Without Leads, British Consult Allies

LONDON -- British intelligence officials, frustrated by their failure to quickly crack the worst terrorist attack here since World War II, have sought help from counterparts in the United States and two dozen European allies to develop possible leads, European counterterrorism officials said Sunday.

The contacts included an extraordinary, private meeting in London on Saturday, convened by Scotland Yard and MI5, Britain's domestic intelligence agency, that brought together senior law enforcement and intelligence officials from the United States and the two dozen European countries, three participants and several others with knowledge of the session said.

European participants said they were struck by how little was known about the attacks, which hit three trains in the London Underground and a double-decker bus on Thursday.

The call for help was unusual coming from Britain, which is regarded by other European countries as often having access to more and better quality intelligence because it is part of a longtime Anglophone intelligence-sharing agreement with the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

But the two-hour session also indicated that the British officials running the complex inquiry were frustrated because they had few breaks, few leads and no suspects in the 48 hours after the attack, the most important investigative period after a terrorist bombing.

Top officials exchanged information, intelligence and expertise in an attempt to help Britain find the bombers, the participants said.

The participants said it was a kind of counterterrorism investigators' summit meeting that is almost never seen in Europe, especially just 48 hours after a terrorist attack in one country. They spoke on condition that they not be identified by name or country because of the delicacy of the investigation.

The meeting was also considered extraordinary because European countries do not often work together on complex terrorism investigations. Cooperation is complicated by differences in each country's intelligence agencies and counterterrorism police as well as often-sharp differences among crime-fighting and judicial approaches. Tracking terrorism suspects also is difficult because they move freely across Europe's open borders, and finger-pointing among countries has followed terrorist strikes.

"We're all under the threat of attack, and we all must work together to stop the next one," said a Europe-based senior intelligence official, whose deputy attended the meeting. "The next attack could happen outside my window."

Concern is increasing among intelligence and law enforcement officials that the longer there is no progress in the inquiry, the greater the chance that another attack will occur in another European country. "A copycat attack is a big worry," one senior investigator said.

Spanish and British officials plan to convene another meeting on Monday to share intelligence and tactical information. "There's nothing concrete, but we're sharing hypotheses and procedures we learned from [the Madrid bombings on] March 11," said one participant in the meeting on Saturday.

The meeting on Saturday included considerable discussion of the frustrations in the inquiry. "The clear message was that there are a lot of hypotheses, some ideas, for the moment no actual concrete piece of evidence, no formal element to guide you," said a participant, the leader of a European domestic intelligence service.

Two participants in the meeting on Saturday said the bombers might have been North African Arabs, especially Morroccans, as was the case in Madrid. But there was also speculation that the bombers could have tried to make the attacks resemble the Madrid bombings to throw off the investigation.