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MI5 judged bomber 'no threat'

London Times | July 17 2005

ONE of the four suicide terrorists behind the London bomb attacks was scrutinised by MI5 last year, but was judged not to be a threat to national security, a senior government official said yesterday.
As a result, MI5 failed to put him under surveillance and his plans to become a suicide bomber remained undetected.

Mohammed Sidique Khan, a 30-year-old teaching assistant from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, who killed six other passengers when he blew himself up on a Tube at Edgware Road, was the subject of a routine threat assessment by MI5 officers after his name cropped up during an investigation in 2004.

That inquiry focused on an alleged plot to explode a 600lb truck bomb outside a target in London, thought to be a crowded Soho nightclub.

This weekend, as the death toll from the terrorist attacks rose to 55 and Scotland Yard released the first CCTV image of the four bombers, it emerged that MI5 found out in 2004 that Khan had been visiting a house used by a man who had met one of the suspected truck-bomb plotters. However, MI5 officers subsequently decided that because Khan was only “indirectly linked” to one of the bomb suspects he was not considered a risk. The intelligence service took no further interest in him.

The government official said a “quick assessment” had been made of Khan at the time. Like hundreds of others linked to the inquiry, he was judged to be “on the periphery” of the suspect cell’s network.

“You made quick assessments of them to decide whether or not they were a threat. None of the other people were a threat, including Khan,” the official said.

He conceded that the agency might be accused of being at fault if it turned out that it had overlooked a terrorist suspect. “MI5 is fair game at the moment,” he said. “We’ve only got finite resources. You can only concentrate resources on those people who are a direct threat to national security.”

He said extra funding to pay for 1,000 more MI5 staff, which was agreed last year, had only just started coming on stream.

The decision behind the assessment is now being urgently reviewed in the light of Khan’s role in the London attacks and further claims about his suspected terrorist background.

Two American intelligence officials said last Friday that Khan was known to Mohammed Junaid Babar, who pleaded guilty in June 2004 to providing material support to Al-Qaeda.

Babar has admitted setting up a training camp for Islamist terrorists in Afghanistan. He has told prosecutors that he worked to aid a plot to blow up pubs, train stations and restaurants in Britain.

Last Thursday he identified a photograph of Khan as that of a man he had met in Pakistan, according to an American official. Scotland Yard is trying to establish whether any of the suicide bombers were radicalised in religious schools in Pakistan.

Khan’s parents said their son may have been brainwashed into launching the attack. “We are devastated that our son may have been brainwashed into carrying out such an atrocity, since we know him as a kind and caring member of our family,” they said.

In the statement issued through West Yorkshire police they apologised to the victims’ relatives: “The Khan family would like to sincerely express their deepest and heartfelt sympathies to all the innocent victims and their families and friends affected by this horrific and evil act.”

This weekend British and American intelligence were at odds over a second possible intelligence failure. American officials claim Germaine Lindsay, a second London bomber, was on a terrorist watchlist and that MI5 failed to monitor him.
Lindsay, a 19-year-old Jamaican-born convert to Islam, blew himself up on a Tube train just after it left King’s Cross station on the way to Russell Square. At least 26 other people were killed. Like Hasib Hussain, 18, who blew himself up on a bus in Tavistock Square, and Shahzad Tanweer, 22, who exploded his device at Aldgate, Lindsay was carrying a rucksack bomb with about 10lb of home-made high explosives.

Bomb disposal experts found another nine bombs in Lindsay’s red Fiat, which had been left in the car park at Luton railway station. The CCTV image released by Scotland Yard yesterday showed the four bombers carrying rucksacks as they entered Luton station at 7.21am on Thursday, July 7.

Intelligence has connected Lindsay to a “bomb factory” in Beeston, Leeds, where the terror cell and its “chemist” are believed to have stored materials to make bombs.

Reports in the American media yesterday linked him to previous terrorist-related inquiries in the United States.

One report, since denied by Whitehall officials, said Lindsay had been placed under FBI surveillance when he visited America four years ago.

“He was on the radar, then he was off the radar,” an American official said.

Some US officials claimed Lindsay had also featured in the London truck-bomb plot to which Khan was indirectly linked. The British authorities yesterday said they were not aware of any such intelligence.

A Home Office official said he believed the Americans had confused Lindsay with another man with a similar name. “They may have got the wrong end of the stick. But we are following it up because the Americans have plastered it everywhere,” he said.

Yesterday Lindsay’s family spoke of their horror at his crime. Samantha Lewthwaite, his wife, said she had “never predicted or imagined that he was involved in such horrific activities”, adding: “He was a loving husband and father.”

MI5 is now reviewing all its Islamist terror investigations since 2000. They include Operation Large, which recovered home-made explosives in a house in the West Midlands. An official said: “We are looking at all current and past counter-terrorism operations to see if any of these four men featured in them.”

Criticism of security lapses in the build-up to the London bombs has also focused on reports that an Al-Qaeda suspect was allowed to enter the country three weeks before the outrages, possibly by ferry to Dover.

Early intelligence received by MI5 indicated that the man, a 33-year-old Briton of Pakistani origin, had flown out of Heathrow the night before the bombings. There was initial concern that he might have been the “mastermind” behind the attacks and that he had met the four bombers and helped them choose their targets.

Investigators said this weekend those reports may prove to be a case of mistaken identity.

Nonetheless, critics say the case highlights the “porous” nature of Britain’s borders. David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said he had been told there were only 900 Special Branch officers guarding Britain’s ports, 500 short of the official complement. This claim has been verified by senior police officers.

Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said reports of the alleged mastermind’s trip to Britain threw up questions about a lack of police and intelligence resources. He said he would raise the issue with Charles Clarke, the home secretary.
MI5 will use its increased funding to open eight regional offices this year, including one in the northwest that will cover Leeds and Dewsbury, where three of the bombers lived.

It will increase its manpower by 50% to 3,000 officers by 2008. An official said it took a long time to recruit and train intelligence officers. It was too early to tell if ministers would promise to add extra money to the pre-existing spending plans.

Tony Blair yesterday said the bombers were motivated by an “evil ideology” rather than opposition to the invasion of Iraq.

The prime minister told party activists that it would be “a misunderstanding of a catastrophic order” to think a change in foreign policy would appease the terrorists.

Sir Ian Blair, commissioner of the Metropolitan police, said he believed the organisers of the attacks were still alive.

“We expect to find that there is a clear Al-Qaeda link, a clear Al-Qaeda approach, because the four men who are dead, who we believe are the bombers, are in the category of foot soldiers,” he said.

Scotland Yard is continuing to search seven addresses in West Yorkshire and Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. Yesterday police were granted a warrant to further detain a 29-year-old man, being questioned in a London police station, on suspicion of the commission or preparation of terrorist acts.

The Egyptian government said it did not believe that a 33-year-old Egyptian biochemist arrested in Cairo because of alleged links to the Leeds bomb factory had had any knowledge of the attacks.


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