Peter Taylor / BBC Panorama – 2007-05-04 08:09:25
Did MI5 miss the London bomber?
Peter Taylor / BBC Panorama
Britain’s biggest terrorism trial has just ended with the conviction of men who conspired to build a massive homemade bomb. But with the lifting of reporting restrictions, Panorama reveals the truth about what MI5 really knew about the July 2005 London bombers.
The public has never been told the full story about the links between the fertiliser bomb plot, known as Operation Crevice, and two of the 7 July suicide bombers.
But was there an opportunity to identify them in advance? Did the security services make a serious mistake and was an opportunity missed? Panorama believes the evidence clearly indicates there was – but that it does not necessarily mean that the attacks could have been prevented.
The missed opportunity happened during an MI5 surveillance operation on 2 and 3 February 2004 – 17 months before the London bombings. The officers were watching Omar Khyam, the ringleader of the fertiliser bomb plot.
2 FEB 2004: FIRST SURVEILLANCE
• 1: MI5 team watching Omar Khyam in Crawley spot him in a car with Khan and Shehzad Tanweer.
• 2: MI5 tails Khan and Tanweer after they leave Crawley. Officers photograph Khan at M1 Toddington Services, Bedfordshire.
• 3: Khan reaches West Yorkshire. Car seen parking outside family home in Dewsbury. Checks reveal car registered to Khan’s wife. No further action taken.
They had been watching Khyam for almost a year after he had first appeared on their radar in Luton as part of an investigation into suspected Al Qaeda connections in the UK.
By February 2004, they had stepped up their surveillance – but Scotland Yard’s Anti-Terrorist Branch were not yet involved as at the time it was a purely MI5 intelligence gathering operation.
On 2 February, MI5 officers noted two strangers talking to Khyam. They would later turn out to be Mohammed Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer – two of the London suicide bombers.
I have seen MI5’s surveillance log – and what it records happened next. The details were never revealed in court because of reporting restrictions. According to the log, a Honda car, registration R480 CCA, was seen in Langley Parade, Crawley. Omar was in the passenger seat and the driver was Khan.
MI5 ran a check on ownership of the vehicle. The name meant nothing at the time. It was registered in the name of Khan’s wife. Although they did not know who he was, the officers followed the car after it left Crawley, not knowing where it was going. After Khyam was dropped off, Khan drove onto the M1 and headed north.
When it stopped for petrol at Toddington services, MI5’s log states that photographs were taken of the passengers. MSK was covertly snapped in the vicinity of Burger King at the entrance to the services’ refreshment area.
Was the photograph clear enough to identify him? The intelligence services say the quality was very poor. But other sources who have seen it told me that Khan was identifiable. Panorama asked to see the photograph, but the request was refused. We understand that one other photograph, said to be of marginally inferior quality, was subsequently taken of MSK going into an undisclosed internet café.
Followed to Leeds
According to MI5’s log, officers followed the Honda for a further 150 miles to Leeds. It notes the addresses and locations where some of the passengers got out.
The Honda, with Khan at the wheel, was eventually seen parking out side his family home in Dewsbury. The log notes the precise address.
Within weeks, the investigation into Khyam had become a major operation, leading to arrests in Canada, the UK and Pakistan.
In June 2004, the intelligence services again checked out the car. This time, they found it had been re-registered in the name of ‘Siddeque Khan’. Again, at the time, the name meant nothing.
In their investigation into the background to the 7 July London bombings, Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) gave MI5 a clean bill of health.
It confirmed that Khan and Tanweer had appeared on the radar of an earlier investigation – meaning Operation Crevice. But it concluded: “the decisions not to give greater investigative priority to these two individuals were understandable”.
But the ISC was either never given the full details of the 2 February surveillance operation or was informed but chose to omit key facts – details which might have fuelled demands for the public or independent inquiry the government has resisted.
While the ISC’s report was crafted to avoid prejudicing the Crevice trial, it could have alluded to the 2 February surveillance operation without linking it to Omar Khyam.
MI5’s position is that neither Khan nor Tanweer were under Security Service or police surveillance. But Conservative shadow Home Secretary David Davis had a different view – and has called for a full independent inquiry.
“That clearly is not true,” he told Panorama. “It’s self evidently a surveillance operation. They’re being followed, they’re keeping somebody under observation, they’re making a note of where they’re going, they’re presumably making a note of the car itself, and the times, and who’s there.
“All those things amount to a surveillance operation. They let somebody to go off surveillance who subsequently turned out to be a suicide bomber.”
The Old Bailey heard that Khan and Tanweer were spotted with Khyam on three more occasions – although both the police and MI5 say they were still not identified by name.
OTHER 2004 SURVEILLANCE OF MSK
• 1: 21 February: Khan logged getting into Omar Khyam’s bugged car; Khan recorded asking Khyam if he is “a terrorist”. Khan joins group discussion at house in Crawley, attended by the alleged detonator designer.
• 2: 28 February: Khan joins Khyam at 0900 for trip from Crawley to Wellingborough, Northants. Tanweer also in the car. At destination, they use internet café and then drive to Slough by 2300.
• 3: 23 March: Khan and Tanweer go to Khyam’s Slough flat. Bugged conversation on light-hearted themes, but also discussions of fraud.
But the serious mistake that Panorama has identified is that at the time MI5 never informed West Yorkshire Special Branch about the surveillance operation that ended up in its patch.
It never told them about the Honda, its registration number, the name of its owner, the addresses and places where the passengers had got out or its final destination. Nor did it show them the photograph of the ‘stranger’ covertly taken at Toddington services.
It never asked local West Yorkshire Police Special Branch officers if they knew anything about the individuals or the addresses and, if they didn’t, to try and find out, given concerns about the cell they had been seen associating with.
There is however a tantalising hint of what the ISC knew amongst the conclusions to its report.
“The Security Service and Special Branches [need to] come together in a combined and coherent way to tackle the home grown threat,” said its report. “We are concerned that more was not done sooner.”
The lesson was clearly learned. Today there are new Counter Terrorism Units manned jointly by MI5 and local anti-terrorist and Special Branch officers located in West Yorkshire, Manchester and Birmingham. Luton is expected to have one soon.
So Why Weren’t the Leads Followed up?
Operation Crevice led to investigations into 55 suspects, with only 15 of them thought to be directly connected to the bomb plot. Khan was not one of these. One bugged conversation focused on fraudulent fund raising, possibly for Al Qaeda’s coffers – but there was no indication Khan himself was planning to bomb the UK. The Security Service was looking at up to 50 terrorist networks in the UK.
The most pressing and potentially deadly plot, also uncovered in 2004 amid massive pressures on resources, led to the jailing of Dhiren Barot for 40 years last November for plotting mayhem in the UK.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, National Coordinator for Terrorist Investigations, told Panorama about the logistical challenge of running surveillance – explaining how resources are the crucial factor.
“An average surveillance team is perhaps 15 to 20 people strong,” he said. “In order to keep one person under 24 hour surveillance you’ll need a minimum two, perhaps three, surveillance teams for each person. Three surveillance teams could be anything up to 60 people.”
Today, as the Crevice plotters face prison, it’s believed there are over 200 networks still under investigation.
A Genuine Threat?
However, the agencies say there was another reason why Khan was not a priority target.
When he was subsequently spotted three times in the company of Omar, the bugged conversations indicated they were not talking about attacking the UK but about ripping off banks, companies and financial institutions.
According to Peter Clarke, the money was destined for Al Qaeda’s coffers and the conversations indicated that Khan was planning to leave for Pakistan and possibly to fight in Afghanistan.
Indeed, in one conversation Khan, who was expecting to become a father, was worried about saying goodbye to his baby.
Could 7/7 have been stopped? Had MI5 brought West Yorkshire Special Branch into their confidence at the time, MSK could have been identified, watched, followed and fed into the wider intelligence picture over the following seventeen months before he launched the fatal attacks.
West Yorkshire police say the first they knew that MSK was the leader of the London bombers was after 52 people had died.
Dr John Reid told the House of Commons this afternoon that the Intelligence and Security Committee was satisfied that there had been no wrongful conduct regarding West Yorkshire Police.
Panorama stands by what it has been told by senior intelligence sources in the force — that at the time they knew nothing of MI5 following Khan and Tanweer to Leeds and Dewsbury on 2-3 February 2004.
Bomb Plot’s Roots in Pakistan
Richard Smith, Home affairs correspondent / BBC News
Five men have been convicted of plotting a bomb attack in Britain. Most of the gang were Britons of Pakistani origin and many of them had spent time in training camps in Pakistan.
Out in the Pakistani countryside, at the far end of a dirt track, stands a solitary white house. It has a passing resemblance to a Mediterranean holiday villa and, like some of them, it is not quite finished.
This is the house Waheed Mahmood was building for his family in Gujar Khan. To his mother-in-law Pooj Khala, Mahmood is loving and generous, his so-called links with terror nothing but lies.
“We will pray to God. He is innocent, and God will help him. With the blessing of God he will be found innocent. He’s not that kind of man,” she told me. But he appears to have been hiding a big secret. Waheed Mahmood and his friends were conspiring to cause an explosion in the UK.
The hills of northern Pakistan might seem a long way from Mahmood’s home in the suburban sprawl of Crawley, West Sussex. But it was here he and his friends learned techniques they could use to make a bomb.
Omar Khyam was another plotter with big links to Pakistan. While his parents grew up in Crawley, members of Omar’s wider family are in the Pakistani military and its intelligence service, the ISI.
His family, like many Pakistanis, cared deeply about the disputed territory of Kashmir. That passion was passed on to young Omar.
It was during a family holiday in 1999 that Khyam first saw an outlet for his anger. At the hill resort of Murree he met some men from a group called Al-Badr Mujahideen. They said he was welcome to do training in Kashmir but should grow a beard and dress more like a Muslim.
About six months later Khyam was again flying into Pakistan after telling his mother he was going on a college trip. The confidence he had shown in Murree was growing. He hailed a taxi and said: “Take me to the mujahideen office”.
They taught me everything I needed for guerrilla warfare
Omar Khyam This time he got the training, at a camp in Muzaffarabad.
“They taught me everything I needed for guerrilla warfare in Kashmir, AK47s, pistols, sniper rifles, reconnaissance,” said Khyam at his trial. Khyam also claimed the ISI were the ones giving the training.
From 2001 the city of Lahore was home to Mohammed Babar, an American Muslim with extremist views.
Babar would ultimately turn on Khyam and his friends and become the chief witness against them. But three years earlier he, Khyam and several others discussed how they could become more involved in the jihad.
By then Khyam was working for al-Qaeda’s third in command. He had already attended two training camps. But he and Babar began planning another where his friends could learn to kill.
Their camp was near Malakand in the North West Frontier Province. It is here the Pakistani army regularly battles with extremists. Osama bin Laden is rumoured to have hidden near here on the Afghan border since 9/11.
Local journalist Ikram Hoti told me: “The mountains are safe havens. They are easy places to train. They are easy places to have ammunition and a supply of men. It’s a kind of culture. You can feel easy there, you can breathe easy while talking about your plan for future terror.”
We will never know what really happened at that camp. Jawad Akbar said “it felt like boys with their toys” as he shot at a can. But Babar painted a more impressive picture during his testimony at the Old Bailey: “They were learning how to shoot an AK47, how to shoot light machine guns, rocket launchers and experiment with making a bomb.” Whoever you believe, it seems there was something in the air.
Akbar said his love for the jihad started there. This was team building with a terrible aim.
I asked the Pakistani government for an interview to discuss what they were doing to stop others following in the Crawley team’s footsteps. Despite numerous requests, I was told no-one was available for comment.
For Khyam and the other young men from Britain, this corner of Pakistan was much more than an exotic venue for a firing range.
It was a chance to see the struggle first hand and meet fellow Muslims who hated the West. From here the men headed back to the UK to begin plotting their attack. But it may be telling that when Khyam was finally arrested, he was planning yet another visit to his spiritual home.
© BBC MMVII
Five Get lLfe over UK Bomb Plot
LONDON (April 30, 2007) — Five men have been jailed for life for a UK bomb plot linked to al-Qaeda that could have killed hundreds of people.
Jurors in the year-long Old Bailey trial heard of plans to target a shopping centre, nightclub and the gas network with a giant fertiliser bomb.
The judge, Sir Michael Astill, said the men, all British citizens, had “betrayed their country”.
It has also been revealed some of the plotters met two of the 7 July London suicide bombers. Mohammad Sidique Khan was spotted on four occasions in 2004 with at least one of the fertiliser bomb conspirators. At one point MI5 officers followed Khan back to his home in Leeds but no further action was taken.
In the wake of the convictions both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have both called for an independent inquiry into the 7 July link.
IN HIS OWN WORDS
I was requested by Omar Khyam that they wanted to get trained and come back to the UK and do like, you know
Plotter Salahuddin Amin telling police about explosives training Amin speaks of plot
The call for an inquiry was echoed by Graham Foulkes, whose son David died in the 7 July attacks. He said an inquiry was needed so “lessons could be learned”.
Later, in the House of Commons, the Home Secretary, John Reid, ruled out an inquiry, saying it would divert the efforts of those in the security services who were so busy countering the terrorist threat. But he said a committee of MPs would analyse the lessons learned from the fertiliser bomb plot trial.
The new director general of MI5, Jonathan Evans, issued a statement in which he denied being “complacent” and added: “The attack on 7 July in London was a terrible event. The sense of disappointment, felt across the service, at not being able to prevent the attack (despite our efforts to prevent all such atrocities) will always be with us.” He added: “The Security Service will never have the capacity to investigate everyone who appears on the periphery of every operation.”
This was not a group of youthful idealists. They were trained, dedicated, ruthless terrorists who were obviously planning to carry out an attack against the British public
Britain’s top anti-terrorist policeman, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, said: “This was not a group of youthful idealists. They were trained, dedicated, ruthless terrorists who were obviously planning to carry out an attack against the British public.”
Police smashed the plot in 2004 after MI5 had watched an Islamist extremist network with links across the world.
The link with 7 July was deliberately kept from the Old Bailey jury for fear of prejudicing their deliberations on the fertiliser bomb plot. The trial was one of the biggest and most expensive in British criminal history.
The fertiliser bomb plot investigation linked back to senior al-Qaeda figures in Pakistan and Afghanistan, including one who was detained by US forces in Iraq at the weekend.
Omar Khyam, 25, from Crawley, West Sussex, was found guilty of conspiring to cause explosions likely to endanger life between 1 January 2003 and 31 March 2004.
Also convicted were Waheed Mahmood, 34, and Jawad Akbar, 23, also of Crawley; Salahuddin Amin, 31, from Luton, Bedfordshire; Anthony Garcia, 24, of Barkingside, east London.
The judge told them: “You have betrayed this country that has given you every opportunity.” He also warned them: “All of you may never be released. It’s not a foregone conclusion.”
Two other men, Nabeel Hussain and Shujah Mahmood, were found not guilty. The Old Bailey heard the plotters had come together over a number of years.
Bluewater shopping centre
Ministry of Sound nightclub
The men had started out sympathetic to Muslim causes around the world – but the key plotters decided that violence was the answer as they came together for secret military training camps in Pakistan.
Back in Britain, they discussed various schemes, including targeting the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent on a busy Saturday or the Ministry of Sound nightclub in central London.
They also talked of attacking the gas or electricity network and Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament.
The group had bought 600kg of ammonium nitrate from an agricultural merchants and kept it at a storage unit in Hanwell, west London.
This fertiliser was to be the key component in the massive bomb – similar to those used in other terrorism attacks around the world.
But unbeknown to the men, some of them were already on MI5’s radar while, at the same time, staff at the storage unit tipped off police.
They replaced the ammonium nitrate with a harmless substance and kept the group under surveillance before swooping in a series of raids.
The Old Bailey heard the defendants had at least two fellow conspirators.
3,644 witness statements taken
105 prosecution witnesses
Trial lasted for 13 months
Jury was out for record 27 days
One of them, an American called Mohammed Junaid Babar, admitted his role in the plot after being arrested by the FBI and became a vital prosecution witness. The other was Mohammed Momin Khawaja, awaiting trial in Canada.
The jury deliberated for 27 days, a record in British criminal history. A Crown Prosecution Service spokesman said the deal allowing Babar to testify was unprecedented in British courts.
Outside court a solicitor read out a statement on behalf of Nabeel Hussain. He said: ” I have always maintained my innocence of the allegations against me. I have never been an extremist or believed in extremism… I am so glad this ordeal is over.”
How are the fertiliser bomb plotters linked to other extremists in the UK and abroad? Find out the full story on Newsnight at © BBC MMVII
Blair rejects 7/7 inquiry calls
(April 30, 2007) — Tony Blair has again rejected calls for a fresh inquiry into the 7/7 attacks, saying it would undermine the security services.
The prime minister repeatedly dismissed Tory leader David Cameron’s demands for a “proper independent inquiry”. He also told MPs at Commons question time that it would divert resources from the fight against terrorism.
Survivors of the 2005 attack renewed their calls for an inquiry on Monday after the fertiliser bomb plot trial.
It emerged at the end of the year-long court case that MI5 had watched and followed two of the 7 July bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, a year before the attacks as part of their surveillance of the fertiliser bomb plotters.
Calls for a fresh inquiry into the 7/7 attacks grew after it emerged that MPs and peers on the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) were not shown photographs linking Khan to known militants.
Security sources say MI5 said it did not reveal the images to the parliamentary committee because they were taken by police officers not MI5 operatives.
EVIDENCE SINCE TRIAL
Khan followed Feb 2004
Photographed with extremists
Recorded talking with plot ringleader
Home address seen
Car ownership and surname known June 04
Mr Blair has asked the ISC to consider why the 7 July bombers were not picked up.
In the Commons, Mr Cameron dismissed the ISC inquiry, saying a full independent inquiry was needed because the committee had limited powers of investigation.
He said people wanted such an inquiry because of “the scale” of what happened in London on July 7 when 52 people were killed.
“The reason people want a full inquiry is to get to the truth,” said Mr Cameron.
The ISC cannot possibly carry out an effective, independent or impartial ‘re-inquiry’ – it now has a position to defend
But Mr Blair said that although the ISC’s first inquiry received the “vast bulk” of the information and went into “immense detail”, it had to be “cryptic” because the fertiliser bomb trial had not been concluded.
The prime minister said the new ISC inquiry was “perfectly entitled to call for anything else” it needed. He told MPs: “I don’t think it would be responsible for us…to have a full, independent, further inquiry, which would simply have the security service and the police and others diverted from the task of fighting terrorism.”
The committee is expected to examine claims that West Yorkshire Police special branch was not told about the MI5 surveillance operation.
BUGGED BY MI5
It all depends on the situation … everybody wants to go to the front, everybody wants to fight. Omar Khyam speaking to Mohammad Sidique Khan However, ISC chairman Paul Murphy MP had previously indicated that police were informed.
Some of those affected by the 2005 attacks delivered a letter to the Home Office on Tuesday requesting an “impartial public inquiry”. They said the government’s latest comments reinforced their belief that the ISC was not the appropriate body to conduct an inquiry.
Jacqui Putnam, who survived the Edgware Road bomb, said: “I am left wondering what else MI5 failed to tell the ISC…the committee cannot possibly carry out an effective, independent or impartial ‘re-inquiry’ – it now has a position to defend.”
Janine Mitchell, whose husband Paul was seriously injured in the attacks, added: “We have already had an ISC inquiry and it produced a report containing inaccurate and misleading information, based on evidence which was incomplete and as a consequence both the inquiry and its report were fundamentally flawed.”
By June 2004 MI5 had part of Khan’s name on file twice, a family address and various pictures of him.
The ISC committee investigating 7/7 only ever saw one MI5 photograph of Khan. It did not see other photographs obtained by the BBC. A senior Whitehall source has told the BBC that the committee were aware other pictures existed and could have seen them if they had been requested.
On Monday, five men were given life sentences for a foiled plot to build a huge fertiliser bomb for a UK attack.
© BBC MMVII
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