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Context of '2006: British Officials Offer Explanation for ‘Londonistan’'

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Dollis Hill, the London street where Khalid al-Fawwaz runs bin Laden’s de facto press office.Dollis Hill, the London street where Khalid al-Fawwaz runs bin Laden’s de facto press office. [Source: Telegraph]Khalid al-Fawwaz moves to London and becomes bin Laden’s de facto press secretary there. Al-Fawwaz, a Saudi, had fought with bin Laden in Afghanistan and lived with him in Sudan. (Reeve 1999, pp. 180, 192) He headed the al-Qaeda cell in Kenya for about a year until early 1994 when he was arrested there. He went to London shortly after bribing his way out of Kenyan custody. (O'Neill 9/19/2001; Huband 11/29/2001) He opens a London office of the Advice and Reformation Committee (ARC), a bin Laden front. (Reeve 1999, pp. 180, 192) Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later call this bin Laden’s “European headquarters.” (O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 110) Al-Fawwaz also allegedly opens an account at Barclays Bank. US officials believe he uses the account to channel funds to al-Qaeda operatives around the world. He will be heavily monitored by Western intelligence agencies for most of this time. (Reeve 1999, pp. 180, 192) For instance, the NSA will record bin Laden phoning him over 200 times from 1996 to 1998 (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Bin Laden also frequently calls al-Fawwaz’s work phone, and Ibrahim Eidarous and Adel Abdel Bary, who work with al-Fawwaz at the London ARC office. (Fielding and Gadhery 3/24/2002) He works directly with some al-Qaeda cells during this time. For instance, a letter found on Wadih El-Hage’s computer in a late 1997 raid (see August 21, 1997) will repeatedly mention al-Fawwaz by his real first name. One part of the letter says that al-Fawwaz “asked me also to write periodically about the entire situation of the [al-Qaeda Nairobi] cell and the whole group here in east Africa.” (Reeve 1999, pp. 180, 192) Al-Fawwaz publishes a total of 17 fatwas issued by bin Laden between 1996 and 1998 and also arranges media interviews with him (see August 1996 and February 22, 1998). (O'Neill 9/19/2001; O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 111) But al-Fawwaz, along with Eidarous and Abdel Bary, will not be arrested until shortly after the 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998 and September 23, 1998-July 12, 1999). Many years after their arrests, the three of them will remain in a British prison without being tried while fighting extradition to the US (see December 12, 2001 and After). (O'Neill 9/19/2001; Huband 11/29/2001)

MI5 headquarters in London.MI5 headquarters in London. [Source: Cryptome]In June and December 1996, and again in February 1997, a British MI5 agent meets with radical Muslim imam Abu Qatada, hoping he will inform on his fellow extremists. Qatada is a Jordanian national who entered Britain in September 1993 using a forged United Arab Emirates passport, and was granted asylum in 1994.
Qatada Promises to Look after British Interests - In his meetings with the MI5 agent he claims to “wield powerful, spiritual influence over the Algerian community in London.” He says he does not want London to become a center for settling Islamic scores, and that he will report anyone damaging British interests. He says the individuals he has influence over pose no threat to British security, and promises that “he would not bite the hand that fed him.” He also promises to “report anyone damaging the interests of [Britain].” The MI5 agent records that “surprisingly enough—[Abu Qatada] revealed little love of the methodology and policies pursued by Osama bin Laden. He certainly left me with the impression that he had nothing but contempt for bin Laden’s distant financing of the jihad.” (Special Immigration Appeals Commission 1/2004 pdf file; Israel 3/23/2004; Norton-Taylor 3/24/2004; McGrory and Ford 3/25/2004)
Links to Al-Qaeda - Yet Qatada is later described as being a “key [British] figure” in al-Qaeda related terror activity. Around 1996, a highly reliable informer told US intelligence that Qatada is on al-Qaeda’s fatwa (religious) committee (see June 1996-1997). Videos of his sermons are later discovered in the Hamburg flat used by Mohamed Atta. Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, and Zacarias Moussaoui, who is later convicted in connection with the 9/11 attacks, are alleged to have sought religious advice from him. (BBC 8/11/2005; Jeffery 8/11/2005)
Meetings Apparently Continue - Reportedly, after Qatada’s February 1997 meeting with the British agent, no further such meetings occur. (Special Immigration Appeals Commission 1/2004 pdf file) However, some French officials later allege that Qatada continues to be an MI5 agent, and this is what allows him to avoid arrest after 9/11 (see Early December 2001). (Burke 2/24/2002) It will later emerge that Bisher al-Rawi, a friend of Qatada, served as an informant and a go-between MI5 and Qatada in numerous meetings between late 2001 and 2002, when Qatada is finally arrested (see Late September 2001-Summer 2002). Furthermore, al-Rawi says he served as a translator between MI5 and Qatada before 9/11, suggesting that Qatada never stopped being an informant. (Rose 7/29/2007)

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)

The term “Londonistan” is invented by French intelligence officials at some time before 1998, according to authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory. The term’s invention is provoked by an arrangement between the British authorities and Islamist militants sometimes known as the “covenant of security” (see August 22, 1998), whereby Britain provides a safe haven from which London-based Islamists can support violence in other countries, such as Bosnia and Chechnya (see 1995 and February 2001), but also France. O’Neill and McGrory will comment: “The prominent French judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere was so appalled by Britain’s attitude that he talked of ‘Londonistan’ as being the city of choice as a safe haven for Islamic terrorists and a place ‘full of hatred.‘… Bruguiere wondered whether Britain was just being selfish, and whether because these radical groups had not struck in [Britain] the security agencies simply did not care what they were doing. The French investigators also protested that Britain was also ignoring the systematic fraud and corruption carried out by these groups.” (O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 104, 109)

The radical Finsbury Park mosque becomes what one informer will call “an al-Qaeda guest house in London.” The informer, Reda Hassaine, works for two British intelligence services (see (November 11, 1998) and (May 1999)), and one of his tasks is to monitor the mosque’s leader Abu Hamza al-Masri, himself an informer for the British (see Early 1997).
Experienced Fighters - Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later write: “For some visitors, the mosque was a secure retreat for rest and recreation after a tour of duty in the holy war. Such was Finsbury Park’s reputation that an international brigade of Islamic militants used it as a safe haven for a spot of leave before they returned to the jihad front line and undertook terror operations.”
Raw Recruits - Hassaine will say the mosque was especially important to al-Qaeda because the experienced fighters on leave could mix with potential recruits: “The mosque was secure. It offered money, tickets, and names of people to meet in Pakistan. It was an al-Qaeda guest house in London. The boys could come back from the jihad and find a place to stay, to talk about war, to be with their own kind of people, to make plans and to recruit other people. These people, if they thought you were willing to do the jihad, they paid special attention to you. If they thought you were willing, that is when Abu Hamza would step in to do the brainwashing. Once he started, you wouldn’t recover. You would become a ‘special guest’ of the mosque until they could measure your level of commitment and they could organize your trip to Afghanistan.”
Numbers - O’Neill and McGrory will say that the exact number of recruits who pass through Finsbury Park and the Afghan camps is unclear, although “hundreds and hundreds of suspects” from around the world are linked to the mosque. London Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens will say two thousand recruits from the mosque undergo terror training, whereas one of his successors, Sir Ian Blair, will say it was closer to a tenth of that number. O’Neill and McGrory will add: “MI5 has never revealed its tally. However many it was, not a single recruit who attended these camps was ever arrested when he got home.” The CIA will later be surprised by the “sizable number” of al-Qaeda recruits who both train in the camps in Afghanistan and attend Finsbury Park. After the invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, the FBI will find questionnaires completed by the recruits, and some of these will specify Abu Hamza as the person who referred them to the camps, also giving “jihad” as their ambition after completing their training. O’Neill and McGrory will point out, “Such was Abu Hamza’s stature that having his name as a reference would guarantee his nominees acceptance at Khaldan,” an al-Qaeda camp.
'The World Capital of Political Islam' - O’Neill and McGrory will conclude, “The result of Abu Hamza’s recruitment regime—and that pursued by the other fundamentalist groups which had made London the world capital of political Islam—was that more young men from Britain embarked on suicide missions than from all the other countries of Europe combined.” (O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 86, 97-98, 101-102)

Reda Hassaine, an Algerian mole who has penetrated radical Islamist circles in London, goes to Scotland Yard and tells the British police that he has vital information for the anti-terrorist branch. Hassaine had previously informed on Islamist extremists in London for Algerian and French services, but has just been fired by the French (see Early 1995 and November 4, 1998). He speaks to two officers with the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch about his work for the French, whom he had helped monitor leading extremist Abu Hamza al-Masri and Algerian terrorists living in London. Although most of Special Branch’s officers focus on Irish terrorism, they decide to hire Hassaine. The work is “frequently frustrating,” and only lasts for six months, after which control of Hassaine is passed to Britain’s domestic intelligence service, MI5 (see (May 1999)). After it is decided that Hassaine will leave the service of Special Branch and be transferred to MI5, Special Branch asks him to sign a letter saying that he is aware he will go to jail if he talks to anyone about his relationship with them, and if he is arrested by police, he will not be protected by immunity from prosecution. However, Hassaine is angry at this and refuses to sign. (O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 137-8)

Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon issues an indictment of militants based in Spain who are said to be tied to the 9/11 attacks. Some of them are arrested soon after (see November 13, 2001), although some are not and go on to be involved in the Madrid train bombings (see November 13, 2001). In the indictment, Garzon highlights the links between the Spain-based operatives and militants in Britain. Leading London imam Abu Qatada is described as “the spiritual head of the mujaheddin in Europe,” a view shared by many intelligence agencies in Europe, and accused of moving money to finance al-Qaeda operations. The indictment also says that Barakat Yarkas, head of an al-Qaeda cell in Spain, visited Britain 20 times (see 1995-February 2001) and repeatedly met with Abu Qatada and three other al-Qaeda leaders in Britain, Abu Walid, Abu al-Hareth, and Abu Bashir. Abu Qatada has been working with the British security services for some time and continues to do so (see June 1996-February 1997, Early December 2001, and October 23, 2002). (Burrell 11/21/2001; Burrell 11/21/2001; O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 107) Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will write, “Judge Garzon in Spain claims that if you take every major al-Qaeda attack, including 9/11 and the Bali bombings, then list all those who played a part in their planning, funding and execution, you will find a line that always draws you back to Britain.” (O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 112)

“A few months” before the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), journalist Ron Suskind interviews radical London imam Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed. Suskind had recently heard from a British intelligence official that Bakri “had helped [British domestic intelligence agency] MI5 on several of its investigations,” in Suskind’s words, and he asks Bakri about this. According to Suskind, Bakri looks flustered and says, “I’m upset you know this.” Asked why he helped the British, he replies: “Because I like it here. My family’s here. I like the health benefits.” In early 2007, Suskind calls Bakri on the phone. After the 7/7 bombings, Bakri moved from London to Lebanon (see August 6, 2005), but by the time Suskind reaches him, Bakri has moved again to Tripoli, Libya. Bakri admits that he misses Britain and his role there. He says that the British government misses him too, “whether they admit it or not.” He adds: “We were able to control the Muslim youth.… The radical preacher that allows a venting of a point of view is preventing violence. Now, many of us are gone or in jail, and we’ve been replaced by radical jihadis, who take the youth underground. You don’t see them until the day they vent with the bombs.” Suskind will later comment: “Bakri enjoyed his notoriety and was willing to pay for it with information he passed to the police.… It’s a fabric of subtle interlocking needs: the [British authorities] need be in a backchannel conversation with someone working the steam valve of Muslim anger; Bakri needs health insurance.” Bakri’s role as an informant will not be made public until Suskind mentions it in a book published in August 2008. Suskind will not make clear when Bakri’s collaboration with MI5 began or ended, or even if he was still collaborating when they spoke in early 2005. (Suskind 2008, pp. 200-202) In 2002, Roland Jacquard, a French counterterrorism expert and government adviser, said that “every al-Qaeda operative recently arrested or identified in Europe had come into contact with Bakri at some time or other.” (Elliott 5/27/2002)

The four London bombers captured on closed circuit television. From left to right, Hasib Hussain, Germaine Lindsay, Mohammad Sidique Khan, and Shehzad Tanweer, pictured in Luton train station at 07:21 a.m., Thursday, July 7, 2005.The four London bombers captured on closed circuit television. From left to right, Hasib Hussain, Germaine Lindsay, Mohammad Sidique Khan, and Shehzad Tanweer, pictured in Luton train station at 07:21 a.m., Thursday, July 7, 2005. [Source: Scotland Yard]England suffers its worst terrorist attack when four bombs go off in London during the morning rush hour. At 8:50 a.m. bombs go off on three London Underground trains within 50 seconds of each other. A fourth bomb goes off at 9:47 a.m. on a double-decker bus, near Tavistock Square. Fifty-six people, including the four bombers, are killed. The bombings become popularly known as ‘7/7.’ (Daily Telegraph 7/7/2005; Daily Mail 7/8/2005; CNN 7/22/2005) The alleged bombers, all British residents between the ages of 18 and 30, are Mohammad Sidique Khan, Hasib Mir Hussain, Shehzad Tanweer, and Germaine Lindsay. All were British nationals of Pakistani descent, except Lindsay, who was born in Jamaica, but moved to England when he was five. (Sapsted and Gardham 7/16/2005; BBC 7/21/2005) In 2004, Khan had been the subject of a routine threat assessment by the British intelligence agency MI5, after his name came up during an investigation into an alleged plot to explode a truck bomb in London. However, MI5 did not consider him a threat and did not place him under surveillance. (BBC 7/17/2005; Leppard 7/17/2005) According to the Independent, Tanweer had similarly been scrutinized by MI5 that year, but was also not considered a threat. (Bennetto 12/17/2005) Khan and Tanweer had flown to Pakistan together in November 2004, returning together in February 2005. However, what they did during their stay is unclear. (BBC 7/18/2005; CNN 7/20/2005) Less than a month before the bombings, the British government lowered its formal threat assessment one level, from “severe general” to “substantial,” prompted by a confidential report by the Joint Terrorist Analysis Centre (JTAC). JTAC, which is made up of 100 top intelligence and law enforcement officials, concluded, “At present there is not a group with both the current intent and the capability to attack [Britain]” (see Mid-June 2005). (Sciolino and van Natta 7/19/2005; Freeman 7/19/2005) The attacks also coincide with the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, attended by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W. Bush, amongst others. (Jeffery and Procter 7/7/2005) Consequently, 1,500 officers from London’s Metropolitan Police, including many anti-terrorist specialists, are away in Scotland as part of the force of 12,000 created to police the event. (Sheerin 7/7/2005; London Times 7/10/2005)

After 9/11 and, in particular, after the 7/7 bombings in London (see July 7, 2005), British security officials are asked about the wide latitude granted to radical Islamists in Britain in the 1990s and after (see Before 1998). Off-the-record statements by officials emphasize that they were wrong in their assessment of Islamist radicalism, and that they should have paid more attention. For example, in a 2006 book by authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory, an anonymous official says: “The French would periodically bombard us with warnings and get very worked up and we decided they were over-exaggerating on Islamic extremists colonizing London. Fact is, they were right and we were wrong, and we have not stopped apologizing since. Frankly, we were not equipped to deal with this menace. For 30 years everything was geared to combating terrorists from Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries in Ireland. That danger was still with us when the French were screaming about Islamic terror cells. We did not know how to monitor these people or how to combat the threat of suicide attacks. We did not have the techniques. We missed our chance to deal with this a lot sooner than we did, but a lot of countries made the same mistake.” (O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 109-110) Most or all of the leading radicals worked with the British security services, were informers for them (see June 1996-February 1997, Early 1997, Spring 2005-Early 2007), and were also monitored by other informers (see Summer 1996-August 1998 and (November 11, 1998)). Several attacks in countries other than Britain were assisted by radicals based in London (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998, 1994, Summer 1998 and After, and November 13, 2001 or Shortly Before).


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