Richard Norton-Taylor and Vikram Dodd/ The Guardian – 2006-06-07 10:27:38
LONDON (June 5, 2006) — Counter-terrorism officials conceded yesterday that lethal chemical devices they feared had been stored at an east London house raided on Friday may never have existed.
Confidence among officials appeared to be waning as searches at the address continued to yield no evidence of a plot for an attack with cyanide or other chemicals. A man was shot during the raid, adding to pressure on the authorities for answers about the accuracy of the intelligence that led them to send 250 officers to storm the man’s family home at dawn.
Officials are not yet prepared to admit the intelligence was wrong. But there is diminishing optimism that it will be shown to wholly or even partially correct. Speaking of the feared chemical devices, one official said: “They might be elsewhere or never existed.”
The raid, at 4am on Friday, was launched after MI5 received intelligence from an informant of the existence of a viable chemicial device at the property, which was to be used in an attack in Britain with the potential for substantial loss of life.
During the raid a 23-year-old Muslim man was shot, and he and his brother were arrested on suspicion of terrorism.
Scotland Yard said yesterday that searches at the property would continue for several days. Sources with responsibility for the security of the transport system, one of the most likely targets of a chemical device, say they have not been made aware the searches have produced any trace of a chemical device, either at the address in east London or elsewhere.
“So far nothing from the search bears out the intelligence,” said one source. The Guardian has learned that over the weekend police intensified their planning for dealing with community anger if it turns out the intelligence was wrong.
Security and intelligence officials yesterday defended the decision to raid the house: “We have a duty of care to the general public, we can’t do [police anti-terrorist] operations by halves,” said one official.
A senior police source explained the police’s dilemma: “In other crime you can take a risk to firm up the intelligence. The trouble with this new world of terrorism is you don’t have the time, you can’t firm up the intelligence to the point you like.
“The public may have to get used to this sort of incident, with the police having to be safe rather than sorry.” Anti-terrorism police yesterday began questioning the man shot in the raid, after his release from hospital. His lawyer named him as Mohammed Abdul Kahar, 23, who with his brother Abul Koyair, 20, protest their innocence and deny any link to Islamist extremism.
Mr Koyair’s solicitor, Julian Young, denied media reports that his client had any criminal convictions. Lawyers for the men also denied a report that Mr Kahar had been shot by his brother after grappling with an armed police officer for his gun.
Mr Kahar’s solicitor, Kate Roxburgh, said the 23-year-old Royal Mail worker had been shot in the upper right hand side of his chest, with the bullet exiting through his shoulder on an upwards trajectory. She said his brother had been standing behind Mr Kahar at the time.
Both solicitors said there had been no struggle before the shot was fired without warning, but Ms Roxburgh said Mr Kahar had grabbed the gun after he was shot fearing it would be fired again, leaving him with a burn to his hand from the hot barrel.
Intelligence behind Raid Was Wrong, Officials Say
Vikram Dodd, Sandra Laville and Richard Norton-Taylor / The Guardian
LONDON (June 6, 2006) — Senior counter-terrorism officials now believe that the intelligence that led to the raid on a family house last Friday in a search for a chemical device about to be used to attack Britain was wrong, the Guardian has learned.
Counter-terrorism officials were under pressure last night after days of meticulous search of the house in east London failed to produce anything to link the two men they arrested to a chemical plot. But a senior police officer said they had been left with “no choice” but to force entry into the house because there was specific intelligence of a threat to public safety.
One official, with knowledge why police acted and what had been found from days of searching, said the intelligence had been acted on correctly, but added last night: “There is no viable device at that house. There is no device being constructed, or chemicals. There does not appear to be anything there or anywhere else.”
As lawyers for the two arrested men continued to protest their innocence, it emerged that the man who had passed the specific information that led to the raid in which a man was shot last Friday was a police informant who had been providing intelligence about the activities of alleged Islamist militants for several weeks.
This was despite previous reports quoting police sources that suggested the informant was being handled by the security service, MI5. It was the police who passed the information from the informant to MI5 officers to assess it, the Guardian understands. MI5 and police then agreed the information was specific and credible and made a joint decision it had to be acted upon immediately.
It is understood that attempts to corroborate the information were not made because of the perceived need to act quickly. “If there was an immediate risk to public safety, there would not have been time to bug the house,” an intelligence source said. A counter-terrorism official said: “If the intelligence was right there was a serious risk to the public. We did not know if it was right or not until we went in.” Another official added: “Intelligence is patchy. Even if it suggests a 5% likelihood of something nasty, we can’t take that risk”.
But what remains puzzling is the reliance on a single apparently uncorroborated source for information that prompted a high-profile mass raid which, even without the shooting of one of the men, would have provoked a strong reaction. Andy Hayman, the Met’s assistant commissioner specialist operations, refused to apologise for the raid yesterday while admitting that so far officers had not found the specific item they were looking for – thought to be a chemical device – in the terraced house in Forest Gate which was the subject of a pre-dawn raid involving more than 250 officers, including armed teams and government scientists.
He refused to end the confusion about the raid or clarify how a 23-year-old man was shot during the operation. The Independent Police Complaints Commission is likely to take months to produce a report on the shooting.
Mr Hayman said officers had “no choice” but to mobilise a large number of officers and force entry into the house in Lansdown Road at 4am. During the operation Mohammed Abdul Kahar was shot before being arrested with his 20-year-old brother, Abul Koyair. Both men were being held at Paddington Green police station last night, although officers have yet to begin interviewing Mr Kahar because of his injury.
“The ideal situation is you have as much time as you possibly can to get the richest of pictures,” Mr Hayman said. “The dilemma is in receiving information that is so specific and of a nature that starts to put public safety into question, there is no real decision to be made. You have got to take public safety as an overriding priority.
“If you chose not to do that and heaven forbid it was a wrong decision and there was some device or whatever else, you would never be able to live with yourself, that you shied away from deciding to intervene.”
He revealed that officers would continue examining No 46 Lansdown Road, and the neighbouring house which was owned by the family until at least the end of the week. “We haven’t found what we went in there to look for yet but we have still got a number of days.” So far officers have removed documents from in the men’s rooms and computers.
Kate Roxburgh, the solicitor representing Mr Kahar, said: “He is very anti-terrorism. He is very keen on police pursuing their inquiries but obviously he is not happy that they have focused on him. He cannot think of any involvement with anybody – or anybody who might be involved in terrorism.”
Julian Young, Mr Koyair’s solicitor, said: “He continues to deny any involvement in the commission, preparation or instigation of any acts of terrorism.”
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