Profile: UK Security Service (MI5) (MI5)
UK Security Service (MI5) (MI5) was a participant or observer in the following events:
The British security service MI5 attempts to recruit Peter Griffin, a key associate of Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan. Griffin, who has been working with Khan for some time (see Summer 1976), supplies him with equipment for Pakistan’s nuclear program. According to Griffin, he is offered £50,000 (about $100,000 at this time) to inform for the agency, but he tells them his “integrity [is] not for sale.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 55] Despite this apparent refusal, according to authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento: “Some US and European intelligence officials have suggested that Griffin, like others who have had dealings with A. Q. Khan, may have been cooperating with Western authorities, perhaps for a very long time. Asked by one of the authors in a June 2006 e-mail exchange whether he had provided assistance to any Western intelligence service, Griffin will offer a one word reply: ‘Later.’” However, Griffin will not subsequently enlarge on this. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 217]
Abu Ndal circa 1982. [Source: Reuters / Corbis]The BBC will later suggest that US intelligence actually becomes aware of specific Abu Nidal accounts held in the criminal BCCI bank in 1984. This is because the FBI busts an illegal arms deal in New York City that involved Nidal’s BCCI accounts in London and a Nidal front company in Poland called SAS Trade at this time. [Herald Sun (Melbourne), 8/2/1991] In the 1980s, Nidal is considered the world’s most wanted terrorist. In December 1985, for instance, his network launches simultaneous attacks in Rome and Vienna, killing or wounding dozens. In 1986, the CIA tells the State Department in detail about the criminal BCCI bank’s links with Nidal and his terrorist network. They reveal that Nidal has multiple accounts at BCCI branches in Europe. [Beaty and Gwynne, 1993, pp. 328] In July 1987, Ghassan Qassem, manager of one of BCCI’s London branches, is contacted by the British intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6. They tell him that they know SAS Trade has many millions of dollars worth of accounts in his branch and that the company is an Abu Nidal front. Qassem agrees to be an informant. [Observer, 1/18/2004] Nidal first opened a BCCI account in London in 1980, depositing $50 million using an alias. In addition to being a terrorist, Nidal is an illegal arms dealer and BCCI helps him buy and sell weapons, oftentimes involving British companies. [Los Angeles Times, 9/30/1991] Qassem will later claim that he saw Nidal in Britain on three separate occasions and went shopping with him. In 1983, Nidal was interviewed by police, who took him straight to the airport and put him on a plane to leave the country. [Guardian, 7/30/1991; Observer, 1/18/2004] Qassem recognizes Nidal as a terrorist from a photograph in a magazine in 1987 and tells this to his BCCI superior, but he is told to keep quiet. The CIA and British intelligence use their knowledge of Nidal’s BCCI accounts to force SAS Trade to shut down in 1986, but usually they merely monitor terrorist activity. For instance, Nidal’s group teaches urban terrorist tactics to Peru’s Maoist Shining Path guerrillas in 1988. Shining Path pays Nidal $4 million for this work through his BCCI account and then attempts to bomb the US embassy in Lima later that year. Intelligence agencies also merely watch as Middle Eastern governments give tens of millions to Nidal through his BCCI accounts (see 1987-1990). In December 1989, Qassem tells his BCCI superiors that he is working with British intelligence. He is quickly fired. [Los Angeles Times, 9/30/1991] Nidal learns of the surveillance and empties the accounts before they can be frozen. [Guardian, 7/30/1991; Observer, 1/18/2004]
By 1987, Abu Nidal is the world’s most well-known terrorist. His group has killed over 300 people. But in 1987 his attacks generally come to a halt. A French intelligence report in 1988 explains this is because Middle Eastern governments begin paying large sums of protection money in order not to be attacked. For instance, the government of Kuwait deposits $80 million into Nidal’s BCCI bank account in London in 1987. Kuwait will later deny the payments took place, but counterterrorism experts will dismiss the denials and say that such payments to Nidal were common. In 1988, the Defense Department will conclude that one third of Nidal’s money comes from his own businesses (he is an illegal arms dealer), one third from Arab governments, and one third from various blackmail schemes. Most of these transactions, including Nidal’s arms dealing transactions, are made through Nidal’s BCCI bank account in London, and US and British intelligence has been monitoring his account there since at least 1986 (see 1984 and After). But apparently they merely gather information and make little attempt to shut down Nidal or his finances. Nidal will eventually close out his London accounts in 1990. [Wall Street Journal, 8/9/1991; Los Angeles Times, 9/30/1991] Nidal will finally be murdered in mysterious circumstances in Iraq in August 2002. He will apparently stop his attacks around 1994. [Guardian, 8/20/2002]
French authorities raid safe houses for activists linked with the Algerian militant organization Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA). These raids turn up telephone and fax numbers of London addresses that are then passed to the British authorities, along with the names of suspects the French want the British to investigate. These names include that of Rachid Ramda, who will later go on to mastermind a wave of bombings in France that kill 10 people (see July-October 1995). However, British authorities fail to do anything with this information. After the attacks, the French will say that if MI5 and other British authorities had acted on it, the wave of attacks could have been averted. Ramda will be arrested after the bombings, but it will take 10 years to extradite him to France (see January 5, 1996). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 113-114]
MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, opens a permanent file on Osama bin Laden. However, MI5 still believes bin Laden is a terrorist financier rather than a leader, and the source of his wealth is a “mystery.” [Daily Telegraph, 10/5/2009] MI6 is Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, and presumably it would be more knowledgeable and concerned than MI5 about a foreign threat like bin Laden.
A memo from MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, to the heads of police Special Branches says: “Suggestions in the press of a world-wide Islamic extremist network poised to launch terrorist attacks against the West are greatly exaggerated.… The contact between Islamic extremists in various countries appears to be largely opportunistic at present and seems unlikely to result in the emergence of a potent trans-national force.” [Daily Telegraph, 10/5/2009] MI6 is Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, and presumably, it would be more knowledgeable and concerned about Islamist militants world-wide than MI5 is.
Al-Muqatila, a cover for a Libyan al-Qaeda cell, tries to kill Libyan leader Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi. Al-Qadhafi survives, but several militants and innocent bystanders are killed. [Dawn (Karachi), 10/30/2002] According to David Shayler, a member of the British intelligence agency MI5, and Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquié, authors of the controversial book The Forbidden Truth, the British intelligence agency MI6 pays al-Qaeda the equivalent of $160,000 to help fund this assassination attempt. Shayler later goes to prison for revealing this information and the British press is banned from discussing the case (see November 5, 2002). [New York Times, 8/5/1998; Observer, 11/10/2002] Anas al-Liby, a member of the group, is given political asylum in Britain and lives there until May 2000 despite suspicions that he is an important al-Qaeda figure (see Late 1995-May 2000). He is later implicated in the al-Qaeda bombing of two US embassies in Africa in 1998 (see Late 1993-Late 1994; 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2002; Observer, 11/10/2002]
Finsbury Park mosque. [Source: Salim Fadhley / Public Domain]Omar Nasiri, an agent of the British intelligence services MI5 and MI6, and the French service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), penetrates radical Islamic circles in London, getting close to leading imams Abu Qatada and Abu Hamza (see Mid 1996-October 1997), learning about the Algerian Groupe Isamique Armé (GIA) (see November 1996), and dealing with al-Qaeda manager Abu Zubaida in Pakistan (see (Mid-1996) and (Mid-1996 and After)). Nasiri’s main task is to attend the main locations where radicals gather, Abu Qatada’s Four Feathers center and Abu Hamza’s Finsbury Park mosque, get close to senior operatives there to obtain information, and identify militants, even though the mosques, as Nasiri will later put it, are already “crawling with spies.” The British services are mostly interested in whether the radicals intend to attack in Britain, but, although they come close to inciting such attacks, they never cross the line. Nasiri will later comment: “[Abu Hamza] was inciting his followers to attack just about everywhere else, but never within England. He came very close to this line many times. He incited his followers to attack anyone who tried to claim Muslim land. He said many times that British soldiers and colonizers were fair game.” Nasiri, who previously received explosives training at al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan (see Mid 1995-Spring 1996), also gets his associates in Afghanistan to send him his notebook from an explosives course and passes this on to his handlers, who are impressed at how sophisticated the formulae are. However, after a couple of years the radicals realize he is an informer. In addition, on the day of the African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) he is so upset that he switches his mobile phone off for the first time since he received it, so MI5 stops trusting him. He will later write: “They must have worried that I was, in fact, a sleeper and that I had disappeared to pursue some mission. I couldn’t blame them of course. I was a trained killer. From the very beginning they hadn’t trusted me; I knew that.” He has to leave Britain and his career as an informer is practically over. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 259-303]
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 ; Channel 4 News (London), 3/23/2004; Guardian, 3/24/2004; London Times, 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; Guardian, 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 ] 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). [Observer, 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. [Observer, 7/29/2007]
Leading London-based imam Abu Qatada denounces the Algerian GIA (Groupe Islamique Armé) over massacres of civilians the group has apparently conducted in Algeria, and severs ties with it. Fellow imam Abu Hamza al-Masri follows suit the next year. Abu Qatada says that support should no longer be provided to the GIA because they are declaring other Muslims infidels and killing them, although they are not learned men and do not have the authority to do this. This is highly controversial in the radical Islamic community in London, as some believe it is the government, not the GIA, that is carrying out the massacres, and Abu Qatada’s popularity declines. Abu Hamza initially defends the GIA, but, as the massacres get worse, support for the GIA in London ebbs. Eventually, Abu Hamza calls a GIA commander and asks for an explanation for a massacre. The commander says that the villagers were killed because they supported the moderate Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and Abu Hamza withdraws his support from the GIA a few weeks later. Omar Nasiri, who informs on Abu Hamza for French and British intelligence and listens in on the call to the commander, will later comment: “More than anything else, this episode proved to me that Abu Hamza was a sham. His objectives shifted with the wind. He needed the GIA to seduce followers away from Abu Qatada. Now, he saw that he might lose more than he gained by continuing to support it. For Abu Hamza, it was all about the zakat, the money he collected every week after the al-Jum’a prayers. The more people attended, the more cash there would be.” [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 271-2, 275, 295-6] Bin Laden denounces the GIA around the same time (see Mid-1996).
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]
Reda Hassaine. [Source: CBC]Reda Hassaine, an Algerian journalist who informs for a number of intelligence services, including an Algerian service, the French Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), and the British Special Branch and MI5, helps intelligence agencies track Zacarias Moussaoui and shoe-bomber Richard Reid. One place Hassaine sees Moussaoui and Reid is the Four Feathers club, where leading Islamist cleric Abu Qatada preaches. [Evening Standard, 1/28/2005; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 133] Hassaine also sees Moussaoui, Reid, and Spanish al-Qaeda leader Barakat Yarkas at the Finsbury Park mosque in London. The mosque, a hotbed of Islamic extremism headed by Abu Hamza al-Masri, is the center of attention for many intelligence agencies. Hassaine does not realize how important these people will later become at this time, but recognizes their faces when they become famous after 9/11. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 133] British intelligence also monitor phone calls between Moussaoui and Reid in 2000 (see Mid-2000-December 9, 2000).
Omar Nasiri, who informs on al-Qaeda for the British intelligence service MI5 and the French service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), lends his phone to an operative of the Algerian militant Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) his handlers are interested in. The operative, known only as “Khaled,” uses the phone to make a call to Algeria that is recorded by MI5. Khaled later borrows the phone several times, and MI5 records calls he makes all over Europe. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 291-2]
The British domestic counterintelligence service MI5 meets with Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading British imam and informer (see Early 1997). After the exchange of “pleasantries,” Abu Hamza and his handler discuss his recent breach with the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), an Algerian militant group, which has been indiscriminately killing civilians (see Mid 1996-October 1997). The handler notes that “[Abu] Hamza is bowed but not broken,” and adds, “For him the jihad goes on, if not in Algeria then somewhere else.” Abu Hamza tells the MI5 officer that Britain “is seen as a place to fundraise and to propagate Islam.” Authors Daniel O’Neill and Sean McGrory will later comment, “The admission that Abu Hamza and his followers were using [Britain] to raise funds to finance terrorism overseas did not seem to cause a blip on the MI5 agent’s radar.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 145]
The British domestic counterintelligence service MI5 meets with Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading British imam and informer (see Early 1997). In view of Egyptian-born Abu Hamza’s recent condemnation of the Algerian Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) over massacres of civilians (see Mid 1996-October 1997 and October 1, 1997), MI5 asks Abu Hamza to condemn a massacre of sixty people in Luxor, Egypt (see November 18, 1997), as it thinks this might calm tensions in Britain and elsewhere. However, he declines to do so, telling MI5 that Egypt is controlled by a “corrupt, Satanic tyranny,” and adds that British tourists should not travel to Egypt. In fact, in public sermons at this time he actually condones the attacks, saying that the tourism industry in Egypt is impure and should be Islamicized. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 145-6]
When asked why militant Islamic groups based in London never attack in Britain, leading imam Omar Bakri Mohammed says that he has a deal with the British government: “I work here in accordance with the covenant of peace which I made with the British government when I got [political] asylum.… We respect the terms of this bond as Allah orders us to do.” [Terrorism Monitor, 7/7/2005] Bakri will confirm this in a later interview: “The British government knows who we are. MI5 has interrogated us many times. I think now we have something called public immunity.” [MEMRI, 10/24/2001] Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will point out that other London imams, such as Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997) and Abu Qatada (see June 1996-February 1997), had a similar arrangement: “The [imams] all claimed that Islamist radicals felt safe in London as they were protected by what they called the ‘covenant of security.’ This, they explained, was a deal whereby if extremist groups pledged not to stage attacks or cause disruption in [Britain], the police and intelligence agencies left them alone. British government ministers were appalled at the suggestion that they had entered into such a pact. But other countries were left to wonder aloud why [the British government] continued to ignore warnings that radical organizations were using London as a safe haven, and allowing these extremists to behave as if they were immune from prosecution.… To European eyes, these men seemed to do as they pleased.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 108]
The British domestic counterintelligence service MI5 meets with Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading British imam and informer (see Early 1997). They discuss “training camps” Abu Hamza’s mosque is organizing for Islamist radicals, although it is unclear if these camps are in Britain or overseas. One of his MI5 handlers informs him he is “walking a dangerous tightrope.” Another agent later notes, “I informed him that incitement even to commit terrorism and violence overseas was fraught with peril.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 146]
French intelligence learns Zacarias Moussaoui went to an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in 1998 (see 1995-1998).
[Independent, 12/11/2001] The Associated Press will report that he was placed on the watch list for alleged links to the GIA, an Algerian militant group. [Associated Press, 5/19/2002] The French also warn the British about Moussaoui’s training camp connections. [Los Angeles Times, 12/13/2001] French investigators ask MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, to place Moussaoui under surveillance. In early December 2001, the Independent will report that “The request appears to have been ignored” and that the British “appear to have done nothing with the information.”
[Independent, 12/11/2001] However, later in the same month, the Observer will report that MI5 did in fact place Moussaoui under surveillance, as MI5 was monitoring his telephone calls in 2000 (see Mid-2000-December 9, 2000).
Leading British imam Abu Hamza al-Masri is arrested for his part in the kidnapping and murder of Western tourists in Yemen (see December 28-29, 1998). A demonstration outside the police station where Abu Hamza is held attracts sixty people. Abu Hamza tells the police he has just been repeating what is written in the Koran and is released. Evidence seized from his home includes 750 video and audio tapes of his sermons and an eleven-volume Encyclopedia of Afghani Jihad, which are later returned to him (see December 1999). Reda Hassaine, an informer for the British security services (see March 1997-April 2000), is disappointed and notes cynically that “the British might consider the arrest operation successful, believing that it would ward off the danger of Abu Hamza or his followers carrying out any operations too close to home.” Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will comment, “Hassaine’s assessment was not far off the mark.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 140-3]
Reda Hassaine, an Algerian informer working for the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch against Islamist extremists in London, is passed to MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence service. One of his tasks is to identify men who attend Finsbury Park mosque, a hotbed of radicalism, in photographs MI5 gives him. For the first six-month trial period, Hassaine is given £300 (equivalent of $450) per month plus £80 for expenses, but MI5 tells him to claim unemployment and housing benefit as well, “because, after all, we were dealing with the security of the country,” and “it would be a good cover story because everyone in Finsbury Park was foreign and on benefits.” In return for his work, Hassaine is promised he will obtain indefinite leave to remain in Britain, but in February 2000 he will only receive leave to remain for four years, which he will be unhappy about. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 138-9, 147-148]
According to Reda Hassaine, an Algerian mole working against Islamist extremists in London for MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence service, his handler tells him MI5 is powerless against Algerian extremists in London. Hassaine will say: “He [the handler] certainly never cared about what I cared most about, that hundreds of people were being killed in Algeria and that many of the killers and the organizers of the massacres had escaped to London. ‘Oh, what can we do?’ he would say. ‘We can’t stop them, there is nothing we can do.’” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 139]
The British intelligence service MI5 attempts to recruit an unnamed senior figure in the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), an Algerian terrorist organization many of whose operatives are based in London. An Algerian informer called Reda Hassaine helps with the attempted recruitment, and is instructed to befriend the GIA leader, and to find him an apartment in London so he no longer has to sleep in Finsbury Park mosque, a hotbed of extremism. It is unclear whether the recruitment is successful, but Hassaine obtains new information and passes it on to MI5. In August 1999, he finds that three operatives of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), another Algerian terrorist organization allied with al-Qaeda, have arrived in London and informs the British authorities of this. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 147]
MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, reports, “Intelligence suggests that while [Osama bin Laden] is seeking to launch an attack inside the US, he is aware that the US will provide a tough operating environment for his organization.” [Daily Telegraph, 10/5/2009] It is unclear who this report is sent to, or what information it is based on. MI6, not MI5, is usually tasked with foreign intelligence.
Reda Hassaine. [Source: CBC]Reda Hassaine, an informer for the British intelligence service MI5, learns that a group of Arab men who fought in the anti-Soviet jihad in the 1980s have arrived in Britain from Yemen. He obtains their names and passport numbers, and also finds they have settled in the Birmingham area. Recognizing the importance of the men, he asks to be allowed to get close to them, but MI5 tells him to stay in London. Thinking that MI5 will pay no attention, Hassaine becomes angry and shouts, “Are any of you interested in catching these terrorists?” He goes to Birmingham on his own initiative and obtains information on the group, which is passed to the Sunday Times [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 147] It is unclear why the jihadis move to Birmingham and who, if anybody, they meet there. A senior radical named Anas al-Liby, who is connected to the embassy bombing plot (see Shortly After August 12, 1998), lives in Manchester, about two hours’ drive from Birmingham, around this time (see May 2000). Omar al-Bayoumi, an associate of 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, will move to Birmingham in the summer of 2001 (see June 23-July 2001 and September 21-28, 2001).
British authorities return items they previously confiscated from leading cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri over his involvement in the murder of Western tourists in Yemen (see December 28-29, 1998).
Tapes - The material is returned after Britain decides not to prosecute Abu Hamza for his part in the murders, and includes video and audio tapes “packed with the usual messages of intolerance and hatred, and culminating in exhortations to kill the enemies of Islam.” The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) deemed the evidence gathered by the police “insufficient” for a prosecution, although it will later be found that three of the tapes show Abu Hamza committing the offense of “soliciting to murder.” Apparently, detectives only watched one of the tapes, as they were not the focus of their inquiries, and the police report to the CPS did not mention them. Abu Hamza will later say that he takes their return as proof nothing he says in his sermons is illegal.
Encyclopedia of Jihad - He is also given back his encyclopedia of Afghan jihad, which contains “hundreds of pages of instructions and diagrams on making bombs, organizing ambushes, laying landmines and selecting targets—among them Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.” The encyclopedia has been known to investigators in Europe for some time (see March 1995 and 1998-December 11, 1999). Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will note ironically that the authorities apparently believe that the encyclopedia is “a legitimate thing for an advocate of eternal Holy War to have in his library.” The encyclopedia will later be described at a “terrorist manual” in a court case against Abu Hamza, where it will be a key piece of evidence against him.
Passport - However, the police do retain his passport, preventing Abu Hamza, an informer for Britain’s security services (see Early 1997), from traveling abroad. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 146, 289-290]
Reda Hassaine, an informer for the British security service MI5, learns that a top London-based operative known as Abu Walid is to travel to Afghanistan. He also hears rumors that Abu Walid is to meet Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders and will not return to London after the meeting. The mission is so important that Abu Qatada, a leading imam who reportedly sits on al-Qaeda’s fatwa committee (see June 1996-1997) and also informs for MI5 (see June 1996-February 1997), is to hold a special prayer session to bless Abu Walid before he leaves. Hassaine attends the prayer session, but the militants realize he is an informant and attempt to murder him (see April 21, 2000). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 148] French intelligence had previously considered assassinating Abu Walid in London, but he will be reported to be in Afghanistan after the US invasion and will die in Chechnya in 2004 (see 1997-1998).
At the instructions of the British intelligence service MI5, informer Reda Hassaine goes to a meeting at the Four Feathers community center. The meeting is being held so that Abu Qatada, an al-Qaeda spiritual leader and also MI5 informer (see June 1996-February 1997), can bless an emissary named Abu Walid that London-based Islamists are sending to Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. MI5 knows about the meeting thanks to information passed on by Hassaine (see Before April 21, 2000). Hassaine arrives early, but finds Abu Qatada is already there, and the group is saying prayers for someone preparing to lay down their life for God, presumably Abu Walid. As the prayers end, Hassaine realizes some of the other men are looking at him strangely, and that they must have discovered he is a mole. The men attack him as he leaves, but he manages to get out of the building and they chase him down the street. He evades them and calls his MI5 handler, who tells him, “Go home and whatever you do don’t involve the police.” He then realizes that there were men at the meeting from numerous Islamist groupings throughout London, and that if he goes back to any place where extremists gather, he might not get away again. This ends his career as an informer. He occasionally runs into people who must know of the incident, and they make threatening gestures towards him. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 148-149]
After deciding to end his career as an informant against radical Islamists in London (see April 21, 2000), Reda Hassaine reflects bitterly on his experience of the British security services, MI5 and the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch: “These guys I was risking my life for—they hadn’t arrested anybody, they didn’t do a proper job. All the work I had done, all the risks I took didn’t seem to amount to anything. All this killing was taking place abroad, but the British didn’t give a sh*t that the killers were here in London. As long as nothing happened in Britain, then everything was alright. Abu Hamza [al-Masri, another MI5 informer (see Early 1997)] was left to do whatever he liked, to brainwash, to recruit, and send people off to the training camps. I was telling the British this all the time. ‘This group is going to Afghanistan,’ I would say. ‘They’re leaving on Friday, they have tickets to fly to Pakistan.’ And the only reply I got was, ‘There’s nothing we can do about it.’”
'Harmless Clown'? - Hassaine will add: “I wasn’t surprised. When I began to work with MI5 I already knew from the French that they would do nothing, that they weren’t interested in what was happening in London, the threat didn’t register. They told me that they thought Abu Hamza was a ‘harmless clown,’ but I felt obliged to carry on with the work. [Note: a group closely associate with Abu Hamza murdered some British citizens and others in Yemen in 1998 (see December 28-29, 1998).] I had started this thing, I wanted to pursue it. I later learned that Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada were both talking to MI5 and Special Branch too. The British must have thought they had these guys under control, that they were collaborating with them.”
'A Factory for Making Terrorists' - Hassaine will continue: “Nothing could have been farther from the truth. Abu Hamza was busily recruiting hundreds of people, sending them off to Afghanistan, from where they were returning unnoticed and undetected to do whatever they like. Abu Hamza had this great big mosque where these people could hide, pick up a new identity, get money and support, and receive the blessing of the imam for their actions. Seven days a week that place was producing recruits for the jihad. It was a factory for making terrorists.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 150-151]
Drawings made by FBI sketch artists of Niaz Khan’s al-Qaeda contact in the US (left), and one of the people he trained with in Pakistan (right). [Source: NBC News]British intelligence fails to take advantage of an informant who may help penetrate al-Qaeda in the US, and even possibly the 9/11 plot. Niaz Khan, a British citizen originally from Pakistan, was recruited into an al-Qaeda plot to hijack an airplane in the US and possibly fly it into a building. It is unknown if this was the 9/11 plot or something else, because Khan became scared and never met his al-Qaeda contact in the US, and instead turned himself in to the FBI in April 2000. Khan said he trained in Pakistan for the hijacking. FBI agents checked out Khan’s story and gave him two lie detector tests, and after three weeks, they concluded he was telling the truth. But FBI headquarters was not interested and told the agents to get rid of him (see April 2000). Khan told the FBI he was ready to become an informant. His idea was to create a story to explain his failure to meet with his contact and then work undercover with Islamic radicals. Since the FBI wanted to get rid of him, it made arrangements with MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, so MI5 could handle him as an informant. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Khan is a British citizen and he had been recruited into the hijacking plot after he joined a radical Islamist mosque in London, so the hope is he will be able to identify and inform on the people who brought him into the plot. [MSNBC, 6/3/2004] Khan is put on a plane and flown with an FBI agent to London, where he is met by two MI5 agents. But according to an FBI agent who handles Khan, in 2004, Khan will explain that he only has a short meeting with MI5. “And then they let me go. I got on to the tube [subway] back home here to Manor Park. Even after 9/11 happened, I never saw anyone. I got no phone calls, no letters, nothing.” The FBI agent will later say: “I just assumed that when Niaz was turned over the British authorities would have conducted a full investigation. What I would have done is re-inserted him into the community and worked him.… We know that didn’t happen. It’s a real shame.” [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]
Richard Reid. [Source: Plymouth County Jail]MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, has Zacarias Moussaoui under surveillance. The French government had asked MI5 to monitor him in 1999 (see 1999), but it has not been confirmed if this is in response to that request. It is not clear when the surveillance begins, but the Observer reports that it lasts for “months” and ends when Moussaoui leaves Britain on December 9, 2000, to attend an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. The extent of Moussaoui’s surveillance is not publicly known; the only reported detail is that some phone calls between Moussaoui and Richard Reid are intercepted. Reid will later be convicted for attempting to blow up a passenger airliner with a bomb in his shoe (see December 22, 2001). MI5 records the conversations between them made inside Britain. Opposition politicians in Britain will later criticize MI5 for not realizing Reid’s al-Qaeda ties between 9/11 and Reid’s shoe bomb plot over two months later. [Observer, 12/30/2001; Wall Street Journal, 12/31/2001] Moussaoui appears to be in contact with other al-Qaeda figures during this time. For instance, he travels to Yazid Sufaat’s house in Malaysia in September 2000 and again in October 2000 (see September-October 2000), and Ramzi bin al-Shibh stays in London for a week in early December 2000 and meets with Moussaoui (see October 2000-February 2001). [Independent, 12/11/2001] However, it is not known if such contacts are monitored as well.
Abu Doha, a key figure in al-Qaeda’s European network, is arrested at Heathrow airport in London. He is attempting to board a plane for Saudi Arabia, but several false passports are found in his hand luggage. A search of his London flat reveals passport photographs depicting him in various disguises, 20 credit cards, a telescopic rifle sight, and what police describe as terrorism paraphernalia. He is found to be involved in various plots around the world, including a section of the Millennium Plot that comprised a bombing of Los Angeles airport (see December 14, 1999), so the US soon asks for his extradition. He is also later said to have worked on plots to bomb the US, British, and Australian embassies in Singapore in December 2001, a planned attack on the Paris-Dakar rally in January 2000, a plot to attack the 1998 World Cup in France (see Late 1997-Early 1998), and other attacks. Abu Doha was close to Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for British intelligence (see Early 1997 and May 1999). Abu Doha’s deputy, Rabah Kadre, is also arrested. Although he has been under surveillance by British authorities since 1998 (see 1998), he is released, apparently because British authorities think they have insufficient evidence against him. He will later leave Britain, but be arrested following his re-entry (see November 2002). The British intelligence service MI5 will later say that Kadre is “Abu Doha’s successor” as a leader of the Europe-wide network. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 117-118, 240]
Sir Stephen Lander. [Source: Public domain]According to an officially authorized book on the MI5 published in 2009, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, MI5, warns top British leaders that a surge in the number of reports of threat information is “sufficient to conclude that [Osama bin Laden] and those that share his agenda are currently well advanced in operational planning for a number of major attacks on Western interests.” Similar MI5 warnings about an imminent attack will continue up until 9/11, including one put out on the morning of 9/11. However, apparently none of these suggest a major attack in the US or an attack using hijacked airplanes. MI6 is Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, and presumably most information about al-Qaeda and attack threats would come from it and not MI5. In fact, MI5 appears to be much less aware of al-Qaeda at this time. Sir Stephen Lander, director general of MI5 from 1996 to 2002, will later say that MI5 was “slow to get going” on the al-Qaeda threat because it was preoccupied with the IRA, and after 9/11 it had a “major set to, sitting around a board room table working out how to move on.” [Daily Telegraph, 10/5/2009] This warning appears similar, but not identical, to a warning 10 days later that is an analysis involving all British intelligence agencies (see July 16, 2001).
Several weeks after the 9/11 attacks, two agents of MI5, the British equivalent of the FBI, meet with Bisher al-Rawi at his London house and try to recruit him to work as an informant. By one account, the meeting takes place one day after 9/11. Al-Rawi is an ideal candidate because he is well-educated, fluent in English, and a long-time friend of London imam Abu Qatada. [Independent, 3/16/2006; Washington Post, 4/2/2006] Qatada himself has been working as an informant for MI5 since 1996 (see June 1996-February 1997). Al-Rawi will later claim that MI5 asked him to serve as an interpreter between MI5 and Arabic speakers several times before 9/11. He did so, including interpreting for Qatada. He will later comment, ‘On two occasions I asked the officers in private, “Is it OK to have a relationship with Abu Qatada? Is this a problem?’ And they always said, ‘No, it’s fine, it’s OK.’” Al-Rawi agrees to become an informant and begins regularly meeting with the two agents in hotel rooms around London. [Independent, 3/16/2006] For the next year, he will mostly work as a go-between between MI5 and Qatada. Presumably, it would be dangerous for the well-known imam to be seen meeting directly with British agents (see Late September 2001-Summer 2002).
Bisher al-Rawi. [Source: Public domain]In late September 2001, Bisher al-Rawi, a long-time friend of London imam Abu Qatada, agrees to become an informant for the British intelligence agency MI5 (see Late September 2001). Al-Rawi mainly works as an intermediary between MI5 and the high-profile imam. He will later explain that he agreed to work as an informant as an attempt to help ease tensions between the government and the Muslim community. Abu Qatada had begun working as an informant for MI5 in 1996 (see June 1996-February 1997), and contrary to some reports, his relationship with that agency had not yet ended. In December 2001, Abu Qatada reportedly disappears just before a new law passes that would allow his indefinite detention (see Early December 2001). British officials claim to have no idea where Abu Qatada is, and at first apparently they really do not. But al-Rawi soon finds out where he is, tells MI5, and begins passing messages back and forth between MI5 and Abu Qatada. [Observer, 7/29/2007] The Independent will later report, “Abu Qatada was completely aware of Mr al-Rawi’s relationship with MI5. Mr al-Rawi carried questions and answers between the parties, served as a translator, and participated in negotiations with Abu Qatada.” Al-Rawi himself will later say, “All I did in Britain was try to help with steps necessary to get a meeting between Abu Qatada and MI5. I was trying to bring them together. MI5 would give me messages to take to Abu Qatada, and Abu Qatada would give me messages to take back to them.” [Independent, 3/16/2006] According to his family members and his lawyer, soon the MI5 agents are coming to his house and calling him so frequently that his relatives complain. As a result, MI5 gives him a cell phone and agrees to meet with him elsewhere. The British government will later acknowledge that al-Rawi served as an unpaid informant in a court document. [Washington Post, 4/2/2006] In the summer of 2002, al-Rawi begins to have doubts about his role and is fired (see Summer 2002). Abu Qatada is arrested in late October 2002, just after coming out of hiding in an attempt to morally justify the 9/11 attacks (see October 23, 2002). In early November, al-Rawi will fly to Gambia and be detained there (see November 8, 2002-December 7, 2002). [Washington Post, 4/2/2006]
Radical al-Qaeda-linked imam Abu Qatada claims to The Observer that shortly after 9/11, the British intelligence agency MI5 offered him a passport, an Iranian visa, and an opportunity to escape to Afghanistan. He claims he turned them down because he didn’t trust them. “If I get on a plane, I am afraid I will be shot or handed over to the Jordanians, the Egyptians, or the Saudis.” [Observer, 10/21/2001] Abu Qatada’s claim will gain credibility when it is later revealed that he was an MI5 informant (see June 1996-February 1997) and that MI5 hid him in Britain from December 2001 until he made comments supporting the 9/11 attacks in late 2002 (see Early December 2001 and October 23, 2002). His fear of being handed over will also gain credibility as the CIA’s rendition program is slowly made public in succeeding years.
As soon as terror suspect Tarek Dergoul arrives at Bagram, he is subjected to treatment that he later describes as sexually humiliating. “When I arrived, with a bag over my head, I was stripped naked and taken to a big room with 15 or 20 MP’s. They started taking photos and then they did a full cavity search. As they were doing that they were taking close-ups, concentrating on my private parts.” Dergoul sees other prisoners enduring beatings, which he is spared. “Guards with guns and baseball bats would make the detainees squat for hours, and if they fell over from exhaustion, they’d beat them until they lost consciousness. They called it ‘beat down.’” Dergoul is interrogated 20 to 25 times at Bagram. Once, a team from the British intelligence agency MI5 is present, at which occasion he is told his family’s assets will be seized. His interrogators accuse him of fighting with al-Qaeda in the Tora Bora mountains. Although he says none of that is true, Dergoul finally breaks. “I was in extreme pain from the frostbite and other injuries and I was so weak I could barely stand. It was freezing cold and I was shaking and shivering like a washing machine. The interrogators, who questioned me at gunpoint, said if I confessed I’d be going home. Finally I agreed I’d been at Tora Bora—though I still wouldn’t admit I’d ever met bin Laden.” [Guardian, 3/13/2004; Observer, 5/16/2004]
A British MI5 officer calling himself “John” visits Muslim terror suspect Binyam Mohamed while Mohamed is in Pakistani custody (see April 10-May, 2002). Mohamed has already been extensively interrogated by Americans and tortured by his Pakistani captors. John, whom later court documents show is fully aware of what has been done to Mohamed, is accompanied by another man, whom Mohamed believes is either British or American. The American interrogators have already threatened to “rendition” Mohamed “somewhere where I would be tortured far worse, like Jordan or Egypt,” he will later recall. “I was given a cup of tea and asked for one sugar. The other guy told me, ‘You’ll need more than one sugar where you’re going.’” The interrogation centers on Mohamed’s knowledge of nuclear devices that Islamist militants might have, and he is asked for more details about the “spoof” Web site he had earlier mentioned. “They asked me about the A-bomb website and I told them it was a joke,” he says. “They wanted to know everything about my life in the UK and I gave them all the information I had. Later I realized that was part of my undoing: I told them the area I lived in had 10,000 Moroccans and was known as Little Morocco. The feedback I got later from the Americans was that because the Brits told them I had lived in a Moroccan area, they thought Moroccans would be more likely to make me talk. At the same time, they thought I must know something about what Moroccans were up to in London.” It is at this time that his American and British interrogators begin threatening to send him to Morocco to be interrogated and tortured. MI5 concludes, according to its own documents later revealed in court, that Mohamed and another prisoner are both “lying to protect themselves” and “evidently holding back.” It is during this period that MI5 begins supplying the Americans with questions and information to use during interrogation (see February 24, 2009). “John told me that if I cooperated he’d tell the Americans to be more lenient with my treatment,” Mohamed will later recall. In a confidential memo written by John to his superiors, the British agent writes: “I told Mohammed [sic] that he had an opportunity to help us and help himself. The US authorities will be deciding what to do with him and this would depend to a very large degree on his cooperation—I said that I could not and would not negotiate up front, but if he persuaded me he was cooperating fully then (and only then) I would explore what could be done for him with my US colleagues.… While he appeared happy to answer any questions, he was holding back a great deal of information on who and what he knew in the UK and in Afghanistan.” In July, Mohamed will be flown to Rabat, Morocco (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004). [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
Jamil al-Banna. [Source: Public domain]Jamil al-Banna is friends with Bisher al-Rawi, who is working as an informant for the British intelligence agency MI5. Al-Rawi is mostly helping MI5 communicate with imam Abu Qatada, who also is an MI5 informant but is pretending to be in hiding (see Late September 2001-Summer 2002 and Early December 2001). Al-Banna is aware of al-Rawi’s work and begins to help him. Sometimes al-Banna also serves as a go-between for MI5 and Abu Qatada. Al-Rawi stops working for MI5 in the summer of 2002 (see Summer 2002), but al-Banna does not. For instance, when Abu Qatada is arrested in late October 2002 (see October 23, 2002), al-Banna takes his wife and child home at the request of the British officials on the scene. [Independent, 3/16/2006] But in early November 2002, al-Banna will go to Gambia with al-Rawi on business, and MI5 will turn the two of them over to the CIA to be interrogated (see November 8, 2002-December 7, 2002).
Bisher al-Rawi, an informant for the British intelligence agency MI5, begins to have doubts about his informant work. He is mostly helping MI5 communicate with imam Abu Qatada, another MI5 informant who is pretending to be hiding from the authorities (see Late September 2001-Summer 2002). Al-Rawi is concerned that he might incriminate himself by talking to people who have links to terrorism, and is also concerned that his role as an informant could be publicly exposed. He suggests holding a meeting between his MI5 handlers and a private attorney, and specifically suggests using human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce. However, his MI5 handlers refuse and instead have him meet with an MI5 lawyer known only by the alias “Simon.” Simon assures him that MI5 would come to his aid if he is compromised or has other problems. Al-Rawi will later recall: “[Simon] gave me very solid assurances about confidentiality. He promised they would even protect me and my family if they had to. He said that, if I was ever arrested, I should cooperate with the police. If a matter got to court, he would come as a witness and tell the truth.” Some agents are beginning to have doubts that he is carrying out all their orders, and he brings up the idea of ending the relationship. Then one day one of his MI5 handlers calls him and terminates his MI5 work. [Independent, 3/16/2006; Observer, 7/29/2007] Several months later, MI5 will betray him and turn him over to the CIA to be interrogated in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo (see December 8, 2002-March 2003 and March 2003-November 18, 2007).
Terror suspect Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001) is flown from Pakistan to Morocco as part of a joint British-American attempt to force him to divulge information about possible nuclear devices owned by Islamist militants (see May 17 - July 21, 2002). He is flown—trussed, gagged, blindfolded, and diapered (see October 4, 2001)—to Rabat, Morocco, a flight later confirmed by the CIA’s own flight logs. He remains in Moroccan custody for 15 months.
Beaten, Slashed with Scalpels - As he will later recall, he is introduced to Moroccan detention practices by an interrogator named Marwan, who gives him thorough and repeated beatings. When Mohamed has been softened up: “[T]hey cut off my clothes with some kind of doctor’s scalpel. I was totally naked.… They took the scalpel to my right chest. It was only a small cut. Maybe an inch. Then they cut my left chest. One of them took my penis in his hand and began to make cuts. He did it once, and they stood still for maybe a minute, watching my reaction. I was in agony, crying, trying desperately to suppress myself, but I was screaming. I remember Marwan seemed to smoke half a cigarette, throw it down, and start another. They must have done this 20 to 30 times in maybe two hours. There was blood all over. They cut all over my private parts. One of them said it would be better just to cut it off, as I would only breed terrorists.” This happens time and again over the next 15 months.
British Complicity in CIA, Moroccan Interrogations - Documents disclosed for Mohamed’s later lawsuit against the US (see February 4, 2009) show that British MI5 agents are aware of the entirety of Mohamed’s treatment, and are in collusion with the Moroccans and the US in Mohamed’s treatment; on September 30, MI5 and CIA officials hold a conference where Mohamed’s treatment and interrogation are discussed. During much of Mohamed’s detention in Morocco, MI5 passes questions and photographs to the CIA for use in Mohamed’s interrogations (see February 24, 2009). Mohamed will later recall: “They started bringing British files to the interrogations—thick binders, some of them containing sheaves of photos of people who lived in London and places there like mosques. It was obvious the British were feeding them questions about people in London. When I realized that the British were co-operating with the people torturing me, I felt completely naked. It was when they started asking the questions supplied by the British that my situation worsened. They sold me out.”
Elaborate Confessions - By this time, as Mohamed will recall, he is willing to confess to anything to make the torture stop. “They had fed me enough through their questions for me to make up what they wanted to hear,” he will recall. “I confessed to it all. There was the plot to build a dirty nuclear bomb, and another to blow up apartments in New York with their gas pipes.” The “gas pipe” plot connects Mohamed to 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who supposedly conceived of the idea. “I said Khalid Shaikh Mohammed had given me a false passport after I was stopped the first time in Karachi and that I had met Osama bin Laden 30 times,” Mohamed will recall. “None of it was true. The British could have stopped the torture because they knew I had tried to use the same passport at Karachi both times (see September 2001 - April 9, 2002). That should have told them that what I was saying under torture wasn’t true. But so far as I know, they did nothing.”
'Rendered' to Afghanistan - Fifteen months after being “rendered” to Morocco, Mohamed is “rendered” to Afghanistan by the CIA (see January-September 2004). [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
London imam Abu Qatada is arrested at a house in South London by Scotland Yard and MI5 officials. Intelligence agencies in eight countries, including Italy, France, and Germany, have claimed that Qatada has extensive al-Qaeda links, and he is believed to be a member of al-Qaeda’s fatwa (religious) committee (see June 1996-1997). Using anti-terrorist laws passed in December 2001, he is held at the Belmarsh high security prison without charge. He “disappeared” hours before the new laws went into effect (see Early December 2001). Several days before his arrest, Qatada came out of hiding to release a new document justifying the 9/11 attacks. He posted a ten-page document on the Internet entitled “The Legal Vision for the September 11 Events.” In it, he outlined the “moral” case for the attacks and praised Osama bin Laden for challenging the US. [London Times, 10/25/2002] Another radical London imam, Sheik Omar Bakri Mohamed, tells the press that Abu Qatada was arrested after family members visited his house and one of them used a cell phone that was apparently traced by the authorities. [New York Times, 10/26/2002] Qatada worked as an MI5 informant beginning in 1996 (see June 1996-February 1997).
Jamil al-Banna and Bisher al-Rawi have been helping the British intelligence agency MI5 communicate with al-Qaeda linked imam Abu Qatada. Al-Rawi had a formal informant relationship but was fired (see Late September 2001-Summer 2002), while al-Banna has been only helping a little on a casual basis (see Summer-Early November 2002). They are planning to travel together to Gambia for business purposes. On October 31, the day before they are to leave, al-Banna is visited by MI5 agents and British police. According to an MI5 memo later given to his lawyers, they attempt to formally recruit him as an informant. They tell him that he could “start a new life with a new identity” and acquire British citizenship (he is a long-time British resident). He turns down the offer. The agents tell him that he can travel to Gambia without a problem and return to Britain when they are done. MI5 records confirm that they are given permission to travel. [Washington Post, 4/2/2006; Observer, 7/29/2007] Al-Banna and al-Rawi leave for their trip the next day (see November 1-7, 2002).
Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil al-Banna, and Abdullah El-Janoudi are scheduled to fly from London to Gambia on November 1, 2002. They are going to help al-Rawi’s brother start a peanut factory there. Al-Rawi had worked as an informant for the British intelligence agency MI5, helping them communicate with imam Abu Qatada, but he was fired several months earlier (see Late September 2001-Summer 2002 and Summer 2002). Al-Banna had also been informally helping MI5 with Abu Qatada, but the day before their trip he had turned down an offer to formally work as an MI5 informant (see Summer-Early November 2002 and October 31, 2002). El-Janoudi is a friend and a British citizen, while the other two men are long-time British residents. At Gatwick Airport in London, the three men are detained by security agents. For four days, they are questioned by police about their luggage and their ties to Abu Qatada. In particular, they are interested in a device al-Rawi has. But on closer inspection, it turns out to be a modified store-bought battery charger. Their houses are also searched for evidence. Finally they are cleared and let go. While they are being held, MI5 contacts the CIA and warns that the three men are about to go to Gambia. MI5 calls al-Rawi an “Iraqi extremist” linked to Abu Qatada and says the battery charger is a timing device for a bomb, even though MI5 already knows this is not true. They fail to mention that al-Rawi and al-Banna have been working as MI5 informants. By the time the three men can get another flight to Gambia, seven days have passed. The Washington Post will later note that this “has led to [later] speculation by the men’s attorneys and families that the delay gave the CIA time to position operatives in Gambia.” [Washington Post, 4/2/2006; Observer, 7/29/2007] The CIA, believing the false information sent by MI5, will detain the three men as soon as they arrive in Gambia on November 8 (see November 8, 2002-December 7, 2002).
Wahab al-Rawi. [Source: Public domain]Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil al-Banna, both long-time British residents, and Abdullah El-Janoudi, a British citizen, fly from London to Gambia. They are planning to help al-Rawi’s brother, Wahab al-Rawi, set up a mobile peanut oil processing company. But before they left, they were detained for several days by police. Meanwhile, the British intelligence agency MI5 sent the CIA false information about them, for instance alleging that al-Rawi was traveling with a timing device for a bomb, even though MI5 had already inspected it and determined it was simply a battery charger (see November 1-7, 2002). MI5 asks the CIA to detain and question them when they arrive in Gambia. Wahab al-Rawi is already in Gambia, and when he and a friend arrive to greet the three men, all five of them are detained by Gambian agents. [Washington Post, 4/2/2006; Observer, 7/29/2007] But the men are moved to hidden locations and safe houses around the capital. Technically, they are held by the NIA, the Gambian intelligence agency, but CIA agents act as if they are in charge. They are intensively interrogated for many days, and one American using the alias Lee leads the questioning. Al-Rawi and al-Banna had recently worked as informants for MI5, helping them communicate with the radical imam Abu Qatada, who was said to be in hiding but was really an MI5 informant himself (see Late September 2001-Summer 2002 and Summer-Early November 2002). However, MI5 has given the CIA the impression that they were not informants but were plotting with Qatada. Al-Rawi will later say, “From the beginning, the questions made it plain that the Americans had been given the contents of my own MI5 file, which was supposed to be confidential. Lee even told me the British were giving him information. I had agreed to help MI5 because I wanted to prevent terrorism, and now the information I had freely given them was being used against me in an attempt to prove that I myself was some kind of terrorist.” [Observer, 7/29/2007] When Wahab refuses to cooperate and asks either for a lawyer or a representative from the British high commission, the Gambian agents laugh and tell him it was the British who ordered the arrests. [Guardian, 7/11/2003] According to Amnesty International, one of them is warned that if he does not cooperate he will be turned over to the Gambian police who will “beat and rape him.” [Amnesty International, 8/19/2003] The Washington Post will later report, “The primary purpose of this elaborate operation, documents and interviews suggest, was not to neutralize a pair of potential terrorists—authorities have offered no evidence that they were planning attacks—but to turn them into informers.” Al-Rawi’s lawyer will later speculate, “Either it was an attempt to put these guys at risk and to use them to find evidence that would implicate Abu Qatada, or it was an attempt to bring them within the closer control of MI5.” Just a day before leaving Britain, MI5 agents asked al-Banna to become a full-time informant and he had turned them down (see October 31, 2002). After about a month, all but Bisher al-Rawi and al-Banna are freed and allowed to return to Britain. The two of them, however, are flown to the US prison in Bagram, Afghanistan, where harsher interrogation methods can be used on them. [Washington Post, 4/2/2006] Before they leave Gambia, one of their US interrogators tells al-Rawi that they now realize the two of them were MI5 informants, but they will be sent to Bagram anyway. “He told me: ‘We know you were working for MI5’, and said if I told the truth I would get out.” [Observer, 7/29/2007]
The CIA has been interrogating two British residents, Bisher Al-Rawi and Jamil al-Banna, in Gambia after the British intelligence agency MI5 falsely told the CIA the two of them were dangerous radical militants. In fact, they were informants working for MI5, and MI5 appears to have used pressure from the CIA as a means to try to get them to resume being informants. But after being interrogated for about a month, they are still unwilling to cooperate. The CIA informs MI5 that the two men will soon be renditioned to Bagram, Afghanistan, to undergo more interrogation. This rendition breaches international law, since the two of them have not been charged with any crime. But MI5 does nothing to help them. [Observer, 7/29/2007] It sends a telegram to the CIA, stating, “[T]his is to confirm that in relation to the Islamists currently in detention in the Gambia, [Britain] would not seek to extend consular protection to non-British nationals.” MI5 also does not inform the rest of the British government about what is happening to the two men. [Channel 4 News (London), 7/30/2007] In Bagram, they will face further pressure to resume their informant work (see December 8, 2002-March 2003).
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]
Six alleged members of the fertilizer bomb plot: Salahuddin Amin, Anthony Garcia, Waheed Mahmood, Momin Khawaja, Jawad Akbar, and Omar Khyam. [Source: Metropolitan Police/ CP Jonathan Hayward]In early 2003, the British intelligence agency MI5 is tracking a suspected al-Qaeda leader living in Britain known as Mohammed Quayyum Khan (a.k.a. “Q”) (see March 2003 and After), and they see him repeatedly meeting with a Pakistani-Briton named Omar Khyam. Quayyum is believed to be an aide to al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi. [BBC, 5/1/2007] By around March or April 2003, investigators begin monitoring Khyam, and soon discover he is a ringleader in a fertilizer bomb plot on unknown targets in Britain. [BBC, 4/30/2007]
Surveillance Intensifies - By the beginning of February 2004, surveillance intensifies. Thousands of hours of audio are recorded on dozens of suspects. The investigation soon focuses on a smaller group of Khyam’s close associates who are originally from Pakistan and had attended training camps in mountainous regions of Pakistan in recent years. Most of these men have links to Al-Muhajiroun, a banned Islamist group formed by radical London imam Omar Bakri Mohammed. The plotters are monitored discussing various targets, including nightclubs, pubs, and a network of underground high-pressure gas pipelines. In February 2004, MI5 intercepts a phone conversation between Khyam talking to his associate Salahuddin Amin, in Pakistan, about the quantities of different ingredients needed to construct a fertilizer bomb. An al-Qaeda operative in Pakistan had encouraged Amin to bomb targets in Britain.
Fertilizer Found and Replaced - Later in February, employees at a self storage depot in London call police after discovering a large amount of ammonium nitrate fertilizer being stored and suspecting it might be used for a bomb. Investigators discover the fertilizer belongs to Khyam and his group, and has been stored there since November 2003. The fertilizer is covertly replaced with an inert substance so a bomb cannot be successfully made from it.
Arrests Made - Investigators discover that Khyam is planning to fly to Pakistan on April 6, and the decision is made to arrest the suspects before he leaves the country. On March 29, a bomb plotter named Momin Khawaja is arrested where he is living in Canada. Weapons and a half-built detonator are found in his house. The next day, Khyam and seventeen others are arrested in England (see March 29, 2004 and After). Aluminum powder, a key bomb ingredient, is found in a shed owned by Khyam. Amin, still living in Pakistan, turns himself in to authorities there a few days later. Another key member of the group, Mohammed Junaid Babar, is not arrested and flies to the US on April 6. But he is arrested there four days later and quickly agrees to reveal all he knows and testify against the others (see April 10, 2004).
Five Convicted in Trial - The suspects will be put on trial in 2006 and Babar will be the star prosecution witness. Five people, including Khyam, will be sentenced to life in prison in 2007. Trials against Khawaja in Canada and Amin in Pakistan have yet to be decided. Curiously, Quayyum, who has been alleged to the mastermind of the plot and the key al-Qaeda link, is never arrested or even questioned, and continues to live openly in Britain (see March 2003 and After). [Guardian, 5/1/2007]
The British government releases a dossier titled “Iraq: Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception, and Intimidation.” The government says the dossier is based on high-level intelligence and diplomatic sources and was produced with the approval of Prime Minister Tony Blair; it also wins praise from US Secretary of State Colin Powell (see February 7, 2003). Unfortunately, the dossier is almost wholly plagiarized from a September 2002 article by university student Ibrahim al-Marashi. [Middle East Review of International Affairs, 2/23/2003] Al-Marashi was doing postgraduate work at Oxford University when he wrote it. [International Policy Fellowships, 10/1/2006] The article is entitled “Iraq’s Security and Intelligence Network: A Guide and Analysis,” and was published in the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal (MERIA). [Middle East Review of International Affairs, 2/23/2003] The British dossier plagiarizes two other articles as well, both from Jane’s Intelligence Review (see February 8, 2003), some of which were published as far back as 1997. MERIA is based in Israel, which even moderate Arabs say makes it a suspect source, and all the more reason why the origin of the information should have been cited. [Guardian, 2/7/2003] MERIA, an Internet-based magazine with about 10,000 subscribers, is edited by Jerusalem Post columnist Barry Rubin. [Jerusalem Post, 2/8/2003] Rubin will responds dryly: “We are pleased that the high quality of MERIA Journal’s articles has made them so valuable to our readers.… As noted on the masthead of each issue and all our publications, however, we do appreciate being given credit.” [Middle East Review of International Affairs, 2/23/2003] Al-Marashi, currently working at California’s Center for Nonproliferation Studies, describes himself as an opponent of Saddam Hussein’s regime: “As an Iraqi, I support regime change in Iraq,” he says. [Reuters, 2/8/2003; Associated Press, 2/7/2007]
Article Used Information from 1991 - He examined Iraq’s secret police and other, similar forces in detail, using captured Iraqi documents from the 1991 Gulf War and updating that information to be more timely. [Middle East Review of International Affairs, 9/2002] The dossier contains entire sections from al-Marashi’s article quoted almost verbatim, including typographical errors contained in the original. When asked about the plagiarism, al-Marashi says he was not approached by the British government for permission to use his work. “It was a shock to me,” he says. Chris Aaron, editor of Jane’s Intelligence Review, says he had not been asked for permission to use material from his article in the dossier. The dossier uses the three articles to detail methods used by the Iraqi government to block and misdirect UN weapons inspectors’ attempts to locate weapons stockpiles in Iraq. The dossier claims that while the UN only has 108 weapons inspectors inside Iraq, the Iraqi government has 20,000 intelligence officers “engaged in disrupting their inspections and concealing weapons of mass destruction.” The dossier claims that every hotel room and telephone used by the weapons inspectors is bugged, and that WMD-related documents are being concealed in Iraqi hospitals, mosques, and homes. Powell will cite the dossier as part of his presentation to the UN detailing evidence of Iraqi weapons programs (see February 5, 2003). [Associated Press, 2/6/2003; BBC, 2/7/2003] When the media exposes the origins of the dossier, Blair officials will concede that they should have been more honest about the source material (see February 6, 2003).
British 'Inflated' Some Numbers, Used More Extreme Language - Al-Marashi, who learns of the plagiarism from a colleague, Glen Rangwala (see February 5, 2003), says the dossier is accurate despite “a few minor cosmetic changes.” He adds: “The only inaccuracies in the [British] document were that they maybe inflated some of the numbers of these intelligence agencies. The primary documents I used for this article are a collection of two sets of documents, one taken from Kurdish rebels in the north of Iraq—around four million documents—as well as 300,000 documents left by Iraqi security services in Kuwait.” [BBC, 2/7/2003] Al-Marashi and Rangwala both note that the dossier uses more extreme language. “Being an academic paper, I tried to soften the language” al-Marashi says. “For example, in one of my documents, I said that [the Iraqi intelligence agency known as the Mukhabarat] support[s] organizations in what Iraq considers hostile regimes, whereas the [British] document refers to it as ‘supporting terrorist organizations in hostile regimes.’” [Guardian, 2/7/2003; New York Times, 2/8/2003]
Third Attempt to Pass Off Old Information as New Evidence - This is the third time in recent months that Downing Street has tried to pass off old, suspect information as damning evidence against Iraq. In September, it released a 50-page dossier, “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Assessment of the British Government,” that used years-old information from the Foreign Office and British intelligence to make its case (see September 24, 2002); UN inspectors and British journalists visited some of the “facilities of concern” and found nothing (see September 24, 2002). In December, Downing Street released a 23-page report, “Saddam Hussein: Crimes and Human Rights Abuses,” that was heavily criticized by human rights groups, members of Parliament, and others for reusing old information. When that dossier was released, the Foreign Office put forward an Iraqi exile who had been jailed by Hussein for 11 years. The exile displayed handcuffs he said had been placed on him while in captivity. Afterwards, the exile admitted that the handcuffs were actually British in origin. [Guardian, 2/7/2003]
Dossier Product of Heated Debate - The Observer writes of the current “dodgy dossier” that discussions between Blair’s head of strategic communications, Alastair Campbell, foreign policy adviser David Manning, senior intelligence officials, and the new head of British homeland security, David Omand, resulted in a decision to “repeat a wheeze from last autumn: publishing a dossier of ‘intelligence-based evidence,’” this time focusing on Iraq’s history of deceiving weapons inspectors. The dossier had to be released before chief UN inspector Hans Blix could make his scheduled report in mid-February. The previous dossier, about Iraq’s dismal human rights record, had led to what The Observer calls “several stand-up rows between Omand and Campbell, with the former accusing the latter of sprinkling too much ‘magic dust’ over the facts to spice it up for public consumption.” That dossier left “the more sensationalist elements” in the forward, but for this dossier, “there was no time for such niceties. Led by Campbell, a team from the Coalition Information Center—the group set up by Campbell and his American counterpart during the war on the Taliban—began collecting published information that touched on useful themes.” Al-Marashi’s work became the central piece for the cut-and-pasted dossier, which The Observer says was compiled so sloppily that, in using the al-Marashi report and one of the Jane’s articles, two different organizations were confused with one another. [Observer, 2/9/2003]
Entity Tags: Hans Blix, UK Security Service (MI5), David Omand, Glen Rangwala, Ibrahim al-Marashi, Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal, Jerusalem Post, Jane’s Intelligence Review, Mukhabarat, David Manning, Colin Powell, Blair administration, Christopher Aaron, United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Coalition Information Center, Alastair Campbell, Saddam Hussein, Barry Rubin, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, British Foreign Office, Tony Blair
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
Asif Hanif (left) and Omar Sharif (right) holding AK-47 rifles and a Koran. Apparently this is from a video filmed on February 8, 2003, in the Gaza Strip. [Source: Public domain]In March 2003, the British domestic intelligence agency MI5 arrests eight members of the Islamist militant group Al-Muhajiroun in the city of Derby. Two other Britons, Asif Hanif and Omar Sharif, are also identified as members of the group, but they are not arrested. MI5 is also aware that Sharif is connected to the Finsbury Park mosque where radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri preaches. [Daily Mail, 5/5/2003; ISN Security Watch, 7/21/2005] When police raided Abu Hamza’s mosque in January, they even found a letter from Sharif to Abu Hamza inquiring about the proper conduct of jihad. The letter contained Sharif’s address in Derby. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 90-91] MI5 does not monitor either Hanif or Sharif, and instead simply keeps their names on file, believing them to be harmless. Later that same month, Italian undercover journalist Claudio Franco, posing as a Muslim convert, visits the London office of Al-Muhajiroun and meets Hanif. Hanif, unaware that he is being formally interviewed, tells Franco that he is sorry the poison ricin was allegedly seized in a raid elsewhere in London (see January 7, 2003) before it could be used in an attack. The next month, Hanif and Sharif travel to Israel and are killed on a suicide bombing mission which kills three others (see April 30, 2003). After the bombing, Al-Muhajiroun’s official leader, Anjem Choudary, calls the two bombers martyrs. The group’s spiritual leader, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, admits he knew both men. But the group is not banned. [Daily Mail, 5/5/2003; ISN Security Watch, 7/21/2005] Other members of the group will attempt to build a large fertilizer bomb in early 2004 (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004), but the group will still not be banned, then or later. (It will disband on its own in late 2004 (see October 2004).) Investigators also fail to discover that Mohammad Sidique Khan, the lead bomber in the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), knew both men, was friends with Sharif and attended the same small mosque as he did (see Summer 2001), and traveled to Israel weeks before they did in a probable attempt to help with the bombing (see February 19-20, 2003).
Mohammed Quayyum Khan. [Source: BBC]In March 2003, the British intelligence agency MI5 begins monitoring Mohammed Quayyum Khan (a.k.a. “Q”), a part-time taxi driver living in Luton, England, and born in Pakistan. He is said to be an associate of the radical London imams Omar Bakri Mohammed and Abu Hamza al-Masri. It is not known how MI5 first gains an interest in Quayyum, but apparently during a trip to Pakistan in 2003, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, tracks him overtly to warn him that they are aware of his activities. During a later court trial, an al-Qaeda operative turned informant named Mohammed Junaid Babar will allege that Quayyum:
Takes his orders from al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi. He is said to be one of about three or four operatives working directly under this leader.
Arranges for Mohammad Sidique Khan, the head suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings, to travel to Pakistan and attend militant training camp in 2003.
Provides funds and equipment for militants fighting US troops in Afghanistan.
Is the leader of the 2004 British fertilizer bomb plot. Five of Quayyum’s associates will be sentenced to life in prison for roles in this plot.
In early February 2004, MI5 first discovers the existence of the fertilizer bomb plot while it monitors the various plotters meeting with Quayyum (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). For instance, Omar Khyam, one of those who will later be sentenced to life in prison, is secretly videotaped meeting with Quayyum. Khyam will later admit that just before he left for militant training in Pakistan, Quayyum gave him money and said: “It’s better for both of us if we don’t meet each other. Because the security services may be monitoring me.” Yet when all the other members of the plot are arrested in late March 2004, Quayyum stays free. The Guardian will later report, “Despite the number of serious allegations leveled against him [in court], police and MI5 say they have never found sufficient evidence to arrest or charge him.” Quayyum is never questioned about his links to the fertilizer bomb plotters. After the 7/7 suicide bombings in 2005, he is not questioned about his verified links with the suicide bombers either (such as the monitored calls between him and the head suicide bomber (see Shortly Before July 2003)). He continues to live in Luton and is seen by a Guardian journalist working as a chef in a small cafe there. “He is thought to have since disappeared.” [Guardian, 5/1/2007; Guardian, 5/1/2007] Author Loretta Napoleoni will later comment that the lack of action against Quayyum is especially strange given the British government’s power to detain suspects for years without charge. She will say, “The press has proffered the hypothesis—neither confirmed nor denied by the special services—that Quayyum was a ‘Deep Throat’” mole or informant. [Antiwar (.com, 5/8/2007]
Bisher al-Rawi. [Source: Craig Hibbert]In February 2003, British residents Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil al-Banna are transferred from Bagram in Afghanistan to the Guantanamo prison. They spend their first month in isolation. Al-Rawi’s head and beard are shaved off as has allegedly already happened to al-Banna during his detention at Bagram. Al-Banna is put in a cell next to detainee Asif Iqbal. “[S]oon after,” Iqbal will later recall, al-Banna “began to deteriorate.” At Guantanamo, according to Iqbal, “al-Banna was in constant pain from his joints because he suffered from rheumatism and he was diabetic.” [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ] Al-Rawi and al-Banna had served as informants for the British intelligence agency MI5, helping MI5 communicate with radical imam Abu Qatada, who also was an MI5 informant (see Late September 2001-Summer 2002 and Summer-Early November 2002). First in Gambia and then in Bagram, they were pressured to resume being informants, but they refused (see November 8, 2002-December 7, 2002 and December 8, 2002-March 2003). After about six months in Guantanamo, an MI5 officer visits al-Rawi and again asks him if he wants to resume being an informer. Later, one of his previous MI5 handlers comes to visit him. He will recall: “I suppose he was nice enough. He asked if I wanted anything. I asked for a book on base jumping. He never came back, and I never got the book.” Eventually, two other previous handlers visit him and try to recruit him yet again. “They said, “You know, Bisher, if you agree to work for us when you get back to Britain, we’ll get you out.” They promised to return, but never did.” When al-Rawi faces a tribunal in September 2004 to determine if his detention is justified, he asks for his previous MI5 handlers to corroborate that he had been an informant. The British government refuses to help in any way, and the tribunal decides that he should continue to be imprisoned. The two of them grow increasingly bored and depressed, and face harsh conditions. For instance, after three detainees commit suicide in June 2006, the jailers retaliate by keeping the air conditioning turned to maximum for months. “We were freezing the whole time. Other times they made it scorching hot,” al-Rawi says. Al-Banna is not even allowed to phone his sick mother just before she dies. [Washington Post, 4/2/2006; Observer, 7/29/2007] Al-Rawi will finally be freed and flown back to Britain on April 3, 2007. Al-Banna will be freed and returned to Britain on November 18, 2007.
Items seized in a raid on Abu Hamza’s Finsbury Park mosque in January 2003. [Source: Daily Telegraph]After learning some information about the Islamist militant connections of leading London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, British Home Secretary David Blunkett initiates a campaign against him. Blunkett introduces legislation to have Abu Hamza stripped of his British citizenship, which he acquired unlawfully (see April 29, 1986), and then either deported or interned. However, the British intelligence service MI5 fails to provide Blunkett with all the information it has about Abu Hamza, who has been an informer for MI5 and Special Branch since 1997 (see Early 1997 and Before May 27, 2004). Even after the relevant legislation is passed in April 2003, the process is drawn out by Abu Hamza, who appeals, delays the appeal process by not filing a defense, and then argues the government should pay his legal fees. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 284-5] A hearing will be held on the case in April 2004 (see April 26, 2004).
Omar Khyam in Pakistan in 2003. [Source: Public domain]In early 2003, the British domestic intelligence agency MI5 begins investigating a man named Mohammed Quayyum Khan (a.k.a. “Q”), who is a taxi driver living in Luton, England. MI5 believes he is an important al-Qaeda operative. Mohammad Sidique Khan is the head suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings, and at some point before he goes to a training camp in Pakistan in July 2003 (see July-September 2003), MI5 traces his cell phone number from a phone call or calls between him and Quayyum. It will later be revealed in court that Quayyum arranged for Sidique Khan to attend the training camp, so it seems probable the monitored communication relates to these arrangements. MI5 discovers the prepaid phone belongs to a “Siddique Khan,” but they find no reference to him in their own records or on the Police National Computer, so they do not pursue the lead any further. In early 2004, MI5 will repeatedly monitor Khan meeting with Omar Khyam (see February 2-March 23, 2004), the head bomber in a plot to bomb a target in Britain with a large fertilizer bomb (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). They allegedly do not know Khan’s name, but they learn in June 2004 that the car he has been driving Khyam around in is registered to the name “Siddeque Khan.” But, as the London Times will later note, “For reasons that remain unexplained, no one at MI5 made the connection to the Siddique Khan whose mobile phone number had already cropped up.” Strangely, despite his links such as this to both the fertilizer bomb plot and the 7/7 bombers, Quayyum will never be arrested or even questioned by officials, and continues to live openly in Britain (see March 2003 and After). [London Times, 5/1/2007; BBC, 5/25/2007]
Germaine Lindsay. [Source: Public domain]Shortly after the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), Newsweek will report that the name of one of the suicide bombers, Germaine Lindsay, “turned up in US government antiterror databases.” Lindsay’s name apparently comes up tangentially during the British investigation, known as Operation Crevice, of the 2004 fertilizer bomb plot (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). A British intelligence agency monitored two other 7/7 suicide bombers repeatedly interacting with the fertilizer bomb plotters, but allegedly never learned their exact names (see February 2-March 23, 2004). They gave US intelligence a database of suspects who interacted with the fertilizer bomb plotters, and presumably Lindsay was in this database (see Between April 10, 2004 and July 7, 2005). [Newsweek, 7/20/2005] The US then puts Lindsay on a terror watch list, which presumably is shared with British intelligence, but the British fail to monitor him. [Associated Press, 7/19/2005] Lindsay was apparently monitored by the FBI when he was visiting family in the US in late 2001, and may have already been put on a watch list at that time (see December 2001).
A surveillance photo of Shehzad Tanweer (second to the left), Mohammad Sidique Khan (far right), and Omar Khyam (center), taken in the parking lot of a McDonald’s restaurant on February 28, 2004. [Source: Metropolitan Police]By the beginning of February 2003, the British intelligence agency MI5 has learned about an al-Qaeda linked fertilizer bomb plot meant for an unknown target or targets in Britain, and has begun closely monitoring all of the main suspects. The head bomber in the plot, Omar Khyam, is seen on several occasions with two of the 7/7 London suicide bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer:
On February 2, Khyam is seen in a car with Khan and Tanweer. Khyam is dropped off at his residence in the town of Crawley. The other two are still monitored as Khan drives away. They are covertly photographed when they stop at a gas station in Toddington. Khan is also photographed at a Burger King. They arrive at West Yorkshire and the car is parked outside Khan’s family house. His precise address is written down. A check reveals the car is registered to Khan’s wife. In June 2004, MI5 will check the car’s registration again and find out it has been re-registered in the name of “Siddeque Khan.” [BBC, 4/30/2007]
On February 21, Khan is not seen directly, but his same car that was trailed on February 2 is seen parked outside a house in Crawley where a key four-and-a-half hour meeting is held preparing the fertilizer bomb plot. Khan and Tanweer probably attend the meeting, but there are technical problems with the surveillance so the meeting is not recorded.
At some point also on February 21, Khan and Khyam are recorded while Khyam is driving his car. Khan asks Khyam, “Are you really a terrorist?” Khyam replies, “They are working with us.” Khan then asks, “You are serious, you are basically…?” And Khyam replies, “I am not a terrorist, they are working through us.” Finally, Khan tells Khyam: “Who are? There is no one higher than you.” Later in the conversation, Khan says he is debating whether or not to say goodbye to his baby before going to Pakistan again. Khyam tells him: “I do not even live in Crawley any more. I moved out because in the next month they are going to be raiding big time all over the UK.” This is curious, because the next month there will be police raids, which result in the arrest of the group of bomb plotters based in the town of Crawley, including Khyam (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). [Independent, 4/30/2007; Daily Telegraph, 5/1/2007; London Times, 5/1/2007] Khan and Khyam discuss attending training camps in Pakistan. Khan asks, “How long to the training camp?” Khyam replies, “You’ll be going to the tribal areas, stay with families, you’ll be with Arab brothers, Chechen brothers, you’ll be told our operation later.” [Channel 4 News (London), 5/1/2007]
On February 28, 2004, Khyam, Khan, and Tanweer are monitored as Khan drives them around builders’ merchants as part of a fraud scheme the three of them are working on together. At one point, Khan says, “I’m going to tap HSBC [the British bank], if not I’ll just go with a balaclava and a shotgun.” Khan then drives them to another secret meeting, this one held at a shop in Wellingborough. The meeting is attended by the three of them and about seven others; it is unknown if it is recorded. As the three drive back from the meeting, Khan appears to be trying to lose a tail since he doubles back and takes other evasive maneuvers.
On March 21, Khan and Khyam are seen driving together. This time they are in a different car loaned to Khan by an auto shop, since the one used earlier was wrecked in a crash.
On March 23, 2004, Khyam, Khan, and Tanweer meet again. They drive to an Islamic bookshop and spend the afternoon there. They also go to the the apartment of another key suspect in the fertilizer bomb plot. Returning to Khyam’s residence, they discuss passports and raising funds from banks using fraudulent methods. Khan again discusses going to Pakistan with Tanweer. Khyam by this time has plans to flee Britain in early April. Although they do not say so explicitly, an informant named Mohammed Junaid Babar will later reveal that Khyam was planning to attend training camps in Pakistan with Khan and others. Several times, Khyam, Khan, and Tanweer are seen talking outside, which would suggest discussions about particularly sensitive matters. But only the inside of Khyam’s house is bugged and these outside talks are not recorded. Khan and Tanweer leave shortly before midnight.
Khyam’s phone is also being monitored, and Khan is in regular phone contact with him. But is it unknown how many calls are made or what is said. British intelligence will claim that that no overt references about bombings are made. [Independent, 4/30/2007; Daily Telegraph, 5/1/2007; London Times, 5/1/2007] But the Sunday Times will claim this is untrue, and that Khan was recorded discussing the building of a bomb and then his desire to leave Britain because there would be a lot of police activity after the bomb went off. He also is involved in “late-stage discussions” of the fertilizer bomb plot (see May 13-14, 2006). [Sunday Times (London), 5/14/2006] Furthermore, he is heard to pledge to carry out violence against non-Muslims. A tracking device is also placed on Khan’s car, although what becomes of this is unclear. [Associated Press, 4/30/2007] Photographs are sometimes taken of Khan and/or Tanweer. For instance, at some point Khan is photographed coming out of an Internet cafe. But despite all this evidence, investigators apparently conclude that Khan and Tanweer are “concerned with the fraudulent raising of funds rather than acts of terrorism.” They are not properly monitored (see March 29, 2004 and After). Khan and Tanweer apparently attend militant training camps in Pakistan later that year before blowing themselves up in 2005. Khyam is arrested on March 30, and is later sentenced to life in prison (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). [Independent, 4/30/2007; Daily Telegraph, 5/1/2007; London Times, 5/1/2007] In early 2005, investigators will finally look into details about the car Khan drove and the loaner car given to him by the auto shop, and they will learn his full name and address (if they don’t know it already). But apparently this will not result in any more surveillance of him (see January 27-February 3, 2005).
Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, leader of the Britain-based Al-Muhajiroun militant group, is interviewed. He says, “I believe Britain is harboring most of the Islamic opposition leaders of the Muslim world.… Because the British elites are very clever, they are not stupid like the Americans. Remember these people used to rule half of the world.… The British are not like the French and the Germans, they don’t slap you in the face, they stab you in the back. They want to buy some of these Islamic groups.” Asked if there ever has been “a secret deal between some Islamists and British security whereby radical Muslims would be left alone as long as they did not threaten British national security,” Bakri replies: “I believe all the people referred to as ‘moderate’ Muslims have at one time or another struck deals with the British government. But the British have been unable to corrupt radical groups” like Bakri’s group. He then defines moderate Muslims as “The Muslim Brotherhood in [Britain], UK Islamic Mission, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Iranian opposition groups, [and] the so-called [Iranian] Ahlul Bait groups.” Bakri also says, “I think everything I say and do is monitored.” He admits to being questioned by British intelligence “on at least 16 occasions,” but denies helping them. He says that the authorities have attempted to penetrate his organization, “as the British are desperate to buy intelligence.” Speaking about British intelligence agencies, he says: “their understanding of Islam is poor. But I believe the really clever people are the elites in this country, as they know how to divide Muslims.” [Spotlight on Terror, 3/23/2004] Bakri’s comments will take on new meaning when it is later revealed that he was an active informant for British intelligence (see Spring 2005-Early 2007).
Shehzad Tanweer (left) and Mohammad Sidique Khan (right) monitored at the Toddington Services gas station on February 2, 2004. [Source: Metropolitan Police]On March 29, 2004, 18 men suspected of involvement in an al-Qaeda linked fertilizer bomb plot are arrested in raids across Britain. Five of them, including head bomber Omar Khyam, will later be convicted and sentenced to life in prison for roles in the plot (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). Dozens more have been monitored in recent months as part of Operation Crevice, the effort by the British intelligence agency MI5 to foil the plot. Of those not arrested, 15 are classified as “essential targets” deserving heavy surveillance. An additional 40 are classified as “desirables,” with a lower level of surveillance. Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, future suicide bombers in the 7/7 London bombings, are both placed in the “desirables” group. Khan and Tanweer had been monitored repeatedly meeting and talking on the phone with head bomber Khyam. Khan was overheard saying incriminating things, like how he might hold up a British bank with a shotgun (see February 2-March 23, 2004). Incredibly, he was even recorded discussing how to build a bomb, his desire to leave Britain after the bomb went off, plans to wage jihad (holy war), and plans to attend al-Qaeda training camps in Pakistan (see May 13-14, 2006). But within weeks of the arrests of Khyam and the others, MI5 is distracted by another big surveillance operation focusing on Dhiren Barot, who is considered an important al-Qaeda leader living in Britain. As a result, the remaining Operation Crevice suspects are given lower priority and in fact Khan and Tanweer allegedly are not monitored at all. Additionally, even though MI5 knows the exact address where Khan lives, local police forces (which are not distracted by the Barot case) are not told that there are potential terrorism suspects who should be monitored. [London Times, 5/1/2007] Investigators will gather information about Khan’s car registration briefly in early 2005 and will learn his full name if they do not know it already, but it seems this will not lead to any more surveillance (see January 27-February 3, 2005). Apparently, Khan is also linked to Barot in some way, yet he is not arrested at the same time Barot and others are in August 2004, and he and the other 7/7 bombers still are not monitored after that (see August 3, 2004). As of 2007, only one of the 15 “essential targets” will be jailed for terrorism-related activity. [Associated Press, 4/30/2007]
In early April 2004, an al-Qaeda operative named Mohammed Junaid Babar is arrested in the US and tells the FBI all he knows about his militant associates and activities in return for a lighter sentence (see March 2004). Babar knows the head suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings, Mohammad Sidique Khan. In fact, he and Khan attended an al-Qaeda training camp together in the summer of 2003 (see July-September 2003). However, Babar only knows Khan by his alias “Ibrahim,” as operatives usually use an alias for security purposes. There are conflicting accounts as to what the British intelligence agency MI5 tells the FBI about Khan and what the FBI tells MI5 about him, and why knowledge of him does not stop the 7/7 bombings.
"Trouble" and "Should Be Checked Out" - According to the Independent, Babar tells the FBI some time before the 7/7 bombings that “Ibrahim” is “trouble” and “should be checked out.” He knows that “Ibrahim” has learned how to use weapons and explosives in a training camp and had plans to return to Pakistan to attend another training camp. [Independent, 4/30/2007]
Khan in Database - According to Newsweek, at some point before the 7/7 bombings, British officials send US intelligence agencies a database on about 2,000 people identified as contacts to a group of men arrested in March 2004 as part of a fertilizer bomb plot in Britain. The main plotters were arrested just days before Babar was, and he knows all of them. US officials later tell Newsweek that this database contains “sketchy” information about Khan and another 7/7 bombing suspect. [Newsweek, 6/21/2006]
Not Recognized in Photos - The London Times reports that a batch of surveillance photos are sent to the US to be viewed by Babar. But MI5 judges the quality of the two pictures they have of Khan (a black and white closed-circuit television image and a covertly taken color photo) too poor to be included. However, Scotland Yard does send pictures of Khan, and Babar fails to recognize him. [London Times, 5/1/2007]
Recognized in Photos - However, an Associated Press story claims that Babar does recognize Khan “from a blurred surveillance photograph” and also warns that Khan has sought meetings with al-Qaeda leaders. [Associated Press, 4/30/2007]
Photos Kept from Inquiry - It emerges that an official investigation into the 7/7 bombings by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) was only shown one surveillance photo of Khan. However, MI5 in fact had at least six photos of him. [Daily Mail, 5/2/2007]
Photo Identification Still Unresolved - In 2008, Babar will mention in court that he did tell the FBI about “Ibrahim” roughly a year before the July 2005 7/7 bombings. He told the FBI in detail how “Ibrahim” attended a training camp in Pakistan, and even appeared in a video promoting jihad in Britain with his face covered. However, Babar does not mention identifying him (or failing to identify him) in a photograph before the 7/7 bombings. [London Times, 4/19/2008] Khan and Babar were also monitored meeting with each other in England in 2003 (see 2003).
Top: training camp surveillance photo of Hussain Osman, one of the ‘copycat’ bombers. Bottom: training camp attendee practicing with a stick for a rifle. [Source: Metropolitan Police, Telegraph]On May 2, 2004, an off-duty British policeman named Paul Burke accidentally discovers a militant training camp in the Lake District region of Britain while jogging through the countryside. He sees a man shouting orders to a group of about 20 men as they line up and put backpacks on. The man leading the group is an Islamic preacher named Mohammed Hamid. A surveillance team is brought in and the training is observed and videotaped. Burke sees a similar group of men training at the same spot on May 29, and a surveillance team monitors several more days of weekend training. Muktar Ibrahim, Yassin Omar, Ramzi Mohammed, and Hussain Osman—the four men who will later go on to stage the failed 21/7 London bombings (see July 21, 2005), the attempt to copycat the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005)—are among the trainees who are monitored. They are seen conducting military type maneuvers, including training with mock rifles. MI5 records another weekend of training at the same spot in August. Muktar Ibrahim, the lead 21/7 bomber, is again monitored there. Atilla Ahmet, an imam who took over from Abu Hamza al-Masri as leader of the Finsbury Park mosque after Abu Hamza was jailed for incitement to murder, also sometimes attends the training camp. All four of the 21/7 bombers attend the Finsbury Park mosque, and two of them are photographed there—Ramzi Mohammed in January 2004 and Ibrahim in August 2004. All four are also photographed with Ahmet at some point. Hamid and Ahmet hold meetings together every Friday at Hamid’s house where they encourage new recruits to attend weekend training camps in the New Forest, the Lake District, or Scotland, and paintballing sessions in Berkshire and Kent. Head trainer Hamid and head 21/7 bomber Ibrahim are close to each other and jointly operate a stall selling Islamic literature in Oxford Street in London. In October 2004, both of them are arrested following a disturbance at their stall. Ibrahim is caught after trying to run from police. Hamid resists arrest and reportedly tells police, “I’ve got a bomb and I’m going to blow you all up.” At the police station, Hamid only identifies himself as “Osama bin London,” but a fingerprint check reveals his real name and an extensive criminal record for theft and burglary. However, Ibrahim and Hamid are merely charged and then released. Ibrahim will be stopped in December at a London airport while attempting to fly to Pakistan, and he will be recognized from the training camp surveillance photos, but he will be allowed to take his flight anyway (see December 2004). He will fail to turn up for his court hearing because he is in Pakistan, where he will study bomb making at a training camp. Authorities will not come in contact with him again until after the 21/7 bombings. Hamid will remain free after the 7/7 and 21/7 bombings and will brazenly continue leading the occasional weekend training camps. A bug will finally be placed in his house in September 2005. An undercover agent will pose as a new recruit and attend the training camp in 2006. Hamid will finally be arrested later that year. Hamid, Ahmet, and a number of their associates will be convicted of criminal activity relating to the training camp in 2008. The Telegraph will later comment, “Mohammed Hamid groomed the would-be [21/7] suicide bombers under the noses of watching police [and] security services.” [Daily Telegraph, 10/17/2007; Daily Telegraph, 2/27/2008; Daily Telegraph, 2/27/2008; Guardian, 3/8/2008]
The British intelligence service MI5 develops information showing that London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri has significant connections with radical militants, but fails to show this to Home Secretary David Blunkett. Blunkett apparently learns this information after Abu Hamza, who has been an MI5 informer (see Early 1997), is arrested in 2004 (see May 27, 2004). When Blunkett takes office in 2001, as he will later recall, there is an assumption that Abu Hamza “was a bigmouth and was worth tracking but wasn’t at the centre of events.” The security services have a “detailed trail” of networks, personal history, and high-level contacts showing that Abu Hamza is “a real threat and a danger,” but they do not tell Blunkett. He will reportedly be angry when he learns MI5 failed to inform him of the material. What material is provided to Blunkett and what is kept from him is unknown; MI5’s explanation for withholding the information is also unknown. Blunkett will later indicate that action should have been taken against Abu Hamza earlier: “It is clear now—and I think that those close to this would acknowledge it—that there were opportunities for having taken action. By putting the jigsaw together, it is possible for us to realize that this man was a danger becuase he was at the heart of organizing, glorifying, and persuading.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 284, 291]
An extremist arrested and interrogated in Saudi Arabia appears to disclose details of an operation that is strikingly similar to the 7/7 London bombings that will occur in mid-2005 (see July 7, 2005). However, the intelligence does not yield any results before the attacks, even though it is shared with the US and Britain. It will later be unclear whether the arrested man, known as Adel, provided a truthful account or was a fabricator who just happened to predict some details of the plot. Adel is arrested in Buraydah, Saudi Arabia, in late 2004 for using a fraudulent passport, and a memo on his interrogation dated December 14 of that year, which is sent to the CIA and British intelligence, seems to reveal details of a multifaceted operation. Some details match those of the actual attack: it is to be carried out by four people in London in the middle of 2005, some of them British citizens, and will include a location around “Edgewood Road” (one of the bombs will explode at Edgeware Road tube station). The target is said to be a subway station or a nightclub. However, Adel, who is said to know Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, also says the explosives will come from Bosnia and the plot will be coordinated by a Libyan businessman in London, who will help with safe houses and transport. In addition, one of the bombers is said to have tattoos on his fingers. The Saudis send Britain and the US a second report in February 2005, providing more details about the alleged bombers, who are supposed to be from different countries, although there are also apparently Caucasian British and Germans involved. The CIA checks a Syrian phone number mentioned in one of the memos, but finds nothing. [Woodward, 2006, pp. 400-2; Observer, 2/5/2006] After the bombings, Saudi ambassador to London Prince Turki will say in a statement, “There was certainly close liaison between the Saudi Arabian intelligence authorities and the British intelligence authorities some months ago, when information was passed to Britain about a heightened terrorist threat to London,” although it is unclear whether this statement refers to this warning, another Saudi warning about a possible attack in Britain (see April 2005 or Shortly Before), or both. [New Statesman, 11/1/2007] Interest in the detainee will be revived after the attack and even President Bush will become involved, but veteran reporter Bob Woodward, who examines the story in a 2006 book, will conclude that Adel is a fabricator. [Woodward, 2006, pp. 400-2] However, a Saudi security adviser will later say that he is “convinced” the information passed on was “directly linked” to the 7/7 bombings. [Observer, 2/5/2006]
British police investigate Mohammad Sidique Khan, who will be the head suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings later in the year (see July 7, 2005). In March 2004, Khan’s car had been in a crash and he had been loaned a courtesy car by an auto shop while it was being repaired. That same month, MI5 monitored Khan driving the loaned car with Omar Khyam, a key figure in the 2004 fertilizer bomb plot (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004 and February 2-March 23, 2004). On January 27, 2005, police take a statement from the manager of the auto shop. The manager says the car was loaned to a “Mr. S Khan,” and gives Khan’s mobile phone number and two addresses associated with him. MI5 had followed Khan to one of these addresses in February 2004 after Khan had met with Khyam and dropped him off at his residence (see February 2-March 23, 2004). Then, on February 3, 2005, an officer from Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorism branch asks questions to the company which had insured Khan’s car. The officer learns Khan registered the car in his own name and the name of his mother-in-law. None of this information will be presented in the 2006 investigation into the 7/7 bombings by the government’s Intelligence and Security Committee. This also contradicts repeated assertions by government officials that Khan’s name was not known before the bombings. The Guardian will comment when this information comes to light in 2007: “The revelation suggests Khan was being investigated much nearer to the London bombings than has been officially admitted. The discovery that Khan was reinvestigated the following year appears to contradict claims from MI5 that inquiries about him came to an end in 2004 after it was decided that other terrorism suspects warranted more urgent investigation.” [Guardian, 5/3/2007] In early 2004, MI5 classified Khan a suspect worth investigating, but went after higher priority suspects first (see March 29, 2004 and After). It is unknown if any more action is taken on him before the July bombings.
Mohammad Sidique Khan passing through immigration control in Karachi, Pakistan, in February 2005. [Source: Public domain]British intelligence receives a report naming two people with extremist views who had traveled to Afghanistan. Apparently only their aliases are given, because the British intelligence agency MI5 tries and fails to discover who they are. Only after the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005) does it learn that one of them was Mohammad Sidique Khan, the head 7/7 suicide bomber. [Observer, 1/14/2007] Khan traveled to training camps in Pakistan several times, most recently from November 2004 to February 2005. He returned to Britain on the same flight as Shehzad Tanweer, another one of the 7/7 suicide bombers (see November 18, 2004-February 8, 2005).
“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.” [Time, 5/27/2002]
After the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), an official at the Saudi Arabian embassy will tell a British journalist that before the attack Saudi Arabia provided intelligence to Britain that was sufficient to dismantle the plot, but British authorities failed to act on it. The information is quite detailed, containing names of senior al-Qaeda members said to be involved in the plot, including Kareem al-Majati, whose calls the Saudis have been intercepting and who may have been in contact with lead bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan. Al-Majati is said to have been involved in attacks in Morocco (see May 16, 2003) and Madrid (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), before being killed in a shoot-out in Saudi Arabia in April 2005. Calls from Younes al-Hayari, an al-Qaeda logistics expert and al-Majati’s lieutenant, are also traced to Britain. Al-Hayari will die in a shootout in Saudi Arabia four days before the 7/7 bombings. Details of calls, e-mails, and text messages between an al-Qaeda cell in Saudi Arabia and a group in Britain are passed on to the British intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6. After the bombings, Saudi ambassador to Britain Prince Turki al-Faisal issues a statement, “There was certainly close liaison between the Saudi Arabian intelligence authorities and the British intelligence authorities some months ago, when information was passed to Britain about a heightened terrorist threat to London,” although it is not clear if this statement refers to this warning, another Saudi warning about a possible attack in Britain (see December 14, 2004-February 2005), or both. The public response by British authorities when asked about this alleged warning changes over time; initially they deny having received it at all, but after the issue is reignited by King Abdullah in 2007 (see October 29, 2007), they will say that the warning was not specific enough to act on. [Observer, 8/7/2005; New Statesman, 11/1/2007]
A top-secret British government memo warns that Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war means that Britain will be a likely al-Qaeda target “for many years to come.” The memo, written by the Joint Intelligence Committee, the senior intelligence body in Britain which issues threat assessments, is entitled International Terrorism: Impact of Iraq. It is approved by the heads of Britain’s main intelligence agencies, MI5 and MI6. The memo states: “There is a clear consensus within the [British] extremist community that Iraq is a legitimate jihad and should be supported. Iraq has re-energized and re-focused a wide range of networks in [Britain].… We judge that the conflict in Iraq has exacerbated the threat from international terrorism and will continue to have an impact in the long term. It has reinforced the determination of terrorists who were already committed to attacking the West and motivated others who were not.… Iraq is likely to be an important motivating factor for some time to come in the radicalization of British Muslims and for those extremists who view attacks against [Britain] as legitimate.” It also says that Iraq is being used as a “training ground and base” for terrorists, and that terrorists are freely moving between Iraq and Britain. The memo is written in April 2005, but will not be leaked to the press until April 2006. It is circulated to Prime Minister Tony Blair and other top British officials before the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005). But after those bombings, Blair will repeatedly contradict the memo’s conclusions in public statements, denying any link between the Iraq war and an increase in terrorist activity in Britain. Blair will say that an “evil ideology,” not the war, has motivated suicide bombers, and, “The people who are responsible for terrorist attacks are terrorists.” [Sunday Times (London), 4/2/2006]
Eliza Manningham-Buller, director general of the British domestic intelligence agency MI5, tells senior members of British parliament (MPs) that there is no imminent terrorist threat to London or the rest of Britain. This takes place less than 24 hours before the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005). Manningham-Buller’s comments are made at a private meeting of about a dozen leading MPs from the ruling Labour party at the House of Commons. Such meetings have been held on an irregular basis since the 9/11 attacks, although it was unusual for the head of MI5 to attend. The Guardian will later comment, “the disclosure that MI5 had been so completely taken by surprise on July 7 will fuel calls for a public or independent inquiry into the events leading up to [the 7/7 bombings].” [Guardian, 1/9/2007]
The outgoing Saudi ambassador to Britain, Prince Turki al-Faisal, criticizes the Blair government over its lack of response to terrorism and says that MI5 is hampering efforts to clamp down. Prince Turki describes his experience: “When you call somebody, he says it is the other guy. If you talk to the security people, they say it is the politicians’ fault. If you talk to the politicians, they say it is the Crown Prosecution Service. If you call the Crown Prosecution service, they say, no, it is MI5. So we have been in this runaround…” Turki particularly criticizes the government’s failure to act against Saad al-Fagih of the movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia and Mohammed al-Massari. Al-Fagih is accused of being involved in the 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) and a plot to assassinate King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. [London Times, 8/10/2005]
Azhari Husin. [Source: Public domain]According to the 2007 edition of a book about the Mossad entitled “Gideon’s Spies,” shortly after the 7/7 London subway bombings (see July 7, 2005), the British domestic intelligence agency MI5 gathers evidence that a senior al-Qaeda operative known only by the alias Mustafa traveled in and out of England shortly before the 7/7 bombings. For months, the real identity of Mustafa remains unknown. But in early October 2005, the Mossad tells MI5 that this person actually was Azhari Husin, a bomb making expert with Jemaah Islamiyah, the main al-Qaeda affiliate in Southeast Asia. Husin used to study in Britain and reports claim that he met the main 7/7 bomber, Mohammad Sidique Khan, in late 2001 in a militant training camp in the Philippines (see Late 2001). Meir Dagan, the head of the Mossad, apparently also tells MI5 that Husin helped plan and recruit volunteers for the bombings. The Mossad claims that Husin may have been in London at the time of the bombings, and then fled to al-Qaeda’s main safe haven in the tribal area of Pakistan, where he sometimes hides after bombings. Husin will be killed in a shootout in Indonesia in November 2005. [Thomas, 2007, pp. 520, 522] Later official British government reports about the 7/7 bombings will not mention Husin.
The British government releases two official reports into the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005). One report is from the Intelligence and Security Committee, which is not a House of Commons committee, but a Cabinet Office committee appointed by the prime minister in consultation with the leader of the opposition. It concludes that two of the 7/7 bombers had been under surveillance, but while there were “intelligence gaps,” there was no evidence of an “intelligence failure that could have prevented the bombings.” British intelligence was justified in not devoting more resources to monitor the 7/7 bombers. The second report is a “narrative of events” by the Home Office. It acknowledges that British foreign policy was an element in the radicalization of the bombers, but concludes that British involvement in the Iraq war was not a key contributory factor behind the bombings. It highlights the “home-grown” nature of the bombers. It acknowledges that the bombers were inspired by Osama bin Laden’s ideology, but says that there is no evidence so far pointing to a direct al-Qaeda link or a mastermind in addition to the four suicide bombers. The Guardian editorial board criticizes the reports, and says that they are unlikely to quiet calls for an independent public inquiry. “The purpose of such reports is to draw lessons and point to ways of improving the public’s safety. In this respect neither report is entirely satisfactory. Each report leaves important questions hanging in the air. Each report tells a story of serious official failure. The failures were particular and general. Two of the 7/7 gang, [Mohammad Sidique] Khan and [Shehzad] Tanweer, were known to the security services. Both had visited Pakistan for extended periods in the months before their suicide mission. Khan, in particular, was already of considerable interest to MI5. It is MI5’s job to collate, to sift, to match and to interpret information of this kind. Patently, the service failed to do that in these cases. This seems not to have been purely a matter of inadequate resources. It was also an operational failure, and thus a failure for which management must take responsibility. The new home secretary, John Reid, gave no indication yesterday that this has happened.” [Guardian, 5/11/2006; Guardian, 5/12/2006] Yet within days, it will be revealed that key evidence had been withheld from the Intelligence and Security Committee that directly contradicts its conclusion that British intelligence was justified in not monitoring the 7/7 bombers more closely (see May 13-14, 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).
A report by the Center on Law and Security (CLS) finds that the “Iraq effect” is costing lives around the world. The report finds that the Iraq occupation is directly to blame for an upsurge in fundamentalist violence worldwide. It finds that the number killed in jihadist attacks around the world has risen dramatically since the Iraq war began in March 2003, comparing the period between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq with the period since the invasion. The count—excluding the Arab-Israel conflict—shows the number of deaths due to terrorism rose from 729 to 5,420. Iraq has served as the catalyst for a ferocious fundamentalist backlash, according to the study, which says that the number of those killed by Islamists within Iraq rose from 7 to 3,122. A similar rise in attacks has occurred in Afghanistan, Chechnya, in the Kashmir region between India and Pakistan, and throughout Europe. Both President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair insist that the opposite is true. Bush has said, “If we were not fighting and destroying the enemy in Iraq, they would not be idle. They would be plotting and killing Americans across the world and within our borders. By fighting these terrorists in Iraq, Americans in uniform are defeating a direct threat to the American people.” Blair insists that the Iraq war was not been responsible for Muslim fundamentalist attacks such as the 7/7 London bombings which killed 52 people (see July 7, 2005). “Iraq, the region and the wider world is a safer place without Saddam,” Blair said in July 2004. [Independent, 3/1/2007]
Mohamed returning to London. [Source: Lewis Whyld / Associated Press]Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001, February 8, 2009, and February 9, 2009) is released from Guantanamo, and returns to Great Britain. He is flown to Britain on a private chartered Gulfstream jet similar to those used by the CIA in “extraordinary renditions.” His sister, Zuhra Mohamed, meets him at the RAF Northolt airbase in west London, and tells reporters: “I am so glad and so happy, more than words can express. I am so thankful for everything that was done for Binyam to make this day come true.” His lawyers claim that he has suffered severe physical and psychological abuse, some of which was inflicted in recent days. He suffers from what his lawyers call a huge range of injuries. Doctors have found Mohamed suffering from extensive bruising, organ damage, stomach complaints, malnutrition, sores to feet and hands, and severe damage to ligaments. His weight has dropped from around 170 pounds to 125 pounds. His lawyers say he suffers from serious emotional and psychological problems, which have been exacerbated by the refusal of Guantanamo officials to provide him with counseling. Mohamed’s British lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, says his client had been beaten “dozens” of times, with the most recent abuse occurring in the last few weeks (see September 2004 and After). “He has a list of physical ailments that cover two sheets of A4 paper,” says Stafford Smith. “What Binyam has been through should have been left behind in the middle ages.” Mohamed’s American military lawyer, Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Bradley, adds: “He has been severely beaten. Sometimes I don’t like to think about it because my country is behind all this.” Britain’s former Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, an advocate for the closure of Guantanamo, says that allegations of abuse against Mohamed, a British resident, should be raised by Foreign Secretary David Miliband with his American counterpart, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “If there are credible accounts of mistreatment then they need to be pursued,” Goldsmith says.
Care Provided upon Return - Upon his return to Britain, Mohamed will receive physical care and emotional counseling in a secure, secret location by a team of volunteer doctors and psychiatrists. He will be kept under a “voluntary security arrangement,” where he must report regularly to authorities, but will not be subject to charges or anti-terror control orders. The US dropped all charges against Mohamed last year, including allegations that he had participated in a “dirty bomb” plot. [Guardian, 2/22/2009; Guardian, 2/24/2009]
MI5 to Be Investigated? - At least one MI5 officer may face a criminal investigation over his alleged complicity in torturing Mohamed (see February 24, 2009). And Mohamed’s future testimony is expected to shed light upon MI5’s own participation in his interrogation and alleged torture; Mohamed may sue the British government and MI5, Britain’s counter-intelligence and security service, over its alleged complicity in his detention, abduction, treatment, and interrogation. If filed, Mohamed’s lawsuit could force US and British authorities to disclose vital evidence regarding Mohamed’s allegations of torture. [Guardian, 2/22/2009]
Former Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001), a British citizen who suffered extensive abuse during his detention (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004 and February 8, 2009) and is just now released (see February 22-24, 2009), says in a written statement that British officials from MI5 played an integral part in his abduction and torture at the hands of the CIA and Moroccan officials. Senior MPs say they intend to investigate his claims. Just after his arrival in London, Mohamed tells reporters: “For myself, the very worst moment came when I realized in Morocco that the people who were torturing me were receiving questions and materials from British intelligence.… I had met with British intelligence in Pakistan. I had been open with them. Yet the very people who I had hoped would come to my rescue, I later realized, had allied themselves with my abusers.” Days later, the Daily Mail will obtain documents from Mohamed’s American court proceedings that show MI5 agents twice gave CIA agents lists of questions they wanted to have asked, as well as dossiers of photographs. [Guardian, 2/24/2009; Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
Gives Primary Blame to CIA - Mohamed places the bulk of the blame on his rendition and torture on the CIA, and says, “It is still difficult for me to believe that I was abducted, hauled from one country to the next, and tortured in medieval ways—all orchestrated by the United States government.” [Scotsman, 2/24/2009]
'They Sold Me Out' - Mohamed will later say that he reached his “lowest ebb” when he realized British agents were involved in his interrogation and torture. “They started bringing British files to the interrogations,” he will recall, “not one, but several of them, thick binders, some of them containing sheaves of photos of people who lived in London and places there like mosques. It was obvious the British were feeding them questions about people in London. When I realized that the British were co-operating with the people who were torturing me, I felt completely naked.… They sold me out.” The documents indicate that MI5 did not know where Mohamed was being held, but that its agents knew he was in a third nation’s custody through the auspices of the CIA. MI5 agents met with their CIA counterparts in September 2002, well after Mohamed’s rendition to Morocco, to discuss the case. [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
False Confession - He suffered tortures in Pakistan (see April 10-May, 2002), Morocco, and Afghanistan (see January-September 2004), including being mutilated with scalpels, a mock execution, sleep deprivation for days, being fed contaminated food, and being beaten for hours while hanging by his wrists from shackles in the ceiling. He says that the closest he came to losing his mind entirely was when, in US custody in Afghanistan, he was locked in a cell and forced to listen to a CD of rap music played at ear-shattering volume 24 hours a day for a month. It was these tortures that drove him to confess to being part of a plot to build a radioactive “dirty bomb” (see November 4, 2005), a confession he now says was untrue and given merely to avoid further torment. He also confessed to meeting Osama bin Laden and getting a passport from 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed: “None of it was true.” [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
'Zero Doubt' of British Complicity - His lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, says Mohamed is being cared for under the auspices of his legal team, and is “incredibly skinny and very emaciated.” Stafford Smith says he has “zero doubt” Britain was complicit in his client’s ill-treatment. “Britain knew he was being abused and left him,” he says. Stafford Smith also says Mohamed was subjected to “very serious abuse” in Guantanamo. Mike Gapes, the chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, says he intends to question Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch Brown over “outstanding issues,” which include “rendition, what happened to people in Guantanamo Bay, and black sites,” a reference to prisons in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Two British judges say they are suppressing “powerful evidence” of Mohamed’s torture at the insistence of Miliband and US authorities (see February 4, 2009). [Guardian, 2/24/2009] Miliband says Mohamed’s release was effected due to “intensive negotiations with the US government,” in which he played a key part. Edward Davey of the Liberal Democrats has little use for Miliband’s claims, saying, “It is telling that David Miliband is unable to give a straightforward yes or no as to whether British agents and officials have been complicit in torture,” and adds that “Mohamed’s case may just be the tip of the iceberg.” [Scotsman, 2/24/2009]
Evidence that MI5 Lied - The new revelations about MI5’s involvement contradict the testimony of MI5 officials, who in 2007 told Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee that the agency had no idea that Mohamed had been subjected to “extraordinary rendition” to Morocco or anywhere else. The Daily Mail will note, “The revelations will put Foreign Secretary David Miliband under even greater pressure to come clean about British involvement in the rendition and alleged torture of Muslim terror suspects.” [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
A man on board Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit is subdued by passengers after attempting to detonate a makeshift bomb hidden in his undergarments. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old man from Nigeria, tries to ignite a mixture of plastic and liquid explosives sewn into his underwear as the Airbus 330 makes its final descent into Detroit. Abdulmutallab is set afire and suffers serious burns along with two other passengers, is detained by passengers and crew, and is arrested after landing. The suspect previously flew on a KLM flight from Lagos to Amsterdam. MI5 and US intelligence officials begin an investigation into his social ties and background. Abdulmutallab is the son of a wealthy Nigerian banker and studied engineering at University College London for three years until June 2008. His father claims to have informed Nigerian and American officials of his son’s increasingly unusual behavior and activities. US officials allegedly placed the 23-year-old on a list of suspected extremists, yet he possesses a US visa valid from June 2008 to June 2010, and appears on no lists prohibiting air travel to the US. Following the event, the US government will request that all passengers traveling from Britain to the US be subjected to additional personal and baggage searches. Security measures at US airports will also be heightened. [The Telegraph, 12/26/2009; New York Times, 12/26/2009]
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