LONDON, July 3, 2008 -- Two French research students were stabbed hundreds of times after being bound in a London flat that was then set on fire, police said today. The detective leading the investigation said they were the worst injuries he had ever seen.
The bodies of Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez, both 23, were found in a ground-floor apartment in New Cross, southeast London, Sunday night. Their bodies were so badly burned that police had to use DNA to identify them.
The victims were bound and repeatedly stabbed across their bodies. Police said they had suffered a total of 244 wounds. Police told ABC News that Bonomo was stabbed 197 times, while, his friend received 47 stab wounds. Both men suffered injuries to the head, neck and chest.
Police told ABC News that no weapon had been found despite an extensive search. In a statement, police said they are studying limited closed-circuit TV footage of the area.
"I have never seen injuries inflicted to bodies like this before," Detective Chief Inspector Mick Duthie today told a news conference at Scotland Yard.
Police say they have no idea why the students were killed, but the deaths highlight a recent spate of youth violence in the city.
Duthie said police were considering the attacks as a case of mistaken identity. "We cannot find anything in these two young men's background to suggest they were involved in any criminality, that they had done anything wrong," he said.
The men were bioengineering students on a three-month exchange placement at Imperial College London, one of England's top universities.
Duthie also said that Bonomo was known to be alive in the early hours of Sunday morning because he was heard speaking to his girlfriend in France on the phone.
Emergency services were called by local residents who reported an explosion Sunday night.
Ferez lived elsewhere in London and was visiting his friend Bonomo when they were attacked, police said.
The London Fire Brigade is investigating the blaze.
The students' deaths are the fifth in the capital in three days. They follow the death of a 28-year-old woman who was stabbed earlier today and those of Ben Kinsella, 16, and Hamouda Bessaad, 34, who died Sunday and Monday, respectively.
London's Mayor Boris Johnson Wednesday urged young people to tell the police if they knew of anyone carrying knives. He advised teenagers not to intervene in fights because they could get stabbed.
London's Metropolitan Police recently revealed that they'd arrested more than 1,000 people in the latest crackdown on knives. The police carried out 26,777 stop and searches, and seized 528 weapons during Operation Blunt Two, a six-week operation that led to 1,214 arrests.
Despite media reports that London is in the midst of a youth-violence epidemic, the Metropolitan Police insisted there has been a 15 percent fall in knife-related crime in the past two years.
Indeed, according Mick Hume at the British newspaper, The Times, the World Health Organization's 2002 report on world violence, notes that Britain has one of the lowest youth-homicide rates in the world. The report said Britain has an average of 0.9 killings for every 100,000 young people. The United States has an average of 11. By contrast, Colombia has 84.4 killings per 100,000 young people.
"These terrible killings should never be belittled, but let us try to treat them as what they are: relatively rare individual crimes and tragedies, rather than symptoms of a social epidemic of violence," Hume said of the previous deaths. "After all, fear and panic can be the most dangerous epidemic of all."