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Brazil Demands Answers in Subway Shooting


The bombings in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Friday night that claimed nearly 90 lives punctuated a week of increased anxieties around the world about the threat of terrorism. In London, such anxiety apparently played a role in the shooting death Friday by police of a Brazilian man. British authorities now say the man was not connected to attacks last Thursday on the city's mass transit system, as had previously been stated. An independent commission will begin an inquiry today into the man's death. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from London.

ANTHONY KUHN reporting:

The victim, 27-year-old Jean Charles de Menezes, came from the city of Gonzaga, some 500 miles northeast of Sao Paolo. He settled about three years ago in South London's Brixton neighborhood, where he worked as an electrician. Here in London, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim discussed his case by phone today with his British counterpart, Jack Straw.

Mr. CELSO AMORIM (Brazilian Foreign Minister): I heard expressions of deepest regret, and he assured that there would be a thorough investigation on all the circumstances, that this may take a little while but it will be a very thorough investigation. Of course, we cannot recover the life of the Brazilian citizen who died, but it is very important to know all the details.

KUHN: On Friday, surveillance officers tailed Menezes from a house in South London to the Stockwell Underground station, where police shot him to death. Police claim that Menezes refused to obey police instructions. Menezes' grandmother, Zilda Ambrosia de Figueiredo, described her grandson as easy-going and communicative and said there would have been no reason to think he was a terrorist.

Ms. ZILDA AMBROSIA DE FIGUEIREDO: (Foreign language spoken)

KUHN: `He was an intelligent boy,' she said, `a hard worker and well educated. He was a grandson that I kept close to my heart. I was greatly saddened when I heard what happened.'

London Mayor Ken Livingstone and police officials have defended police actions. Writing in the Sunday tabloid the News of the World, former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir John Stevens, revealed that he had implemented a shoot-to-kill policy before leaving office in February. He wrote that he was sad to end long-standing British policing traditions but that the country now faced a brutal enemy and that rescinding the policy would be a mistake. He said the only way to deal with a suspected suicide bomber was to kill him instantly by shooting him in the head. Ian Blair, who took over from Stevens, said on Sky TV that police have been reviewing the policy for many months.

Sir IAN BLAIR (Metropolitan Police Commissioner): This is not a Metropolitan Police policy; it's a national policy. And I think we're quite comfortable that the policy is right, but, of course, these are fantastically difficult times, and I think we have to concentrate on--take this tragedy, you know, deeply regret it, and move on.

KUHN: The Association of Chief Police Officers writes the handbook for armed police. It says that the decision to open fire is up to the individual officer, who must be able to justify the legality of his actions. Security consultant John O'Connor is the former head of the Metropolitan Police Flying Squad, an elite anti-robbery unit.

Mr. JOHN O'CONNOR (Security Consultant): There's always mitigating factors, and the mitigating factors here would be the high state of alert of the officers because of the threat they were up against. But that doesn't give them carte blanche; you've still got to have just cause. It's got to be reasonable what you've done within the circumstances.

KUHN: Stockwell and other ethnically diverse south London neighborhoods have remained on edge since the shootings. Labor Party member Kate Hoey represents Menezes' district in Parliament. She urged police officials to address residents' concerns there.

Ms. KATE HOEY (Labor Party Member of Parliament): It's important that perhaps today the commissioner comes down to the local area, meets with the local community groups, because Muslim young people in particular will want reassurance because the reality is that this young man was probably suspected of being a Muslim. Now that's going to make every young Muslim feel--and every other young person, in fact, feel quite fearful.

KUHN: Today, Scotland Yard's directorate of professional standards is turning the investigation into Menezes' death over to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.
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