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Context of 'Early June 2005: US Intelligence Finds Possible 7/7 Bombings Mastermind in Africa; British Prevent US from Capturing Him'

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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

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

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

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

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