicious to wear heavy/padded clothing on warm days. Yet, how many of us wear dark colors (like a black t-shirt) on a warm, sunny day? Would you expect someone who worked in an office with air-conditioning or in a refrigerated environment to NOT wear such clothes?
Why is this suspicious on its face? Are we looking at an issue of context in which one flawed assumption (building under surveillance) led to another (man wearing unseasonable clothes) and an erroneous conclusion (man is a potential bomber). Is it not reasonable to conclude that the officers involved made the same kind of mistakes as the ‘eyewitnesses,’ regardless of their training?

Similarly, it’s been suggested that ‘Stop! Armed Police!’ and a uniform cap is sufficient identification. That’s just plain silly. How visible/distinguishable are the caps at a distance, and are they unique?
(That is, do any distinguishing marks or patterns remain visible at a distance?)

Lastly, let’s look at, ‘if he wasn’t guilty, why did he run?’ Note that this was not a case of an officer presenting identification and making a polite request, the victim was verbally accosted with a demand to stop. The mention of armed police certainly doesn’t offer assurance – it says you are being perceived as a threat that warrants an armed response. (And, given that the police perception was that this man was a bombing suspect, would procedure have called for him to be shot even if he HAD stopped?)

Mistakes were clearly made and admitted. But let’s not derail the investigation by coming up with half-baked justifications for the shooting. Regardless of the victim’s choice to flee, jump a turnstile, and so on … the fact that an innocent man is dead means the police screwed up to some extent.

Security is about questioning assumptions as well as assessing the value of tradeoffs. The investigation must address why procedure qualified this man as a threat, and what changes should be made to correct for this error.

Ian Mason July 25, 2005 6:53 PM


Just for the record Jean Charles de Menezes was Brazilian not Argentinian.

And there is a qualitive difference between a witness five feet way seeing police pin a man to the ground before shooting him and that witness mis-counting between 5 and 7 shots fired.

Further – What worries me here, and not specifically about Sr. Menezes death, is the rhetoric of “Get real, this is a war”. And I just pick your use as an example; I’m talking about the use, principally by politicians, of phrases like “war on drugs”, “war on terrorism” or as I heard used today “war on truancy”.

In a war you are actually expected to kill people who look different, specifically have a different uniform to you. In war the normal rules go out of the window and all tactics become acceptable. In war you fight to win at any cost. In peacetime, you are expected to follow the rule of law. Citing “war” makes all sorts of normally unacceptable behaviour seen OK.

This is not war it is criminal activity. We are trying to stop people comitting crimes, not subjugate another nation or prevent another nation subjugating us at any cost.

However, we repeated see this “war” rhetoric used as an excuse to do things that are disproportionate and ought to be rejected: searching people unconstitutionally in NY, the TSA carrying on with plans congress have forbidden, starting mass surveilence of communications data across Europe.

The IRA were a bigger threat to the UK. They even nearly killed the Prime Minister. But there was never an attempt to push as much dangerous and/or ineffectual legislation through, so hurriedly and in the face of existing law that forbids it (there were some attempts but even those were more focussed and more proportionate). I’d like to know why Government are being more reactionary nowadays and why they seem to be getting away with it. At the moment the UK government seem to be able to justify almost anything by saying “Terrorism”, “Paedophiles” or “Asylum seekers”.

Bruce Schneier July 25, 2005 6:55 PM

“To echo Jarrod. Including unverified Moonbat comments in your blog is not good practice. Would you not agree that it is at least doubtful that Brit police go round assassinating Argentinian electricians?”

I just can’t police comments for that kind of thing. Just think of it as an exercise in free speech.

_Anonymous_ July 25, 2005 6:57 PM

It’s this simple:
1. It’s not ok if policemen shoot anyone
2. It’s not ok if “highly trained professional” policemen shoot anyone
3. If multiple police officers subdue a suspect and shoot him 7 times in the head, that’s neither “highly trained” nor professional.
4. If you give a few hundred people guns, tell them “there are people with bombs, we don’t know what they look like, we don’t know where they are, but they are highly dangerous, you may kill any one of them without asking or proof just KILL THEM TO MAKE US SAFER, You highly trained professionals!!!”… this is exactly the thing I’d expect to happen. Here is what I’d like to try: find a group of undercover police officers (they’re not soo hard to spot) point on anyone looking a little bit foreign and shout “HE’S GOT A BOMB”.

With this policy in place, terrorists don’t even need the bombs anymore, “highly trained professionals” will do all the work for them.

Davi Ottenheimer July 25, 2005 6:58 PM


Good comments. Reminds me of the “militarization” of the US West Coast during WWII that was used to justify internment of anyone suspected of being an “enemy”. The definition of a civilian “war zone” at that time forced relocation of anyone with Japanese ancestry from California, western Oregon and Washington, southern Arizona, Alaska and transfer from Hawaii to the mainland. All because of poor judgement and innaccurate information about threats. Just food for thought when we talk about siege mentalities…

Bruce Schneier July 25, 2005 6:58 PM

“I find it interesting the number of people here making the assumption that the fellow, in his situation, would have the capability to make a clear analysis of what’s going on and make better decisions than he did based on that analysis.”

It sound slike there was bad decision-making on both sides. But in stressful split-second decisions like these, people will make mistakes. Malcom Gladwell’s book “Blink” has some interesting things to say about these sorts of situations.

Bruce Schneier July 25, 2005 7:00 PM

“They shot him when he was already pinned to the ground, and therefore didn’t have any chance to activate any explosives.”

Depending on how free is hands were, that may or may not have been true. And more important is what the police thought he had the chance to do.

Bruce Schneier July 25, 2005 7:01 PM

“I think that a dead-man’s switch is a lot harder to wire up than most people believe. I’ve tried, at various times, to hold a button for a long time. It’s hard, unless the switch is lightly sprung and has a lot of travel.”

Hand-grenade-style triggers are pretty easy.

Ari Heikkinen July 25, 2005 7:02 PM

Think about it. By their new policy, if the police merely suspects you’re a suicide bomber you’re going to get shot in the head either way, wether you stay put or run away (remember, at that point, they consider you as a suicide bomber and think the only way to stop you from detonating your explosives is to shoot you in the head).

Now, it makes me wonder if the guy who was shot would have even avoided getting shot had he stopped..

João July 25, 2005 7:29 PM

They should have stopped him a LOT earlier. Surrounded by properly identified policeman and stopped. It probably wouldn’t have escalated to this point.

Now … what have they accomplished?

  1. One non-bomber Brazilian down.
  2. A clear message: If you’re going to bomb something, wear a suit. A fresh summer suit. And a nice suitcase or a laptop bag.
  3. The next time a policeman faces a situation like this the odds are he will hesitate.
  4. People in London are [even more] scared. And as a corollary, terrorism is winning ground.
  5. People are no safer today than they were before. Especially if we consider that the focus continues on the Tube. And if a terrorist decides to bomb a supermarket he’ll have as many deaths and about the same share on prime-time.

Way to go! Keep up the good work.

Ian Mason July 25, 2005 8:27 PM

I think a bit of background on the UK police, specifically the Met, and shootings might be helpful here and explain why us Brits take such a cynical approach and are frankly becoming scared by the police here.

The Met. have a history of shooting people erroneously. There are several celebrated cases. When they do shoot people wrongly they close ranks and do their best to whitewash the incident.

Here’s a single example.

Six years ago Harry Stanley was shot fatally by two armed police officers when he has walking home from the pub carrying a table leg. A member of the public had called the police from the pub saying that they though he had a shotgun. On his way home the police approached him from behind and issued a “Stop, armed police” challenge. The man, who remember is innocent and unarmed, turns around to see what is happening. The police, who remember were wearing body armour that could easily protect from a shotgun blast at the distance the man was, fired two rounds into his back and he died.

That’s a quick summary of the facts. Once all the detailed facts were out, the public belief was that the officers were guilty of murder. The Met. investigated and cleared their own officers. Recently, Surrey police re-investigated the case and have since arrested both officers on suspicion of murder. The Met. were initially not even going to suspend the officers, even after this arrest. Armed specialists effectively went on strike as a consequence – they didn’t want to have to possibly face the consequences of their actions.

It has to be said that the Met. are very good at NOT using guns. In the year Harry Stanley was shot Armed Response teams were deployed on 1440 occasions. On only 3 occasions did they open fire and only fired 4 shots in total. This resulted in one fatality and three injuries. That’s only four shots in the whole year. Two of them ended up in Harry. Thus in 33% of the cases in that year they got it wrong and tried to cover it up.

There are other similar cases and statistics are similar for those years. I’ve actually reviewed every Met. case in 1997-2001 and there seens to be a pattern. In justifiable shootings the police fire only one shot. In questionable ones more than one shot is fired. I don’t know if this actually means something – we’re talking about 14 incidents in total which is rather a small sample.

As a consequence of the 33% questionable rate and the tendency to cover up investigations nobody with half a brain believes a single word the Met. says when it shoots someone.

This time around the investigation is going to involve the relatively new Independant Police Complaints Commission. Perhaps that is why the Met. have been so quick to apologise – something they have strenuously resisted before – because the opportunity to hide things behind a screen of Met. officers investigating themselves does not exist this time. This will also test the “Independant” nature of that body faced with a highly controversial case and, no doubt, great political pressure.

Ian Mason July 25, 2005 8:45 PM


The British Police have always used the phrase “Shoot to stop” or “Shoot to incapacitate”. What is significant is that individuals in the policy making chain, the present and previous Commissioners of the Met. police included, have used the exact terminology “Shoot to kill” as a description of the new policy. This has massive implications should murder charges be brought as an intention to kill will have been established as part of policy.

European human rights law does not permit blanket decisions about life or liberty – decisions must be based on individual circumstances. This has led to the removal of mandatory sentences for certain crimes. European human rights law also establishes that use of force must be the minimum “absolutely necessary”. Combine the two and a “Shoot to kill” policy must, prima facie, be illegal. Whether I’m right on this will have to wait 10 years becuase that’s how long this will take to make its way through the legal system.

Davi Ottenheimer July 25, 2005 8:49 PM

“when you have a subway execution of an innocent man, the damage (in the hearts and minds of british muslims) is immense.”

I thought you might find this study informative regarding the economics of suicide bombing. It does not address fear of shoot-to-kill, but the concepts should translate:

“Using Israeli aggregate and micro data on the use of public transportation and the labor market outcomes of bus drivers, we find that while a suicide bomber attack carried out on a bus decreases the number of bus passengers in the corresponding month by 20 percentage points, neither the compensation for bus drivers nor their likelihood to quit their jobs was affected.”

And while we might say the terrorists can evade risk, that could just be our bias regarding their fear of detection. The study shows that alterations of course mainly depend on economic factors (reward), unless unduly influenced by fear — some will invest in overcoming fear, while some will not:

“We find that while suicide bomber attacks carried out on buses generate substantial average effects, they have no effect on the use of public bus rides by high frequency users. Using micro data we find that on average people substitute bus rides by taxi rides when suicide bomber attack carried out on bus take place. Yet, this does not hold for the high frequency users. Controlling for income, age, and education level we find no effect what so ever of suicide bomber attacks on the number of bus rides taken by high frequency users.”

Mark July 25, 2005 9:17 PM

I gathered from a report on the BBC that, according to one London official, the point of the head shot (instead of the previously-standard body shot) is to avoid detonating any bomb the suspect might be wearing under his clothes. Not necessarily to apply the maximum lethal force.

To paraphrase the leader of one London mosque: “What are we supposed to do if someone in plain clothes tells us to stop? If we stop, we may be killed by racists. If we don’t stop, we may be killed by the police.”

Jarrod Frates July 25, 2005 9:32 PM

“I just can’t police comments for that kind of thing. Just think of it as an exercise in free speech.”

Neither gandalf nor I were referring to posts made by the various visitors to the site, but rather to your own inclusion of Nicholas Weaver’s comments in your entry. This has the effect of approving of the statements, even though they are both armchair quarterbacking and premature given that the information available is not complete and likely contains significant innaccuracies.

You have since somewhat ameliorated the situation with the second edit, but your point is still unclear. It’s important to question the practice, but it’s also important to note that the British police do not shoot simply because the person is suspected of being a terrorist, as the live arrests made over the last couple of weeks have demonstrated.

peachpuff July 25, 2005 9:54 PM

Where’s the footage?

The police were quick to say that they followed him from “a house that was under surveillance,” but slow to mention that it was actually an apartment building. They were quick to say that they ran him down as he entered the subway, but slow to mention that they let him ride the bus there. They were quick to say that he disobeyed an order by the police, but slow to mention that the police were plainclothes and that other witnesses denied hearing any such thing.

So, where’s the footage?

London has all these security cameras, and it took place at a train station. I’ve seen a lot of frames showing the other guys, the ones who might actually have done something wrong, but the only pictures I’ve seen of the shooting victim show him smiling at home.

Is there no footage showing whether he ran before or after they drew their guns? Is there no footage showing what happened, and for how long, between pinning him down and shooting him? Did he go from his house to the bus stop to the train station without leaving a single frame to show the “suspicious clothing” everyone is talking about?

Fancy that.

Roger July 25, 2005 10:04 PM

IMHO this has been a pretty bad few days for Bruce’s once erudite blog. In recent days we have seen a rising incidence of threads that are basically content-free political rants, and even a thread that was little more than a grammar flame. Now we have a “patellar reflex” thread that looks just like all the thousands of other blogs.

Ah well, my tuppenceworth:

  1. It is especially ironic that here in a place where we are fond (quite rightly) of criticising knee-jerk reactions, everyone is doing as their patellar reflex bids and criticising the firearms officers who fired the fatal shots. While the coronial inquest and independent inquiry have only just begun a few hours ago (something all the instant pundits should consider before shooting their mouths off), to me it seems much more likely that the firearms officers performed their duties as well as conceivably possible under the circumstances, but that the people who screwed up were the surveillance team. Informing an armed arrest team that a person has been identified as being a probable suicide bomber is fairly obviously placing that suspect’s life in extreme jeopardy. In this case, the wrong man was fingered, and due to this error an innocent man was in fact killed. It is the surveillance procedures, and/or perhaps the hand-off procedures, which require review.

  2. It is also especially ironic that here in a place where Bruce (quite rightly) decries tactics based on “movie plot” threats, he should base a criticism ~on~ a “movie plot” threat. Dead man switches for triggering bombs are really popular with the scriptwriters. They are pretty rare among bombers, for the simple reason that they are a stupid idea, and if you stop to think about it for a moment, it’s obvious why they’re a stupid idea. [Aside: one interesting thing the Israelis discovered about suicide bombers is that people who are not afraid of dying for their cause are still terrified of looking like nincompoops on international TV.] Now, there is another type of switch, which is sometimes incorrectly called a dead man’s switch, which does make a certain amount of sense and is sometimes used by suicide bombers (specifically, a number were apparently prepared in Iraq for use by the “Fedayeen Saddam”). However these switches are not a true dead man’s switch and head shooting the bomber is still fairly likely to prevent the bomb from detonating.

  3. And it should also be pointed out that even if the bomber ~is~ using a true dead man’s switch, shooting her in the head is still the best option! The reason being that:
    a) in the worst case, the bomb goes off — but it was going to anyway (neglecting the very slim odds that the bomber might have a sudden change of heart) so you’re no worse off. And since it has detonated before reaching the intended target, the community at large (but not you!) is probably better off; and
    b) depending on factors I’d rather not discuss, there is actually a substantial chance of the bomber’s corpse retaining its grip on the switch for a few minutes, usually long enough to hustle everyone out of range.
    So even in the unlikely event that such a switch is being used, shooting the bomber in the head will tend to minimise casualties in comparison to the very slender list of alternatives.

  4. I’d also like to make an observation about the fact that Senhor Menezes was shot eight times. In view of my comment in 1., above, this is of course speculative. But I would interpret that as most likely meaning that 4 officers drew simultaneously and double-tapped. Double tapping would be consistent with a “shoot to kill” policy, and firing almost simultaneously would be consistent with highly trained officers taught to recognise certain danger cues (in this case, tragically incorrectly) and acting on them instantly. Furthermore if that is what happened, the entire sequence would have been over so fast the noise of some of the reports would have merged, resulting in the incorrect counts from witnesses (although another reason for confused counts from witnesses is that people simply don’t count accurately when startled.) I emphasis again, though, that this is pure speculation.

Bruce Schneier July 25, 2005 10:14 PM

“IMHO this has been a pretty bad few days for Bruce’s once erudite blog”

It’s been a pretty bad couple of weeks on the terrorism front, too.

We’ll return to our regularly scheduled security blog in a bit. I have posts scheduled on identity theft, Microsoft, Motzart, and cellphones.

Chris Walsh July 25, 2005 10:26 PM


Where do you get the information that the dead man had been fingered as a probable bomber? Press reports I read indicated that the building (not a given set of its occupants) was under scrutiny.

If the police had specifically suspected the victim, their disposition and actions are more understandable, but your comment is the first I had heard along those lines.

Roland July 25, 2005 10:37 PM

Now we’ve learned some brits have a “license to kill”. In movies this may be funny, but in real life it is scary! Can’t believe it’s true.

jammit July 25, 2005 11:23 PM

A dead man switch is easy. The bomb stays deactivated untill the button is pushed down, then it’s triggered. The bomb won’t ignite until the switch is released. Sort of the same mechanism as a “bouncing betty”. But bomb or not, did the cops really think he had a bomb? He certainly may be “acting” funny (even if it may have only seemed that to the cops), but the suspect was trying to get away, possibly to a more open area. It seems to me that even if he had a bomb it might have been a good idea to let him run and blow himself up all by himself. Why waste a few cops in the process? If they were following him, perhaps they should have kept their mouths shut and keep the surveillance up.

piglet July 26, 2005 12:48 AM

Shoot to kill is nothing new under the sun. It has been practiced by British police for a long time against IRA suspects, without the need for suicide bombing to justify the policy. Suicide terrorism is a nice new justification for unchecked police brutality. Don’t believe them. Remember the cops who pumped 40+ bullets into the body of an unarmed, innocent black New Yorker? In court, they only had to say that they somehow had felt threatened by the man. This was enough for them to walk free. In Munich, police broke into an appartment to execute in cold blood a man whom they suspected of having killed a policeman. He was the wrong guy, and he had done nothing to provoke them. Now British cops have the licence to shoot anyone with dark skin who is running to catch his tube train. Don’t believe that state violence is bounded by laws. Nope.

maeztro July 26, 2005 1:26 AM

It seems we are moving towards a new set of human rights:
You have the right to fall down the stairs has become: You have the right to be shot in the head till you are dead. You have the right to be stopped for driving while black has become: You have the right to be searched while being muslimmy looking.

Roger July 26, 2005 1:55 AM

“Press reports I read indicated that the building (not a given set of its occupants) was under scrutiny.”

So far as I am aware the police have not said what led them to the building (and I would think they are not likely to). However as just a few hours later they raided just one of the apartments and arrested its occupants, one of whom was held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, it seems likely that a given set of its occupants were certainly under scrutiny.

“Where do you get the information that the dead man had been fingered as a probable bomber?”

Cable news first reports, a few minutes after it happened; not sure which one as we had (at least) Sky, BBC and CNN all going at once at work. I do not, of course, assert that such early reports are either true or even necessarily likely to be true, however a BBC report made about 10 hours later (after a police press conference but before Senhor de Menezes was identified), and apparently quoting a police spokesman:

a) describes Senhor de Menezes as a “known suspect” which of course he was not; and
b) very much gives the impression that the police who followed Senhor de Menezes to the station were not aware that the building from which he had emerged, had multiple dwellings.

So the picture I see (and yes, this is speculation based on limited information!) is surveillance team watching the apartment block, see de Menezes (who bore a /slight/ resemblance to the Oval bomber) emerging with unseasonably bulky clothing, and they “hand-off” de Menezes to a mobile surveillance team, so they can continue monitoring the building. Somehow, the mobile team is not made aware that either a) de Menezes has not been positively IDed as the suspect nor b) that merely emerging from the building means little because it is a multiple dwelling. Consequently, they already have it in their minds that he is very probably a terrorist, so every faintly suspicious thing he does serves to harden that belief.

A particularly curious aspect to this is that one witness described Senhor de Menezes as wearing a bulky belt with wires protruding from it, which he assumed was a bomb. Such an appearance would obviously have gone a long way to raise suspicions. If de Menezes was wearing such a belt then one might presume it was in fact his electrician’s tool-belt; however the police apparently didn’t find any electrician’s tools. Perhaps just witness fallibility I suppose — but it goes to illustrate the importance of letting the coroner get the facts straightened out before wandering off too far into flights of fancy.

Roger July 26, 2005 2:33 AM

A few posters have been implying that British police are racists and Jean Charles de Menezes was shot because he had dark skin or a Middle Eastern appearance. Utter rot! You could at least bother to check the photos before dispensing bile. One witness claimed that de Menezes was of “South Asian” appearance, but that witness was wrong. As you can see from the photos below, he actually had very light skin with a slightly florid complexion. If you had to give a one word description it might be “Celtic”.

Here are several photos provided by his family and friends, the last one is said to be very recent:

Erik N July 26, 2005 3:09 AM

It is tragic when innocent lives are lost regardless of whatever events happened prior. Some posts blame the victim: Running away from armed police on highest alert, vault the ticket stall and try to escape into the latest target of terrorism – the metro trains – is indeed unwise, and should raise suspission.

But, if you’re a suicide bomber, wouldn’t the logical action be to blow your self up right away instead of trying to escape? Escaping seems not to be the strategy of the suicide bomber – but of any other criminal.

The police said the house was under watch, but did the suspect know that? If not, he can’t be expected to draw conclusions that he may be a terrorist suspect. The police apparently had a shoot-to-kill policy, but was this wellknown? If not, how should the suspect be able to reason that he might get shot if running away from police? Further, if the police chasing him was not uniformed, how should the suspect be able to conclude that he was escaping authorities? The police might have shouted “stop, this is the police” but any one can do that – including terrorists, with the same credibility if we are unable to identify these people as police.

It seems perfectly rational to try to run away from armed people. In this sense, the action of the suspect is perfectly rational and non-terrorist like.

Bruce argues that terrorists would just use a dead mans trigger. But: As mentioned, if a suicide bomber is determined to blow himself up, he could have done so perfectly well, regardless of the trigger, when he was first called by the police – they didn’t shoot him right away, they chased him down. Futher, If you can run like hell and vault the ticket stall without a bomb going off, I’d claim it unlikely to be triggered by the deadmans trigger mechanism described. For this reason, for police it would be reasonably safe to assume that it was a live-mans trigger. Such a trigger is effectively deactivated by deactivating the person.

Now, while the police could assume that the trigger was a live-mans trigger, so it would also be sufficient to pasify the suspect: While israeli police may say that the most effective way of stopping as suicide bomber is to kill, it is perfectly sufficient to overman the suspect.

The fact that he was shot 8 times, 7 in the head, seems to indicate that this had succesfully been done: It seems unlikely that even the best trained police can run and shoot 8 times with 7 bullets hitting target in the head. If they were shooting while running could have put other people at risk, or caused the bomb to go off – hence executing the objective of the terrorist.

For these reasons, and not for the counter measures mentioned, is the shoot-to-kill policy wrong.

Tristan Laing July 26, 2005 3:09 AM

I find it interesting that the entire discussion revolves around whether the police acted correctly or wrongly, and whether the policy is wrong or acceptable. What almost no one has mentioned, and disagree with me if I am wrong, is that the public response to this attrocity will likely determine the extent to which brutalizing violence is considered acceptable to combat terrorism. Is this our Crystal Nagct?

Tobias July 26, 2005 3:20 AM

Some newspapers wrote that the Brasilian did not have a valid visa anymore and maybe feared that the officers were hunting him because of that. His cousin said on television that he spoke English very well and that he knew how to behave when being confronted by armed police since circumstances are rougher in Brasil where he originates. The cousin claimed that there had been no warning on behalf of the police. He can’t know of course since he hadn’t been on the scene.

In my opinion the officers are hardly to blame at all, given the cirumstances. The poor guy was living in the same building one of the real terrorists was living, he did not carry a backpack but this wide coat which was suspicious and most importantly he ran when the officers urged him to stop – he even ran INTO the tube, just one day after the bombing attempts whith officers chasing him. The officers HAD to think that he posed a threat, anything else would have been irresponsible on the part of the officers.

The question is why he ran, why he didn’t stop when a couple of police offers with guns did chase him. My guess is he wanted to avoid the trouble because of his status as “illegal alien” as Americans would put it. The guy probably risked his life because of an expired visa.

Ross July 26, 2005 3:28 AM

It’s now been suggested in the UK media that de Menezes’s UK visa may have expired, which could explain why he ran from police. (He apparently spoke good English, so if they did call out “Stop! Police!” or similar, he ought to have understood.) However, this presumes they did – which isn’t clear – and they apparently weren’t in uniform either, which I don’t think I agree with – not if they’ve been authorised to use the most extreme deadly force.

Kostas P. July 26, 2005 4:13 AM

I must admit that I am now afraid of visiting London, but not because of terriorist attacks. I’m afraid that I might get shot by the police as a suicide bomber suspect.
I bet that a terriorist out there is having a laugh at the Scotland Yard right now. And yes, terriorism has won, there’s no question about it. Nonetheless, a shoot-to-kill policy is one step behind marshall law, isn’t it?

kernshen July 26, 2005 5:18 AM

To kill or be killed… Let’s say you’re told by an Oracle that you will be involve in an automobile accident tomorrow. If you choose to drive tomorrow, you will run over someone and if you choose not to, you will run over. Which will you choose? Bush chose to declare war on Iraq, Metropolitan Police chose shoot-to-kill. If policy are made based on “To kill or be killed”, such unfortunate events will never end.

seb July 26, 2005 5:22 AM

Why on a hot July day would you wear a heavy jacket?

Remember it is London weather and im
sure that for a brazilian it is bloody cold there

Dave Green July 26, 2005 5:26 AM

Shoot to kill? I’m not one for law making, but even Saddam Hussain is getting a trial. What makes us as citizens any less important. It is typical of our government and their double standards – for the rest of us it is reasonable force, which can be interpretted in a number of different ways but doesn’t normally allow for assasination.

Police and guns; didn’t they recently shoot a guy for carrying a table leg?

Its been said here many times, but if there is a shoot to kill policy, only innocent people are going to suffer.

Ian Eiloart July 26, 2005 5:44 AM

“The theory is that only a direct headshot will kill the terrorist immediately, and thus destroy the ability to execute a bombing attack.”

Not true. The policeman quoted said that’s the only way to make sure you kill the bomber “AND PROTECT YOURSELF”.

Previously, when shooting to kill, a body shot was preferred because it’s a larger target. With a potential suicide bomber you risk detonating the bomb with a body shot, so a head shot is safer.

English police have tested an extensive range of explosive devices, with varying types of ammunition before coming to this conclusion.

KEH July 26, 2005 5:54 AM

Anyone remember a song by Weird al Yankovich called “Trigger Happy”. Somehow it has been playing in my head after I heard about this shooting. Descibes the modern mentality towards suspected terrorists.

Rampo July 26, 2005 6:30 AM

The shot fellow behaved “hinky”, which is what Dr Schneier often claims is a better way of profiling than skincolour.

Jay July 26, 2005 6:30 AM

“Police and guns; didn’t they recently shoot a guy for carrying a table leg?”
@Dave: Yes they did, I think it acutally happened in 1999, but last month they were arrested on suspicion of murder, gross negligence, manslaughter and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. The case has been to court of a number of times as the verdict keeps getting over turned.

It is very unlikely that Mr Menezes was shot simply because he was a foreigner or that the police were racist (although i cannot deny that the met police do have such problems).

A lot of people won’t like me saying this, however, it is probable that the police are likely to think of terrorists as being non-white and muslim (although Arab men are fairly light skinned, especially Saudis). Again, a lot of people will probably disagree with me but I think that law inforcement agencies do use racial profiling to identify possible suspects, it would be disingenuous of me to pretend that this is not the case. But I think racial profiling can be counterproductive as it can create tension and erodes trust between police and ethnic communities. It is also flawed, a report by Amnesty International cited examples where racial profiling failed to indentify the perpertrator(s): ” the Oklahoma City bombing in which Timothy McVeigh was able to flee the scene while law enforcement operated with the suspicion that an “Arab terrorist??? was responsible, and the so-called “shoe bomber,??? Richard Reid, who did not fit a profile used by airport screeners, who most often focus on South Asian, Muslim and Arab men.”

The problem with a shoot-to-kill/stop policy is that if the police get the right person then they are hereos, but if they don’t then they will undoubtably face criticism for what some may regard a rather extreme measure. To make matters worse, as other posters have pointed out, if they do get it wrong, they are likely to hesitate if faced with the same situation but the threat is very real. In this case, it probably would have been better for all concerned if the police had confronted him as he left the house rather then outside the train station where there are more people present. Although I am uneasy with the idea of a shoot-to-kill/stop policy, I’m not sure what other actions the police could take if they suspect a person to be carrying a bomb. Catch-22?

cocodinos July 26, 2005 8:11 AM

The guy who was shot was in the UK on an expired work visa. Were I in his place, I would have plenty of reasons to run from the police.

He probably thought they wanted to deport him, and ran. He paid for that mistake with 8 bullets in the head.

This police policy is characteristic of only the most oppressive and backward regimes, and is unacceptable in a free society such as the UK.

Victor Bogado July 26, 2005 8:26 AM

People keep talking about that he had a coat and that the temperature was “hot” (30°C according to one post). But I live in Rio de Janeiro and many people here are acostumed to a 40°C summer, and when the temperature get arround 25°C you nothing but people with heavy coats and winter cloathing.

I, myself, am very happy arround the 22°C ~ 23°C but I am considered like a freak that don’t fell any cold at all. So we get that temperature feeling is relative, while london people may acoustumed to one kind of it people from other places may feel diferently.

He probably didn’t knew that the building was being watched, and since he had an expired visa and had jumped a turnstile. That fact alone should mark him as not terrorist. A suicide bomber don’t want to atract attention to him self until the bomb goes “boom”, and since he expects to die why would he want to save money for a fair????

skidoo July 26, 2005 10:27 AM

Back to the topic of security for a moment.

I don’t think it’s correct to characterize terrorists as criminals. I think they should be perceived as enemy combatants. And I think that’s an important distinction with particular security implications.

I know it’s difficult for people to accept the fact that actual war has been brought to bear on their doorstep, but it seems to me to be an inescapable fact. And the West would be best-served by facing it down.

I think war and crime are distinguished most by scope. Criminal operations can be very sophisticated, but the scope of crime doesn’t measure up to the scope of war. The resources required to combat crime are proportionally smaller than the resources required to wage war. And the rules of engagement are necessarily very different.

Things have become confusing because we have personnel, namely the police, waging war and fighting crime, at the same time. It’s confusing not only to the cops, but also to the public. I think security (against suicide bombers and against police accidentally shooting innocent people) would be improved immensely if we could more clearly delineate the roles of police officers and war-waging security agents.

Gustavo Bittencourt July 26, 2005 11:42 AM

As a Brazilian, I’m very angry. As a security professional, I understand that false-positive can occur, but what does happen when a countermeasure cause the lost of a innocent live?

I have two majors questions about this episode:

What effect will the Shot-to-kill police have? it will deter the terrorist’s actions, it will tranquilize English’s people, or it will fear the English’s Islamic community, it will incentive more suicide bombers, it will kill more innocent people.

Did the police make the right judgment when they shoot him? The circumstance isn’t clean, first the police said that he had terrorist connections, then they said that he had no terrorist connection, second they said it was 5 shots, then they said it was 8 shots, third they said he was running then they said he was immobilized.

Tom July 26, 2005 12:09 PM


Thanks for the clarification


As far as I aware, all these “facts” are speculation from the media. The truth will come out during the long investigation that will now take place. The police themselves definately never said they fired 5 shots.

Although the policy seems harsh at best, I don’t see what other choice law enforcement have when dealing with suspected suicide bombers.

For me the real problem is deciding when a person becomes a suspected suicide bomber in the eyes of the law enforcement agencies.

Probitas July 26, 2005 1:35 PM

@ Rampo

“The shot fellow behaved “hinky”, which is what Dr Schneier often claims is a better way of profiling than skincolour.”

I have read much of what Dr Schneir has to say, and I have never seen him advocate the death penalty for acting hinky.

I must say it is a terrible shame that, at a time when the US and the UK speak often of the need for coalition building , one can see in a security forum such as this so many people who are willing to throw up ttheir hands and say “There’s nothing we can do; terrorism mandates this type of response”. Permitting the police to act as judge, jury and executioner of any individual who cannot or will not do exactly what we tell them to do is NOT the type of response I have been lead to expect from a civilized society.

George Bush often trotted out the reasoning that the terrorists “hate us because of our freedoms”. I guess with policies like this one, they will no longer have reason to hate us.

Joe July 26, 2005 2:03 PM

Terrorists tend to kill innocent people. Now the police are shooting innocent people. The only difference is one is said to be within the law and the other out.

Listening to reports of those who witnessed the police attack made me sick to my stomach. The frenzied feeding of the British police.

If the police had got their man I would have been one of the first to breath a sigh of relief; one less terrorist to kill people. However the “sorry” from the police for killing an innocent man was an insult. Surely police training should be of such a high standard as to minimise the possibility of killing the innocent.

The terrorists need stopping, but not at the expense of the police killing the innocent. Is not the level of intelligences in the police able to come up with a more realistic alternative, or do we need wiser men to steep in?

gandalf July 26, 2005 5:20 PM

Sorry I got the guy’s nationality wrong.

Right – we’re dealing with speculation and unreliable eyewitnesses. No single individual (other than the police) can have witnessed the tailing of the guy, the police challenge, his attempted escape & the shooting. Let’s see what the enquiry reports.

@Police critics
Surely you’d agree that the normal police processes just don’t work with a suicide bomber? They will not surrender, they’ll run for crowds so as to inflict maximum damage, they don’t want to escape.

What they would you do if confronted by such an individual about to blow themselves up on your Underground train. Run away? Wait to see if they explode taking you and the rest of the carriage with them?

Bruce, why not dig into non-lethal devices that have good prospects of taking down suspected suicide bombers without killing them?

Nick July 26, 2005 7:13 PM


“Surely you’d agree that the normal police processes just don’t work with a suicide bomber? They will not surrender, they’ll run for crowds so as to inflict maximum damage, they don’t want to escape.”

Therefore, to protect us all from suicide bombers, we must shoot all suspicious people in the head? That’s not an acceptable tradeoff.

If the system is upheld and we know it allows for false-positives (innocent man gets killed), then this is a vulnerability that the terrorists can exploit for their own ends. As I’ve said previously, the process needs to be reviewed to make sure it is working – a delicate balance between fact, behavioral models, instinct, and training.

“What they would you do if confronted by such an individual about to blow themselves up on your Underground train. Run away? Wait to see if they explode taking you and the rest of the carriage with them?”

Do you mean by a dark-skinned man wearing a heavy coat on an otherwise warm day, or do you mean by a stereotypical terrorist who has been so careless as to clearly display the explosive device strapped to his chest?

The problem here has been one of identification more than response.

“Bruce, why not dig into non-lethal devices that have good prospects of taking down suspected suicide bombers without killing them?”

Good question. Off the top of my head:

  • Taser. Risky, as the current could possibly detonate a device.

  • CS or other anti-personnel gas. You don’t have to see to push a button.

  • Beanbag gun. I don’t know the effective range of these, and they’re designed for use against center mass, so you have the same issue of not wanting to hit any chest-mounted device. A headshot would probably be just as lethal as a bullet.

  • Immobilizer foam. Nothing practical has been introduced yet, this is still ‘what-if’ technology, and it’s mostly bulky. You’d need a strong, quick setting foam. If designed for use against suicide bombers, it must also be non-conductive. Unfortunately, if the bomber has a trigger in his fist, even this might not stop him from pushing/releasing the button.

  • Active Denial Systems. These are microwave-based systems planned for deployment in Iraq. They are supposed to make the subject uncomfortable and force them to disperse/leave an area. The equipment is generally large and vehicle mounted, and useless in the enclosed spaces of a metro station, unless you want to zap everyone on the platform to get to Joe Bomber.

Why July 27, 2005 6:07 AM

What most people seem to forget is that the British police are fighting terror.

Terrorism is not about the total number of people likely to be injured, but about the effect on the national psyche. Most Britons will feel more secure knowing that there is a shoot-to-kill policy.

We should have sympathy for the concern and discomfort felt by many of the vast majority of British Muslims who have no connection with terror crimes. Those non-Muslims who abuse their countrymen because of their ethnicity or religion need to realize that they are themselves guilty in a small and petty way, of the same intolerance and bigotry which drives the terrorists.

Nevertheless terrorism must be fought vigorously in each and every country where it rears its ugly head.

Ian Mason July 27, 2005 7:56 AM

“- Taser. Risky, as the current could possibly detonate a device.”

This morning the Police arrested a man who is reported to have been one of the attempted bombers of last Thursday. When arrested (inside a house) he was holding or wearing a rucksack. The Police used a Taser on him.

This is interesting in two respects. One, they don’t seem to feel it represented a significant risk of detonating explosives that might have been present. Two, they didn’t shoot him dead under Operation Kratos standing orders as they did an innocent man on Friday.

It would appear that a Taser wasn’t an acceptable (and non-lethal) method of subduing a suspect suicide bomber last Friday but today it was (facing a suspect about who there has a much higher level of probability that he is actually a bomber). Either there has been a policy change OR the officers on the ground refused to put themselves in the frame for a possible murder charge. If there has been a policy change it is frankly stupid that it hasn’t been publicly announced for all the blindingly obvious reasons.

Ian Mason July 27, 2005 8:03 AM


“Most Britons will feel more secure knowing that there is a shoot-to-kill policy.”

Every one of my fellow Britons I have spoken to about this has, without exception, said that the policy makes them feel LESS secure.

silburnl July 27, 2005 8:36 AM

Interesting discussion. Some further ‘facts’ for cogitation(ie. stuff that’s just made it into the media here – so plenty of time for corrections to emerge).

The Guardian had a background piece today where they quoted the Chief Commissionier of the Met as saying that since 7/7 the police have handled 250 incidents where they suspected that they were dealing with a suicide bomber. Of those 250 incidents, seven came down to a shoot/no shoot decision by armed officers at the scene. I don’t think he was counting the de Menezes incident in that total.

Now obviously this is a senior police officer speaking on the record here – so he’s going to be choosing words and stats that reflect well upon his organisation – but that doesn’t smell like there’s a trigger-happy, culture of impunity is operating in the Met at this time. Having said that the article went on to quote Scotland Yard insiders speaking off the record as saying that significant errors were made in the run up to the shooting and that when the facts emerge ‘it will be horrendous’. Bad news there, but also some indication that the Met are serious about identifying and correcting errors in their operational setup.

I agree with Roger’s analysis that the the most probable error points lie in operational coordination and hand-offs between different teams. It appears that the order for a ‘hard stop’ was delayed until Stockwell because that was the first opportunity they had to vector armed officers onto the suspect. If that turns out to be correct then there was ample opportunity for chinese whispers to escalate the target from ‘linked to the investigation’ to ‘possible terrorist’ to ‘probable bomber’. My gut feel is that if the buck stops anywhere it will be further up the chain of command than the triggerman.

Regarding the taser. I think it is significant that the cops were active and the suspect was reactive in that situation. Its reasonable to suppose that these guys aren’t sleeping in their bomb harnesses so when you raid them at 4:30am you have many more tactical options. You also know that the incident is almost certainly going to develop at close quarters where a taser is a viable weapon. None of these factors are in play when the suspect is ‘in the wild’ so I don’t think the Birmingham arrests indicate much (if any) of a policy shift.

What I think is more interesting are the accounts emerging of the Grantham arrests (two guys coming down to London from Newcastle were arrested at Grantham this morning as well). From what I’ve heard so far these were a textbook example of a cop spotting someone ‘looking hinky’ and proceeding from there.


Tom Chiverton July 27, 2005 12:25 PM

Oh, it gets better.
Today the police TASER’ed a suspected suicide bomber. ‘Cause that’ll never set a bomb off.

Stephen Gilbert July 27, 2005 1:26 PM

“This policy is based on the extremely short-sighted assumption that a terrorist needs to push buttons to make a bomb explode.”

I don’t think that’s the only assumption. If the suspect has explosives strapped to his chest, shooting centre of his body mass could set them off.

Nick July 27, 2005 2:13 PM


You point out that ‘hey, the British police are fighting terror!’ as if this justifies the astounding failure to correctly identify a suspect or the presence of an explosive device.

Yes, there are terrorists. Yes, the Islamic fundamentalists are driven by a violent ideology that needs to be opposed. Opposition to a bad idea is established through the propagation of good ideas; force is best used as a defense option for physical sites, not schools of thought. That is, you’re not going to end terrorism with bullets alone.

Once you write off decisions on the basis of ‘it’s to fight terrorism’ instead of making actual assessments of how well a given measure works to combat terrorism or mititgate a given vulnerability, you accept the rules as put forward by the terrorists.

Wombat July 27, 2005 2:16 PM

There’s some good debate and excellent analysis, not only in your article, Bruce, but in many of the posts. However, I feel compelled to balance out some of the posts that seem to propose, with the assumed authority that comes from idealism, some kind of perfect solution.

The reality on the ground may well be that less than perfect decisions may need to be made that, with the 20-20 vision that hindsight affords, may seem at first “wrong”. However, would any of the posters on this thread like to be the armed policeman who has to make that call? Would you be prepared to shoot, knowing that if you did, you may be prosecuted and if you didn’t, another 20 or thirty people might die? Most of these men and women are ordinary people, who happen to have to do an extraordinary job. Part of what give them the ability to act swiftly (which in CT work, is often far better than hesitating or not acting at all) is exactly this kind of policy: it represents a canned risk assessment that takes into account what is known at the time, but more importantly it allows the policeman to act swiftly and decisively, knowing that it is the police chiefs and the politicians who (should, at least in theory) take the heat.

We cannot hope for perfect solutions, if only because today’s perfect solution is tomorrow’s obsolete solutions: terrorists will adapt. It looks as though they used timers first time around; tomorrow maybe they will use deadman’s triggers. But we should also not lose sight of the need to manage risk in this situation and in conflict, that means acceptable loss, however ugly that sounds. The reality may well be that in any and all scenarios, there is always some moderate to high probability of loss and that what separates one choice from another is whether the end result minimizes that loss. Eradicating that risk may well be impossible.

Right now, based on the intelligence the police have to hand, shoot-to-kill may well be the best option out of a world of difficult choices. It is fair to say that the UK has fairly deep experience in Counter Terrorism (its SAS train the world’s CT and Special Forces) and that experience is no doubt being factored in. They are professionals, they do this as a living and they are very well trained: they are not all meglomaniacal sadists (those are usually weeded out even before selection); they are usually people who are selected precisely because of their cool-headedness and sensibility.

My two cents says that the only “semi-perfect” solution is to select and train your police stringently, provide them with clearly stated policy, provide for accountability that goes to the top, and most of all, make sure that we have the smartest people drawing on lessons from the past. Debate on this is healthy and should not be supressed, but by the same token, we should also listen to the advice of the professionals whom we ask to do this job.

In contrast, it may well be argued that advocating a “perfect solution”, that aims for zero casualties might actually be a surefire way to ensure potentially greater levels of casulties at the hands of the terrorists.

Is a shoot-to-kill policy less or more likely to result in innocent casualties? Is this an ethical or a practical question? Are we more concerned about ethics or outcomes? We should choose, because either way, people will get killed. I would prefer that if we lobby for policy change, we do that with the perspective of the policeman with his finger on the trigger.


Nick July 27, 2005 3:37 PM

As someone who has several family members in law enforcement, I can well appreciate the pressure for an LEO to make difficult decisions, often split-second ones. Working in news, I have seen my share of people who have ended up worse off for ignoring the law; often, it is a question of perceptions and communication.

It is nonetheless clear that the existing procedures failed in London, resulting in the death of an innocent man. I have never suggested the investigation is needed to find those responsible and toss them out on their ears; I maintain that sensible and prudent review of policy/procedure in regards to anti-terrorist response must be made to assure that the system did everything possible to protect a single innocent life, no less important than any of the passengers in the Metro.

Wombat July 27, 2005 4:44 PM

As for use of Tasers, this may be moot: I seem to remember that basic demolition knowledge informs us that a detonator is needed to ignite modern plastic explosives (such as Semtex or C4), which I believe was used in the first weapons.

Many modern plastic explosives will not ignite without such a detonator. Indeed, I understand that C4 can be lit with a match and will fizz quite nicely, without exploding.


Wombat July 27, 2005 6:15 PM

…, should have finshed the detonator thought: it might be necessary to have current pass through an electrically triggered detonator (i.e., hit the det with the taser barb) for the C4 to be primed; it would be insufficient to simply pass voltage through the C4.

Dave Bell July 28, 2005 8:19 AM

There’s probably a lot of stuff not coming from official sources, and British law in general frowns on evidence coming out before a trial. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the release of video footage from all the security cameras.

I do wonder if there are enough firearms-qualified police officers available for the current situation. For every one on duty there are likely three eating, sleeping, and doing paperwork. And there are still the routine jobs such as guarding Downing Street.

And how many do you need to back-up a surveillance operation which might have four or five dangerous suspects departing a house, and heading in different directions. You could easily need 20 shooters just for the one job.

Some of the gossip I’ve heard, not many senior police officers in the UK have been firearms qualified. Some of my own experience leads me to think most UK police officers don’t know the most basic safety rules.

It used to be that it didn’t matter much. Things have changed.

Anna Feruglio Dal Dan July 28, 2005 9:45 AM

A comment on the “speak English well” fact. I have been studying English for the last thirty years. I am perfectly fluent, can write and speak on average much more correctly than a native.

I still don’t understand people. Especially if it’s a short phrase with little context and especially if I’m distracted. I can bet that if several people in plainclothes were to come running to me shouting and brandishing guns I would NOT make any sense of what they were shouting.

Oh, and latest news: the guy was not wearing a “bulky coat” and he did not vault a barrier.

Tom July 28, 2005 10:06 AM


I’ve heard the number 450 being thrown about. Doesn’t seem many considering the currebt climate.


That is speculation, his parents said the police told them those details, but no one is sure.

Spreading FUD demonizes the police officers involved before they have even testified at their own inquest.

Target July 28, 2005 12:14 PM

It’s been reported, today, that the police have conceded that de Menezes was not wearing a heavy jacket. He was wearing a jeans jacket. He also did not vault the turnstile. He used a (travelcard) ticket in the normal way.

The Metropolitan Police commissioner, in a radio interview today, said the police had reviewed all their communications and that the allegations of a heavy jacket and leaping over the turnstile had not originated with the police.

The original claims were most likely made by bystanders, not all of whom witnessed the event directly. Inaccurate reports have also been made by those who actually saw the event. A man sitting within yards of the shooting (he said) reported five shots. Eight were fired. Another bystander reported seeing wires sticking out of the victim’s jacket. Again he was mistaken.

After a traumatic event it is often quite hard to remember exactly what happened. Witnesses should not be blamed for flawed recollections.

There is however clearly a big problem with people who are far too eager to use incomplete and unverified information to justify or excuse behaviours they support, in this case the killing of a suspect.

Target July 28, 2005 12:50 PM


When you talk about speculation and “spreading FUD” and accuse others of “demonizing” you should at least be sure that you yourself are not spreading FUD and demonising people.

Sir Ian Blair, the Met commissioner, spoke at an open meeting of London’s police authority this morning. His comments were recorded and played on the 1 o’clock news programme, World At One, on BBC Radio 4 today. This audio programme can be replayed at the BBC website. The relevant remarks are about 20 minutes into the half-hour broadcast.

Sir Ian Blair, according to the report, cautioned people against leaping to conclusions. He then said that people should, “be very careful about what is said about this because we have looked through what we actually said about this incident and a number of the features around heavyweight coats and leaping over barriers have never been made, said, or confirmed by the Metropolitan police service”.

Tom, you owe Anna a sincere apology for your unwarranted, unfounded, and uninformed slur against her.

Tom July 28, 2005 2:36 PM


My remarks regarding spreading FUD, were not aimed at Anna but at everyone posting speculative comments.

However, I can see they could have been easily mistook for being directed at Anna, so for that I offer my apologies.

AJV July 28, 2005 6:47 PM

To critisize without providing an alternative – which should be MORE effective – is pointless.Unless any-one can
actually gaurantee that this alternative will ensure more a favourable outcome – to
ALL involved – I would suggest that the policy , although flawed , should be kept. It is unfortunate what has happend , but it
could have been hundreds of times worse.
Remember – the British ( police ) did not ask for this situation but had to ensure that it was resolved with the absolute minimum fatalaties – which they did.

Adam Dinwoodie July 29, 2005 5:23 AM

By my understanding (which may well be flawed), the reason that this shoot-to-kill policy against suspected suicide bombers was followed was that it had been used successfully in (I think) Palestine. I’m sure it’s very easy to create a dead-man’s trigger, but experience has shown that more bombers don’t than do.

piglet July 29, 2005 12:36 PM

“Some of the gossip I’ve heard, not many senior police officers in the UK have been firearms qualified. Some of my own experience leads me to think most UK police officers don’t know the most basic safety rules.”

According to what I read, only a small percentage of british police officers are armed, and this is a good thing. The officers who killed De Menezes probably didn’t lack firearms training, they lacked something else.

Here’s an interesting Guardian piece: “Black men can’t run”,3604,1538380,00.html

DaReDeViL July 31, 2005 8:25 AM

Kill all the suicide faggs! And u idiot, London Police did what they had to! If the pussy-boy was an idiot and acted like
he was a bomber, he desurved his faith! We don’t need idiots 2 stay alive!!!!!

markm August 3, 2005 11:42 AM

The first police mistake was letting him get on the bus in the first place if they thought he was a suicide bomber. He could have killed nearly as many people in a bus as in the tube station. I suppose this happened because the surveillance team wasn’t armed. It’s a terrible policy to have someone watching suspected terrorists without the means of stopping them if necessary.

Beyond that, you’ve got more and more unfortunate circumstances piling up. He may have run from the police because he didn’t recognize what they were shouting (it’s hard for even a native to understand short shouted phrases in a stressful situation) and thought they were a gang, because of his visa problems, or because Brazilians have a different attitude towards cops. (It seems to be pretty nearly routine for Brazilian cops to shoot unarmed suspects – maybe running away from them is a sensible choice down there.) The police put the worst possible interpretation on him running. Finally, it’s one thing to pinion a man’s arms, but quite another to check his hands for switches. Given what they thought he was carrying, I can’t blame the individual cops for shooting at that point, and have to give them credit for courage in piling on top of him. (If a bomb had gone off under that pile, most likely a lot of bystanders would have been bruised by fragments of cop instead of killed by bomb fragments.) But the whole affair was horribly mismanaged.

markm August 3, 2005 11:51 AM

As for deadman switches: If I was inclined to this sort of thing, I’d rig up a one minute timer circuit, so all the bomb carrier has to do is to trip the switch sooner than once a minute, until ready to let it go off. The switch could be quite concealed – maybe placed so the carrier would just appear to be scratching his armpit.

It would take about $25 in overpriced parts from Radio Shack and two or three hours. OK, I’m a skilled EE and electronics technician with a lot of experience in designing and building small circuits. Most people don’t have that kind of background, but there were plenty of Arabs in engineering school with me. Maybe they’d have to work for two or three days before it was reliable enough to connect to the explosives, but they could do it.

Matthew August 5, 2005 1:33 PM

Regarding the police stopping him before he got on the bus, there are two possible reasons why they didn’t. One is that they may not have had the means on the spot, as markm says. The other is that they may have not wanted to alert any other occupiers of the building, who would certainly have noticed an armed arrest going on outside in the street. The theory of chinese whispers in the handoff is very plausible.

Regarding the police shooting him in the head seven times once he was pinned down, that would be a whole lot safer than trying to shoot him in the head while he’s still running. Sir Ian Blair mentioned at one point that often the decision to kill is made by the officers, and they then carry that through in panic without re-evaluating the situation, for example one he is pinned down. If they had made the decision while chasing him through the station that they needed to take him down, then the way they did it was probably the safest for bystanders.

One does wander though if the police could have arranged a “reception” for him as he got off the bus – probably the safest way to intercept someone. But they probably didn’t know where he would get off, and they probably couldn’t get enough people there in time to manage it.

bern August 17, 2005 12:19 AM

Those who are in favor of the head-shot approach, as demonstrated in this incident, have repeatedly stated that it is a necessary, or at least useful, tool to combat terrorism.

Is it? Let’s make a gedankenspiel and suppose that the same squad of armed police officers had been approaching a real suicide bomber carrying a bomb. What would have happened?

One possibility is that the terrorist would have set off the bomb right away. That would very likely have kept the body count lower than what he would have wanted to achieve, but it is debatable whether the effect that gave terrorism its name would have been much lower.

The other possibility is that the bomber would have taken the time to (try to) move to a place where the number of people injured and killed would have been more to his liking; read: down into the tube, where passages are more crowded as well as going to contain the blast and direct it into more people. Surprise: That’s exactly what the actual victim did, though certainly for entirely different reasons, and he succeeded in it; had he been a bomber, a subsequent press of a button would have ensured the desired result.

To sum it up, the modus operandi has failed when they were wrong, and very likely would have failed as well had they been right. The proper thing to do, at least in this case, would IMHO have been to have an officer go between the suspect and the tunnels (so as to tackle him if he makes a dash for them) first, and then confront him.

Target August 17, 2005 9:49 AM

It now seems that there was no bulky jacket, no running from the police, and no leaping over the barrier by de Menezes, and probably no warning before the police shot him, apparently while he was being held in an arm lock by another officer.

The man wearing a padded jacket (with protruding wires in some eye-witness reports) leaping over the turnstiles may well have been one of the pursuing policemen, who may or may not have been ‘of Asian appearance’ as some eye-witnesses said.,15935,1550679,00.html

chu August 17, 2005 1:02 PM

In addition it’s not entirely clear at the moment whether he even came out of the block of flats that were under surveillance.

Jerome Lacoste August 17, 2005 5:09 PM

This is just sick. One guy mistaken from another one is shot down like an animal.

In a society where people look for responsibles for every single problem happening, and where bad luck is never supposed to happen, let’s see if anybody will take the blame for this enormous mistake.

I still remember British politicians saying that this guy was another victim of terrorism. We call that “exces de zele” in French.

I’d rather die from a terrorrist bomb than from something like that. It’s so stupid.

Ian August 19, 2005 11:43 AM

The man murdered by British police was not running from the police nor was he wearing bulky clothing. The police lied as they have done on previous occasions when they incorrectly killed a civilian.

Maybe they were under stress, that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t consequences for the mistake. Especially as it is now turning out that once again they have tried to cover up their incompetence. The police cannot be allowed to just walk away without punishment.

In this case they didn’t even shoot from a distance, but executed him just like gangsters.

Isn’t it odd that in a country where it is illegal for civilians to defend themselves the police have a reputation for bad shootings?

Anonymous October 13, 2005 2:00 PM

I think it would be worth while considering that as the above mentioned “theory” dictates, a suspected terrorist could not be aprehended in the usual manner for fear he would detonate a bomb. Why then, did police ask the Brazilian to hault before they shot him?

who October 29, 2005 10:49 PM

Good discussion. I favour the dead man’s switch or handle analysis, which shows the shoot-to-kill policy to be fundamentally flawed.

Please see the new journal page, on which it is asserted that Jean Charles was not shot and that there is a deception going on:

brodie fleet October 31, 2005 4:48 PM

the shoot to kill policy is absoulutly bull shit they are still human beings and you should only shoot people if you are in danger you bloody cowards

Convetional act April 4, 2007 7:12 AM

This will lead to the situation where more people want carry a weapon and use it to protect themselfs. No matter who is the “opponent”.

sh October 16, 2007 7:38 AM

“Why did he run? What would YOU do if three individuals accosted you, speaking a language which you were unfamiliar with, drawing weapons? You would RUN LIKE HELL!”

I can’t believe this story is still going around. Let me spell it out. DE MENEZES DID NOT RUN ANYWHERE. He walked down a platform, sat down in a train, the officers got on behind him, wrestled him to the floor and shot him in the head.

Mark December 19, 2008 8:08 AM

Sorry to bring this old thread up again, but I would like to know if anything new came out.
Were the policemen convicted? Thank you.

Jd May 28, 2017 8:16 AM

People, don’t listen to the fools and anti cop morons who accuse police of killing innocent people because they want to. I agree that death is severe for failing to comply with police directions but let’s be honest….almost every single police shooting in the US could have been prevented by the victim had they simply done what the police told them to do.
In the age of lunatics blowing up little girls, if you fight with the police you are putting your life at risk and if you’re too stupid to understand that you get what you deserve. No one has a right to fight with the police. Even when the cops are wrong you cannot fight them, resist arrest or refuse to comply. They are out there to protect us and are at risk every day. If you hate cops so much that you are willing to risk death to prove your point, good on you. Have at it. But good citizens would rather a shoot to kill policy that could have protected the people in Manchester than worry about the feelings of a bunch of malcontents who would never put their lives at risk for another. The screamers are selfish, self important scum who think they’re morally superior to the police and the rest of us. If you’re more worried about police shooting unarmed crooks who fight the police than protecting innocents from the horrors of Manchester, you are subhuman dredge and your opinion is worth less than the lives of the terrorists who would happily behead you given the chance.

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