UK police continue hunt for two dozen terror cells -fears that individual Islamists will attempt attack several suspects still at large
August 13, 2006
Police hunt 'two dozen' terror cells in Britain
· Direct link to 7 July atrocity, says Pakistan
Jamie Doward, Ned Temko, Mark Townsend, Urmee Khan and Antony Barnett
Pakistani intelligence sources alleged that one of the men arrested in connection with the bomb plot had been held following the London terror attack on 7 July last year. British security sources also linked the present investigation to that atrocity, saying the operation that led to Thursday's arrests began days after the 7 July attack. There are also claims that voicemails discovered after the first attack link the two events.
Pakistani authorities are still searching for at least one suspect thought to be involved in the plot to blow up the planes over the Atlantic using liquid-based bombs. US officials estimate as many as 50 may have been involved.
Two British airlines yesterday criticised airport authorities for failing to manage new security measures smoothly. As passengers faced a third day of delays, the chief executives of British Airways and Ryanair, Willie Walsh and Michael O'Leary, said that airport-owner BAA must tackle the ever-lengthier queues.
Yesterday Cobra, the government committee dealing with national emergencies, chaired by the Home Secretary, John Reid, met to discuss the next phase of the operation against terror cells. The committee discussed intelligence on a number of suspects who remain at large following the arrests of men across the country last week.
Downing Street sources emphasised that the threat of an attack by groups connected with those arrested still loomed. 'Despite the apparent breakthrough, it would be wrong to assume that in the case of groups like al-Qaeda it is a question of just one throw of the dice,' one source said. 'There are a series of interlocking cells. Cells overlap... certainly in this case, we can't be certain that everything has been disrupted.'
Security sources told The Observer they were carrying out some two dozen serious investigations into suspected terrorist groups, leading to concerns one might 'activate' as police closed in.
The Observer can also reveal that MI5 used a mole from within the Muslim community to infiltrate the alleged plot. According to Pakistani sources, the informer provided intelligence leading to the arrest of Rashid Rauf, a Birmingham-based businessman alleged to have links to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Rauf is the brother of Tayib Rauf, arrested last week in Birmingham in connection with the alleged plot. Pakistani intelligence sources say Tayib Rauf was held in connection with the 7 July bombings but released without charge. There was no confirmation of this from British police.
Rashid Rauf is understood to have been watched after a UK intelligence tip-off that he was in Pakistan several weeks ago. 'He has been staying here for quite some time and has been under strict surveillance since then,' a Pakistani intelligence source said. 'His calls to Britain and internet communications have been under surveillance that helped in revealing the plot.'
Britain's intelligence services had been watching some of the suspects since the informant tipped them off last December. But events in recent weeks convinced police of the need to act to prevent an atrocity which could have eclipsed 9/11 in terms of loss of life.
Following Rauf's arrest, one of his associates is understood to have phoned the UK urging those alleged to have been involved in the plot to speed up their plans. The call was intercepted by British intelligence and triggered the decision to arrest the suspects.
Last night, further details of Rauf's alleged terrorist links emerged. American and Pakistani officials claimed he had trained in al-Qaeda camps. He is also alleged to be affiliated to Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, a Muslim group close to al-Qaeda.
Labelled by the US as a terrorist organisation, Lashkar has been linked to the kidnap and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Another Briton, who has not been named, was arrested with Rauf. Five other Pakistanis were also picked up, said local reports.
Four of the suspects were detained in a Punjabi village following a tip-off from the British High Commission in Islamabad, acting on information from MI5.
Two of them have been identified as Mohammad al-Ghadar and Ahmed al-Khan. One is understood to have recently travelled to Germany, where police are investigating their links with a number of terrorist suspects. Similar investigations are going on in Italy and Belgium.
In Britain, last week's alleged plot has prompted renewed concern about the possible role of university groups in radicalising some young Muslims. Today's Sunday Telegraph says an investigation of portable buildings used by the Islamic Society at London Metropolitan University turned up 'documents advocating jihad and a pamphlet on how to deal with approaches from the security services'. One of the people arrested last week was a former head of the society.
Muslim community anger over the arrests was reflected last night in remarks by Imitiaz Qadir, spokesman for the Waltham Forest Islamic Association, who said he had been in contact with several families of the people detained: 'They are devastated, and the manner of the tactics has shocked the community.'
Rukshana Bi, 34, a mother of four who lives near the Rauf family in Birmingham, said she did not believe they had links to terror: 'They're good people. The dad is good, the mum is good. I've never seen any problems. I've been living here for five years and they've only been good religious people. I can't believe it.'
Updated: 8:13 p.m. ET Aug 12, 2006
LONDON - NBC News has learned that U.S. and British authorities had a significant disagreement over when to move in on the suspects in the alleged plot to bring down trans-Atlantic airliners bound for the United States.
A senior British official knowledgeable about the case said British police were planning to continue to run surveillance for at least another week to try to obtain more evidence, while American officials pressured them to arrest the suspects sooner. The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the case.
In contrast to previous reports, the official suggested an attack was not imminent, saying the suspects had not yet purchased any airline tickets. In fact, some did not even have passports.
The source did say, however, that police believe one U.K.-based suspect was ready to conduct a "dry run." British authorities had wanted to let him go forward with part of the plan, but the Americans balked.
At the White House, a top aide to President Bush denied the account.
"There was unprecedented cooperation and coordination between the U.S., the U.K. and Pakistani officials throughout the case," said Frances Townsend, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, "and we worked together to protect our citizens from harm while ensuring that we gathered as much info as possible to bring the plotters to justice. There was no disagreement between U.S. and U.K. officials."
Another U.S. official, however, acknowledges there was disagreement over timing. Analysts say that in recent years, American security officials have become edgier than the British in such cases because of missed opportunities leading up to 9/11.
Aside from the timing issue, there was excellent cooperation between the British and the Americans, officials told NBC.
The British official said the Americans also argued over the timing of the arrest of suspected ringleader Rashid Rauf in Pakistan, warning that if he was not taken into custody immediately, the U.S. would "render" him or pressure the Pakistani government to arrest him.
British security was concerned that Rauf be taken into custody "in circumstances where there was due process," according to the official, so that he could be tried in British courts. Ultimately, this official says, Rauf was arrested over the objections of the British.
The official shed light on other aspects of the case, saying that while the investigation into the bombing plot began "months ago," some suspects were known to the security services even before the London subway bombings last year.
He acknowledged that authorities had conducted electronic and e-mail surveillance as well as physical surveillance of the suspects.
Monitoring of Rauf, in particular, apparently played a critical role, revealing that the plotters had tested the explosive liquid mixture they planned to use at a location outside Britain. NBC News has previously reported that the explosive mixture was tested in Pakistan. The source said the suspects in Britain had obtained at least some of the materials for the explosive but had not yet actually prepared or mixed it.© 2006 MSNBC Interactive