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Context of 'Late June-July 7, 2005: Alleged British Intelligence Informant Said to Mastermind 7/7 London Bombings, Calls Suicide Bombers'

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Abu Hamza al-Masri (left) riding in a car with Haroon Rashid Aswat in January 1999.Abu Hamza al-Masri (left) riding in a car with Haroon Rashid Aswat in January 1999. [Source: Sunday Times]Haroon Rashid Aswat is a radical Muslim of Indian descent but born and raised in Britain. Around 1995, when he was about 21 years old, he left Britain and attended militant training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is said to have later told investigators that he once served as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden. In the late 1990s, he returns to Britain and becomes a “highly public aide” to radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri. Reda Hassaine, an informant for the French and British intelligence services (see After March 1997 and Late January 1999), will later recall regularly seeing Aswat at the Finsbury Park mosque where Abu Hamza preaches. Hassaine frequently sees Aswat recruiting young men to join al-Qaeda. “Inside the mosque he would sit with the new recruits telling them about life after death and the obligation of every Muslim to do the jihad against the unbelievers. All the talk was about killing in order to go to paradise and get the 72 virgins.” Aswat also shows potential recruits videos of the militants fighting in Bosnia and Chechnya. Hassaine will add: “He was always wearing Afghan or combat clothes. In the evening he offered some tea to the people who would sit with him to listen to the heroic action of the mujaheddin before joining the cleric for the finishing touch of brainwashing. The British didn’t seem to understand how dangerous these people were.” Hassaine presumably tells his British handlers about Aswat, as he is regularly reporting about activities as the mosque around this time, but the British take no action. [Sunday Times (London), 7/31/2005] It will later be reported that Aswat is the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings (see Late June-July 7, 2005). Some of the 7/7 suicide bombers regularly attended the Finsbury Park mosque, and may have been recruited by al-Qaeda there or at another mosque in Britain. Counterterrorism expert John Loftus will later claim that Aswat in fact was working with British intelligence. He will say that in the late 1990s British intelligence was trying to get Islamist militants to fight in Kosovo against the Serbians and Aswat was part of this recruitment effort (see July 29, 2005). [Fox News, 7/29/2005]

Entity Tags: Reda Hassaine, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Al-Qaeda, John Loftus, Haroon Rashid Aswat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abu Hamza.Abu Hamza. [Source: Ian Waldie / Reuters / Corbis]London-based imam Abu Hamza al-Masri starts working with two branches of the British security services, the police’s Special Branch and MI5, the domestic counterintelligence service. The relationships continue for several years and there are at least seven meetings between Abu Hamza and MI5 between 1997 and 2000 (see October 1, 1997, November 20, 1997, and September 1998). Based on records of the meetings, authors Daniel O’Neill and Sean McGrory will describe the relationship as “respectful, polite, and often cooperative.”
Rhetoric - One theme in the meetings, which take place at Abu Hamza’s home and a mosque he runs in Finsbury Park, is that the security services tell Abu Hamza that they do not want any trouble and ask him to tone down some of his more inflammatory comments. Abu Hamza listens politely, but always replies he is committed to jihad. However, over this period Abu Hamza’s rhetoric changes subtly, and he begins attacking “Zionists,” rather than simply “Jews.” Abu Hamza will later say that he asks security officers if his sermons are inappropriate, and they reply, “No, freedom of speech, you don’t have to worry unless we see blood on the streets.”
Information - Abu Hamza provides the security services with information about the ideology of various extremist factions, as well as “tidbits” of information about others, although in one case he provides specific intelligence that leads to the detention of two terrorist suspects. He also likes to “tell tales” about one of his rival preachers, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, and his Al-Muhajiroun organization.
Favors - Sometimes Abu Hamza asks for favors from his handlers. For example, on one occasion he requests the release of some associates after promising that they are not a threat in Britain.
Beyond the Reach of British Law - Abu Hamza will tell his aides that he is “beyond the reach of British law,” and will neglect to pay the mosque’s electricity and water bills. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later comment: “Increasingly, Abu Hamza acted as if Finsbury Park had divorced itself from Britain and was operating as an independent Muslim state. He contacted extremist groups, offering his services as an ambassador for them in [Britain] and presenting the mosque as a place of guaranteed asylum.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 96-97, 143-5]

Entity Tags: UK Security Service (MI5), Sean O’Neill, Daniel McGrory, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Metropolitan Police Special Branch, Special Branch (Britain)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Lead 7/7 suicide bomber Mohammed Sidique Khan (see July 7, 2005) first attends the radical Finsbury Park mosque in London in 2002. The mosque is run by extremist imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for Britain’s security services (see Early 1997). Khan and fellow suicide bomber Shehzad Tanweer first heard Abu Hamza preach in Leeds, and when Khan arrives at the mosque he is carrying a letter of recommendation from Haroon Rashid Aswat, a top aide to Abu Hamza, an alleged mastermind of the 7/7 bombings, and a possible British informant (see Late June-July 7, 2005 and July 29, 2005). Reportedly, Khan makes several visits to the mosque, sometimes sleeping in the basement. Aswat recruited young men to join al-Qaeda at Finsbury Park, at least in the late 1990s (see Late 1990s). Khan also takes Tanweer to the mosque, where, according to authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory, they are “shown gory videos and DVDs portraying the suffering and slaughter of Muslims in hotspots around the world, and [are] urged to make common cause with the people of Chechnya, Iraq, and Afghanistan.” O’Neill and McGrory will later comment: “Instructors at Finsbury Park would have spotted that in Khan they had a small-time street boss who was an ideal candidate to organize his own cell.” Khan, Tanweer, and a third bomber, Jermaine Lindsay, will also attend gatherings led by Abu Hamza outside the mosque after it is closed by police (see January 24, 2003). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. xix-xx, 190, 269, 271-272]

Entity Tags: Shehzad Tanweer, Mohammad Sidique Khan, Finsbury Park Mosque, Germaine Lindsay, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Haroon Rashid Aswat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In 2002, federal prosecutors are building a case against a group of Islamist militants for attempting to start a militant training camp in Oregon in 1999 (see November 1999-Early 2000). They prepare charges against radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, his “highly public aide” Haroon Rashid Aswat, Oussama Kassir (who visited the prospective camp with Aswat), and James Ujaama. Ujaama is living in Seattle, but the others are believed to be overseas. Seattle prosecutors want to seek a grand jury indictment against all of them, which would result in arrest warrants and possible detention for extradition. However, this plan is blocked by higher-level officials at Justice Department headquarters, who want most of the case to be handled by the US Attorney’s Office in New York City. Seattle prosecutors are only allowed to bring charges against Ujaama. [Seattle Times, 7/24/2005] They go ahead and arrest Ujaama in August 2002, finding weapons and training materials, and charge him with conspiring with Abu Hamza “to provide material support and resources” to the Taliban. One of his associates, Feroz Abbasi, is already in Guantanamo Bay, and is talking to interrogators about trips Ujaama has made to Afghanistan (see December 2000-December 2001). Ujaama quickly agrees to co-operate with the authorities, giving them details about Abu Hamza’s activities, and is given a two-year sentence for a lesser offence. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 189-190, 198-200] The others are merely listed in Ujaama’s indictment as unindicted co-conspirators. Abu Hamza has actually been working as an informant for British intelligence (see Early 1997), but by early 2004 his relationship with the British has soured (see April 2003 and April 26, 2004), and the US Justice Department will finally indict him for charges relating to the training camp in May 2004. However, Aswat still will not be indicted. When asked why Aswat is not indicted as well, a federal official in Seattle will reply with frustration, “That’s a great question.” [Seattle Times, 7/24/2005] Shortly after the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), it will be widely reported that Aswat was the attack’s mastermind (see Late June-July 7, 2005). Then a counterterrorism expert will claim that Aswat was also an informant for British intelligence, and this explains why the US never indicted him and other mysteries surrounding him (see July 29, 2005).

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, James Ujaama, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Haroon Rashid Aswat, Oussama Kassir

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

According to the Sunday Herald, in early 2003, British officials believe that Haroon Rashid Aswat has been killed in Afghanistan, because his passport has been recovered from the body of a young man fighting for the Taliban there. The Herald will later claim that days later in the headquarters of the British intelligence agency MI5, officers there “were in no doubt that Aswat’s death had eliminated a major terrorist threat to [Britain]. Laid out before the group were highly classified photographs and papers from his file, revealing the activities, friends, and acquaintances of a young man who was increasingly becoming a headache for Britain’s security services. It was early in 2003, but in the previous few years, the file on Aswat had burgeoned.” [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 7/31/2005] Aswat apparently will be monitored in February 2004 meeting with suspected bomb plotters in London, but he will not be arrested (see February 2004). In June 2005, US intelligence will learn that Aswat is living in South Africa, but British authorities will prevent the US from renditioning him there (see Early June 2005). In July 2005, he will be implicated by many media outlets as the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings (see Late June-July 7, 2005). Counterterrorism expert John Loftus will also claim that Aswat had been a long-time asset for the British intelligence agency MI6 and had been trying to prevent other parts of the British government (presumably including MI5) from arresting him (see July 29, 2005). [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 7/31/2005]

Entity Tags: UK Security Service (MI5), Haroon Rashid Aswat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Around early June 2005, US intelligence learns that Haroon Rashid Aswat is living in South Africa. An associate will later say that he had known Aswat there for about five months, and that Aswat was making money by selling religious CDs and DVDs. [Press Trust of India, 8/2/2005] The US wants Aswat for a role he allegedly played in trying to set up a militant training camp in Oregon in 1999 (see November 1999-Early 2000), although he has not been formally charged yet (see August 2002). US officials contact the South African government and ask if they can take him into custody. Aswat is a British citizen, so South Africa relays the request to Britain and British officials block the request. When the debate continues, he manages to leave the country. [CNN, 7/28/2005] An unnamed US official will tell the Telegraph: “The discussion was whether or not they would render him. He’s got [British] papers and they said you can’t render somebody with [British] papers.” British officials will complain that they would have cooperated had the US simply pursued a formal extradition request instead of pushing for a rendition. A senior US intelligence official will add, “Nobody is going to say there is a row or a rift but there was certainly dissatisfaction and exasperation here over the handling of this case.” [Daily Telegraph, 7/31/2005] He apparently returns to Britain and meets with and phones the suicide bombers of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005 and Late June-July 7, 2005). He will be named the mastermind of those bombings in many newspapers. One counterterrorism expert will allege that Aswat also was an informant for British intelligence, and this would explain why the British were protecting him (see July 29, 2005).

Entity Tags: US intelligence, Haroon Rashid Aswat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Haroon Rashid Aswat.Haroon Rashid Aswat. [Source: John Cobb]According to an article in the London Times, Haroon Rashid Aswat is the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings. Aswat’s family comes from India, but he was born in the same West Yorkshire town as one of the 7/7 suicide bombers and has British citizenship. He is said to be a long-time al-Qaeda operative and also the right-hand man of radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri. He arrives in Britain about two weeks before the bombings from South Africa, where he was being monitored by British and US intelligence. He orchestrates the final planning for the bombing, visiting the towns of all the bombers as well as the bomb targets. “Intelligence sources” also will later claim that there are records of up to twenty calls between Aswat and two of the bombers, lead bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan and his friend Shehzad Tanweer, in the days before the bombings. A senior Pakistani security source will tell the Times, “We believe this man had a crucial part to play in what happened in London.” Khan telephones Aswat on the morning of the bombings. He flies out of Britain just hours before the bombings take place. Pakistani officials will also say that a total of eight men in Pakistan were in telephone contact with Khan and Tanweer, and that Khan, Tanweer, and Aswat were all at the same madrassa (religious boarding school) at the same time when Khan and Tanweer went to Pakistan for training in late 2004. [London Times, 7/21/2005] A later Sunday Times article will confirm that Aswat and some of the bombers talked on the phone. Some of the cell phones used by the bombers will be found and some data will be recovered from them, even though they are badly damaged. This will confirm that at least several calls were made from Aswat’s phone to the bombers in the days before the bombing. British investigators will not deny the phone calls took place, but will “caution that the calls may have been made to a phone linked to Aswat, rather than the man himself.” There is speculation that US intelligence may have been monitoring the calls (see Shortly Before July 7, 2005). [Sunday Times (London), 7/31/2005] It will later be alleged that Aswat is an informant for British intelligence. Furthermore, the imam he has worked for, Abu Hazma, is also a British informant (see Early 1997).

Entity Tags: Haroon Rashid Aswat, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Al-Qaeda, Mohammad Sidique Khan, Shehzad Tanweer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

It will later be reported that Haroon Rashid Aswat, the possible mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), talks on the phone about 20 times with two of the suicide bombers involved in the attack in the days before the bombings (see Late June-July 7, 2005). The Sunday Times will later note, “It is likely that the American National Security Agency—which has a powerful eavesdropping network—was monitoring the calls.” British investigators will not deny the phone calls took place, but will “caution that the calls may have been made to a phone linked to Aswat, rather than the man himself.” [Sunday Times (London), 7/31/2005] A book about the Mossad by Gordon Thomas will later claim that the Mossad learns by the early afternoon of the day of the 7/7 bombings that the CIA has a “strong supposition” Aswat made a number of calls to the bombers in the days before the bombings. [Thomas, 2007, pp. 519] This would support the theory that the NSA was tracking the calls. US intelligence had discovered Aswat’s location several weeks before the bombings, but then supposedly lost track of him again (see Early June 2005). If these calls were tracked, it is not clear why action was not taken against the bombers.

Entity Tags: Haroon Rashid Aswat, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Around July 21, 2005, Haroon Rashid Aswat was arrested in Zambia, and the British government soon arranged to have him quickly extradited back to Britain, since he is a British citizen. Numerous press accounts have described Aswat at the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005 and Late June-July 7, 2005). However, British authorities, who apparently have yet to question him, appear mysteriously uninterested in him. On July 31, the Sunday Times reports: “Scotland Yard sources say [Aswat] is not considered a priority in their criminal investigation into the July 7 and July 21 attacks. But senior [British] officials do not rule out the possibility there my be links to one or more of the bombers.” One unnamed official says, “I don’t think the evidence is conclusive either way.” Senior officials “also deny ‘any knowledge’ that he might be an agent for either MI5 or MI6.” [Sunday Times (London), 7/31/2005] The Times does not explain why officials would deny he worked for British intelligence, but on July 29, counterterrorism expert John Loftus claimed on Fox News that Aswat has had a long relationship with MI6 and they have tried to protect him from arrest (see July 29, 2005). [Fox News, 7/29/2005] On August 1, the Financial Times reports that British officials are seeking “to play down the role of Haroon Rashid Aswat… Zambian officials have agreed to extradite [him]… but British officials said they were no longer interested in interrogating him.” [Financial Times, 8/1/2005] It is not explained why officials are not at least interested in interrogating Aswat over his other suspected criminal activities. According to one article, by 2003, British officials had collected a large dossier on him and deemed him a “major terrorist threat” to Britain (see Early 2003), and in 2004 he was linked to a fertilizer bomb plot in Britain (see February 2004). Furthermore, while in custody in Zambia, he allegedly confessed to serving as Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard. [Sunday Times (London), 7/31/2005]

Entity Tags: Haroon Rashid Aswat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Haroon Rashid Aswat, arrested in Zambia around July 21, 2005 (see (July 21, 2005)), is extradited from Zambia back to Britain. Aswat is a British citizen and spent most of his life there until disappearing several years earlier. Numerous media accounts refer to him as the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005 and Late June-July 7, 2005), but British authorities seem mysteriously uninterested in him (see Late July 2005 and After). Even as he arrives in Britain and has yet to be questioned about any role in the 7/7 bombings, officials make clear that they have no intention of charging him for any crime. Instead, they plan to extradite him to the US, as the US has just issued a warrant for his arrest relating to his efforts to help start a militant training camp in Oregon in 1999 (see November 1999-Early 2000). Briefly appearing in court upon his arrival in Britain, Aswat denies any terrorism link and says he does not want to be extradited to the US. He is immediately placed in Belmarsh Prison, Britain’s highest security jail. [London Times, 8/8/2005]

Entity Tags: Haroon Rashid Aswat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed.Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed. [Source: Publicity photo]The Independent publishes an article questioning some aspects of the official account of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005). The article notes that “There are some bewildering gaps in the [government’s] account of 7/7…” It quotes counterterrorism expert Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, who has recently published a book questioning the government account of the bombings. Ahmed concludes that the government has deliberately downplayed the sophistication of the operation, the size of its support network, and evidence of al-Qaeda involvement, in order to deflect questions about how a large network was able to operate in Britain for many years. The Independent notes that “even the nature of the explosives used in the bombing is unclear.” The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), a group of MPs chosen by the prime minister, published a report on the 7/7 bombings in May 2006 (see May 11, 2006), but was vague about the explosives used. The Independent comments, “The report says only that ‘it appears’ they were home-made, although there is plenty of evidence that the bombs were powered by at least some commercial or military explosive.” Ahmed says: “Forensic science… tends to produce unambiguous answers within a matter of hours and days. The idea that continuous examination over many months has failed to finish the job beggars belief.” Ahmed also notes that the links between the 7/7 bombers such as Mohammad Sidique Khan and known al-Qaeda figures have been underplayed. For instance, the ISC report fails to mention Haroon Rashid Aswat at all, despite many articles suggesting that he may have been the mastermind of the bombings and may even have had a relationship with British intelligence (see Late June-July 7, 2005 and July 29, 2005). Ahmed says, “In systematically downplaying the undeniable role of al-Qaeda in the London bombings, the official account is attempting to draw public attention from the fact British authorities have tolerated the activities of an entrenched and burgeoning network of radical Islamists with terrorist connections for more than a decade.” [Independent, 7/2/2006]

Entity Tags: Intelligence and Security Committee, Mohammad Sidique Khan, Al-Qaeda, Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, Haroon Rashid Aswat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A British high court approves the extradition of Haroon Rashid Aswat to the US. Many media accounts have described Aswat as the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005 and Late June-July 7, 2005). However, British authorities appear to be ignoring his possible connection to the 7/7 bombings and are allowing him to be extradited to the US on unrelated charges of helping to create a militant training camp in Oregon (see November 1999-Early 2000). The US has promised that he will not be sent to the prison in Guantanamo or turned over to a third country. [Guardian, 11/30/2006] As of mid-2008, Aswat has yet to be extradited.

Entity Tags: Haroon Rashid Aswat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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