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Context of 'July 29, 2005: Counterterrorism Expert Claims Possible 7/7 Bombings Mastermind Was Working for British Intelligence'

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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

The ranch near Bly, Oregon.The ranch near Bly, Oregon. [Source: Seattle Times]Haroon Rashid Aswat and Oussama Kassir, assistants to leading London-based radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, arrive in the US to assess the suitability of a proposed terrorist training camp. Upon arrival, they meet up with James Ujaama, another associate of Abu Hamza who proposed the camp (see October 1999) and its owner Sami Osman. Aswat is considered a close aide to Abu Hamza, who himself is an informer for the British (see Early 1997), and will later be described as the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings.
Unsuitable Facility - However, Aswat and Kassir are unhappy with what they find, especially as Ujaama does not have a key to unlock the gate to the ranch when they arrive. In addition, the ranch lacks food, running water, toilet facilities, and barracks, and only has a simple trailer on it. They stay at the ranch for about two months and conduct weapons training for around 15 militants present. According to a witness, Kassir brags that he is a “hit man” for Abu Hamza and Osama bin Laden and has had jihad training in Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Lebanon. Jihadi videos are shown and a computer disc with details of how to improvise poisons is displayed. In addition, a scheme for poisoning a water supply is discussed, as are armed robberies, building an underground bunker to conceal weapons, and firebombing vehicles.
FBI Investigation - However, on December 13 Osman’s car is stopped due to a faulty brake light and the police officer notices that two men, who turn out to be Aswat and Kassir, are acting strangely in the car. For example, Aswat clutches a briefcase closely to his chest as the police officer questions him. The FBI previously had Osman under surveillance, but has lost him. A database check performed by the officer alerts the FBI and an agent is immediately dispatched to Bly. He shows a surveillance photo of Aswat and Kassir to the officer, who identifies them as the other two men in the car. More FBI agents arrive to investigate the ranch, but, before they can raid it, Aswat and Kassir leave for Seattle. There, Aswat allegedly boasts of being bin Laden’s “hit man,” just as Kassir has done.
Advised to Abandon Ranch - Aswat and Kassir eventually return to Britain and advise Abu Hamza against putting any further effort into the ranch. Kassir will be arrested in the Czech Republic and extradited in 2007 to stand trial. [Daily Mail, 7/24/2005; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 7/31/2005; Seattle Times, 8/9/2005; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 185-186, 194; Associated Press, 9/26/2007]

Entity Tags: Sami Osman, James Ujaama, Oussama Kassir, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Haroon Rashid Aswat

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

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. [Daily Telegraph, 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; London Times, 7/17/2005] According to the Independent, Tanweer had similarly been scrutinized by MI5 that year, but was also not considered a threat. [Independent, 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). [New York Times, 7/19/2005; London Times, 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. [Guardian, 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. [Press Association (London), 7/7/2005; London Times, 7/10/2005]

Entity Tags: Germaine Lindsay, Mohammad Sidique Khan, Hasib Mir Hussain, Shehzad Tanweer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Haroon Rashid Aswat, the alleged mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings (seee July 7, 2005), is reportedly arrested in Pakistan, but accounts conflict. For instance, on July 21, The Guardian reports that Aswat was arrested in the small town of Sargodha, near Lahore, on July 17. He is said to be found carrying a belt packed with explosives, a British passport, and lots of money. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao and Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed deny that the arrest took place. However, The Guardian reports, “Intelligence sources insisted, however, that Mr Aswat had been detained.” [Guardian, 7/21/2005] It is soon reported that Aswat has been arrested in the African country Zambia (see (July 21, 2005)), and news of his arrest in Pakistan fades away. Officials claim that the arrest was a case of mistaken identity and the person “arrested was in fact a ceramics salesman from London with a similar name.” However, it is not explained how or why a ceramics salesman had a suicide vest, what his name was, or what happened to him. [Los Angeles Times, 7/28/2005; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 7/31/2005] Yet as late as July 24, a “US law-enforcement official with knowledge of the case” continues to insist that Aswat had been arrested in Pakistan. [Seattle Times, 7/24/2005] Counterterrorism expert John Loftus will later claim that Aswat in fact has been an informant for the British intelligence agency MI6. He will point to Aswat’s arrest and then quick release in Pakistan as an example of how MI6 was attempting to protect Aswat even as other branches of the British government were trying to find him (see July 29, 2005). [Fox News, 7/29/2005]

Entity Tags: Haroon Rashid Aswat, Aftab Khan Sherpao, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, John Loftus

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

John Loftus (right) is asked a question from an audience member while on Fox News on July 29, 2005. John Loftus (right) is asked a question from an audience member while on Fox News on July 29, 2005. [Source: Fox News]In an interview on Fox News, counterterrorism expert John Loftus claims that Haroon Rashid Aswat, named in recent reports as the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings earlier in the month (see July 7, 2005), is actually an agent of the British intelligence agency MI6. Loftus says: “[W]hat’s really embarrassing is that the entire British police are out chasing [Aswat], and one wing of the British government, MI6 or the British Secret Service, has been hiding him. And this has been a real source of contention between the CIA, the Justice Department, and Britain.… He’s a double agent.” The interviewer clarifies, “So he’s working for the Brits to try to give them information about al-Qaeda, but in reality he’s still an al-Qaeda operative.” Loftus replies: “Yeah. The CIA and the Israelis all accused MI6 of letting all these terrorists live in London not because they’re getting al-Qaeda information, but for appeasement. It was one of those you leave us alone, we leave you alone kind of things.” Loftus then explains that Aswat has been wanted by US prosecutors in Seattle since 2002 for attempting to help set up a training camp in Oregon (see November 1999-Early 2000). “[W]e’ve just learned that the headquarters of the US Justice Department ordered the Seattle prosecutors not to touch Aswat [because] apparently Aswat was working for British intelligence. Now Aswat’s boss, the one-armed [London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri], he gets indicted two years later. So the guy above him and below him get indicted, but not Aswat. Now there’s a split of opinion within US intelligence. Some people say that the British intelligence fibbed to us. They told us that Aswat was dead, and that’s why the New York group dropped the case. That’s not what most of the Justice Department thinks. They think that it was just again covering up for this very publicly affiliated guy with [the British militant group] Al-Muhajiroun. He was a British intelligence plant. So all of a sudden he disappears. He’s in South Africa. We think he’s dead; we don’t know he’s down there. Last month the South African Secret Service come across the guy. He’s alive.” The host asks: “Yeah, now the CIA says, oh he’s alive. Our CIA says OK let’s arrest him. But the Brits say no again?” Loftus replies: “The Brits say no. Now at this point, two weeks ago, the Brits know that the CIA wants to get a hold of Haroon. So what happens? He takes off again, goes right to London. He isn’t arrested when he lands, he isn’t arrested when he leaves. [Even though] he’s on the watch list. The only reason he could get away with that was if he was working for British intelligence. He was a wanted man.” Loftus finally explains that Aswat’s relationship with British intelligence began in the late 1990s with the war in Kosovo. The US, Britain, and radical Muslims were all on the same side, helping the Muslims in Kosovo fight the Serbians. Loftus says that Al-Muhajiroun was involved in recruiting British Muslims to fight in Kosovo, and Aswat was part of that effort. [Fox News, 7/29/2005] Two days after Loftus’s comments, the Sunday Times reports that senior British officials “deny ‘any knowledge’ that he might be an agent for either MI5 or MI6.” [Sunday Times (London), 7/31/2005]

Entity Tags: Al-Muhajiroun, Haroon Rashid Aswat, Abu Hamza al-Masri, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), John Loftus

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

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

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