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Profile: John Reid
John Reid was a participant or observer in the following events:
Alleged ricin ingredients. [Source: BBC]Home Secretary David Blunkett and Health Secretary John Reid issue a joint statement claiming “traces of ricin” and castor beans capable of making “one lethal dose” were found in a raid on a flat in Wood Green, north London, which also resulted in several arrests (see January 5, 2003). The joint statement says “ricin is a toxic material which if ingested or inhaled can be fatal… our primary concern is the safety of the public.” Prime Minister Tony Blair says the discovery highlights the perils of weapons of mass destruction, adding: “The arrests which were made show this danger is present and real and with us now. Its potential is huge.” Dr. Pat Troop, the government’s deputy chief medical officer, issues a statement with police confirming that materials seized “tested positive for the presence of ricin poison.” A small number of easily obtainable castor beans are found. But the same day, chemical weapons experts at the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down in Wiltshire discover in more accurate tests that the initial positive result for ricin was false: there was no ricin in the flat. But this finding will not be released publicly for two years. [Independent, 4/17/2005] Dr. Martin Pearce, head of the Biological Weapons Identification Group, confirms that there was no ricin in the flat. This report is also suppressed. [Guardian, 4/15/2004] The Ministry of Defence later confirms that the results of the Porton Down test are not released to police and ministers until March 20, 2003, one day after war in Iraq begins. [BBC, 9/15/2005] It appears that there was the intention to create ricin, based on evidence discovered in other raids, but not the technical know-how to actually do so (see January 20, 2003 and January 5, 2003).
A leaked draft of the “narrative” of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005) compiled by the Home Office in lieu of an official investigation concludes that there was no direct support from al-Qaeda for the 7/7 bombings. The Observer reports that the narrative concludes, “Far from being the work of an international terror network, as originally suspected, the attack was carried out by four men who had scoured terror sites on the Internet.” It does acknowledge that two of the suicide bombers—Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer—traveled to Pakistan and met with known militants, but concludes that these trips were “ideological, rather than fact-finding.” Even a video of Khan’s last testament released by an al-Qaeda production company in Pakistan is dismissed as evidence of any al-Qaeda involvement in the attack (see September 1, 2005). Patrick Mercer, a spokesman for the opposition Conservative Party, says an independent inquiry into 7/7 remains necessary, adding, “A series of reports such as this narrative simply does not answer questions such as the reduced terror alert before the attack, the apparent involvement of al-Qaeda, and links to earlier or later terrorist plots.” [Observer, 4/9/2006] But within months, this assertion of no direct al-Qaeda invovlement will collapse as more information is made public about the bombers’ links to al-Qaeda figures and training in al-Qaeda linked camps in Pakistan. On May 12, 2006, Home Secretary John Reid concludes for the first time that there is “considerable” circumstantial evidence of an al-Qaeda connection. [Guardian, 5/12/2006] By July 2006, Peter Clarke, the Metropolitan Police force’s head of anti-terrorism, will concede, “Such information as we do have does suggest there is probably a link to al-Qaeda” (see July 6, 2006). [New York Times, 7/7/2006; Daily Telegraph, 7/8/2006] The BBC will report that same month: “British intelligence agencies believe some form of operational training is likely to have taken place while Khan and Tanweer were in Pakistan together and that it is likely they did have contact with al-Qaeda figures.… [T]he evidence pointing to a major role for al-Qaeda is mounting.” [BBC, 7/6/2006] British counterterrorism expert Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed will argue that the government has deliberately downplayed evidence of al-Qaeda involvement in order to deflect questions about how a large network was able to operate in Britain for many years (see July 2, 2006).
On May 11, 2006, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), which is composed of members of parliament appointed by the prime minister, issued a report about the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005) that largely exonerates British intelligence for not stopping the bombings (see May 11, 2006). However, two days later, The Guardian and then the Sunday Times report that the ISC was never told that the British intelligence agency MI5 monitored head 7/7 suicide bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan discussing the building of a bomb and then his desire to leave Britain because there would be a lot of police activity. In early 2004, Khan was monitored talking to members of a fertilizer bomb plot (see February 2-March 23, 2004). Tapes show he had knowledge of the “late-stage discussions” of this plot, as well as discussions with them about making a bomb. He was also taped talking about his plans to wage jihad (holy war) and attend al-Qaeda training camps in Pakistan. Further details, such as exactly whom he was speaking to and when, have not been made public. Since the ISC was not aware of this material, it concluded that MI5 had no reason to suspect Khan of plotting bombings in Britain. A member of the ISC admits that the ISC did not see transcripts of MI5’s recordings of Khan. Instead, it listened to senior security officials and accepted their claims that there was no reason to regard Khan as a serious threat. After being told what was on these transcripts, this ISC member says: “If that is the case, it amounts to a scandal. I would be outraged.” Shadow home secretary David Davis of the Conservative Party tells Home Secretary John Reid in a private exchange at the House of Commons: “It seems that MI5 taped Mohammad Sidique Khan talking about his wish to fight in the jihad and saying his goodbyes to his family—a clear indication that he was intending a suicide mission… he was known to have attended late-stage discussions on planning another major terror attack. Again, I ask the home secretary whether that is true.” Reid responds that the questions are “legitimate” but fails to answer them. [Guardian, 5/13/2006; Sunday Times (London), 5/14/2006] Additionally, the ISC was only shown one surveillance photo of Khan. But in 2007 it will be revealed that MI5 in fact had at least six photos of him (see Between April 10, 2004 and July 7, 2005). It will also come to light in 2007 that Khan was briefly investigated in early 2005, and that all information about this was kept from the ISC (see January 27-February 3, 2005).
Using new legislation that outlaws the glorification of terrorism, the British government bans the British militant groups Al-Ghuraaba and the Saviour Sect (a.k.a. the Saved Sect). The two groups were formed in late 2004, when radical imam Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed disbanded his group Al-Muhajiroun (see October 2004). But Bakri continued to lead the two new groups and after sending a reporter uncover to infiltrate the groups, the Sunday Times concluded the two groups were “Al-Muhajiroun in all but name” (see July 9, 2005 and Shortly Afterwards). In announcing the banning of the two groups, Home Secretary John Reid says that he is “committed to ensuring that those organizations that change their name do not avoid the consequences of proscription.” [London Times, 7/19/2006] However, just three months later, the Sunday Times will report that the two groups continue to operate after simply merging back together and changing their name yet again, this time to Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah. The group now mainly operates through the Internet, since Bakri has moved to Lebanon (see August 6, 2005). Anjem Choudary, another long-time leader of Al-Muhajiroun still living in Britain, apparently continues to run the group’s operations there. [Sunday Times (London), 10/29/2006] Despite Reid’s promise not to be deterred by a simple name change, as of 2008 the “new” group has yet to be banned.
Rashid Rauf. [Source: Warrick Page/ Getty Images]British police arrest 24 people in connection with a plot to blow up aircraft flying from Britain to the United States. Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Paul Stephenson says the plot was “intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale.” [CNN, 8/10/2006] Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff describes the plot as “well-advanced and well-thought-out and… really resourced to succeed.” [MSNBC, 8/10/2006] He also likens it to the foiled 1995 Bojinka plot, one portion of which involved blowing up up to a dozen airplanes over the ocean using liquid explosives smuggled onto the planes. [CNN, 8/11/2006] The British threat warning level is raised to critical and London’s Heathrow Airport is closed to most European flights. US officials say the plot involved hiding liquid explosives in carry-on luggage, and up to 12 flights would have been targeted. A senior US congressional source says the plotters planned to carry sports drinks onto the flights, which would then be mixed with a gel-like substance. The explosives would be triggered by the electrical charge from an iPod or mobile phone. Administration officials say the plot involved British Airways, Continental, United, and American Airlines. The plotters intended to detonate the devices over New York, Washington, San Francisco, Boston, and Los Angeles. Officials say the plot demonstrates “very strong links to al-Qaeda” and was nearly operational. In the US, the Department of Homeland Security raises the terror threat to the highest level, red, meaning “severe,” for commercial flights originating in Britain and bound for the US. In addition, the threat level is raised to orange, or “high,” for all commercial flights operating in or coming to the US. [CNN, 8/10/2006] British officials say the death toll could have exceeded the 2,700 of the September 11 attacks, with one source calling the plot “our 9/11.” The arrests were spurred by the detention in Pakistan of one of the plotters, Rashid Rauf. The Pakistanis arrested him at the behest of US Vice President Dick Cheney (see Before August 10, 2006 and Between July 28 and August 9, 2006). [Guardian, 8/11/2006] Officials say some plotters already had tickets for flights and planned to stage test runs over the weekend. Despite the 24 arrests, five suspects in Britain are still being urgently hunted. One official says, “They didn’t get them all.” But British officials claim the arrests in London and Birmingham snare all the alleged “main players.” [MSNBC, 8/10/2006] British Home Secretary John Reid says the operation is ongoing and more arrests may be made. US officials say the suspects are all British citizens between the ages of 17 and 35, with some being of Pakistani ethnicity. They add that some of the suspects had been monitored by British intelligence for several months. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of the Metropolitan Police Service Anti-Terrorist Branch, says the arrests follow an “unprecedented level of surveillance” over several months involving meetings, movements, travel, spending, and the aspirations of a large group of people. [CNN, 8/10/2006]
Liquids, Gels, Electronics Banned from Flights - Homeland Security bans all liquids and gels except baby formula and prescription medications in the name of the ticket holder in carry-on luggage on all flights. Passengers traveling from and through British airports are temporarily permitted to only carry-on items on a restricted list. These items have to be carried in transparent plastic bags. No liquids can be carried on board, including liquid medications “unless verified as authentic.” All electronic items are also banned. [Detroit Free Press, 8/10/2006]
Arrests, Alert Questioned - In the days following the security operation, the arrests will meet with some skepticism. Stephen Glover of the Daily Mail points to previous baseless terror scares in the US and Britain, as well as questioning the political motivations of the home secretary. [Daily Mail, 8/16/2006] Douglas Fraser of the Herald in Edinburgh suggests the “political component” of the operation has caused skepticism. He says the intelligence services are taking credit for foiling a major plot by “ramping up the level of public concern about the threat.” He notes that the timing coincides with an attempt by the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair to return to an issue it was defeated on before: increasing to 90 days the amount of time that people can be detained without charge in the case of alleged terrorist offenses. [VOA News, 8/18/2006] Sean O’Neill and Stewart Tendler of the London Times urge the public and the media to wait for solid evidence before accepting the version of events presented by the government. They say previous bungled anti-terror operations have put pressure on the authorities to build a solid case in public. [London Times, 8/12/2006] In response to these criticisms, intelligence services will be hesitant to release much information publicly, but confirm to The Guardian that surveillance and tips from informants pointed to a plot in the making. Police identify the explosives to be used in the plot as TATP (triacetone triperoxide) and HMTD (hexamethylene triperoxide diamine), both peroxide-based liquid explosives. [Guardian, 8/19/2006] Police will also reveal that the raids uncovered jihadist materials, receipts of Western Union money transfers, seven martyrdom videos, and the last will and testament of one plotter. [New York Times, 8/28/2006]
Some Suspects to Be Released; Security Measures Probably Unnecessary - However, The Guardian does indicate that some of the arrested suspects are likely to be released and that the security measures instituted following the arrests are almost certainly unnecessary. [Guardian, 8/19/2006] Contradicting earlier reports, a senior British official will suggest an attack was not imminent, saying the suspects had not yet purchased any airline tickets. In fact, some do not even have passports. [MSNBC, 8/14/2006] Over two and a half weeks after the arrests, a target date for the attacks and number of planes involved will still be undetermined by investigators. The estimate of 10 to 12 planes is characterized by officials as speculative and exaggerated. Clarke acknowledges the police are still investigating “the number, destination, and timing of the flights.” [New York Times, 8/28/2006]
12 Suspects to Be Tried - Twelve suspects will be charged with terrorism offences near the end of August 2006. Trials are expected to start in January 2008 at the earliest. Prosecutor Colin Gibbs says he expects “a very long trial of [between] five and eight months.” [IOL, 9/4/2006]
Entity Tags: Michael Chertoff, Paul Stephenson, US Department of Homeland Security, Peter Clarke, Metropolitan Police Service Anti-Terrorist Branch, Sean O’Neill, Rashid Rauf, John Reid, Al-Qaeda, Douglas Fraser, United Airlines, Frances Townsend, Stephen Glover, British Airways, American Airlines, Stewart Tendler, Continental Airlines
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
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