Scotland Yard watching thousands of terror suspects Muslims :Family ties to Pakistan and students of concern
October 5, 2006
Yard is watching thousands of terror suspects
When asked roughly how many Muslims were being looked at, Mr Clarke said: "I don't want to go down the numbers game, I don't think it's helpful … all I can say is that our knowledge is increasing and certainly in terms of broad description, the numbers of people who we have to be interested in, are into the thousands."
He added: "That includes a whole range of people, not just terrorists, not just attackers, but the people who might be tempted to support or encourage or to assist."
The counter-terrorist agencies are especially concerned about the links being forged between British citizens of Pakistani descent and al-Qa'eda militants in the land of their parents or grandparents.
Many young Britons with Pakistani backgrounds travel to Pakistan to visit relatives or to attend religious "camps", where they may be targeted and recruited by jihadists.
Two of the London suicide bombers, Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shezad Tanweer, visited camps in Pakistan where they are believed to have come into contact with al-Qa'eda activists.
After initial scepticism, MI5 is now increasingly convinced that most of the plots hatched in Britain have been run by al-Qa'eda from Pakistan.
The security service had kept an open mind about al-Qa'eda involvement in activity largely being carried out by "home grown" fanatics.
But the sophistication of the alleged conspiracy to destroy airliners over the Atlantic has persuaded intelligence officers that Osama bin Laden's organisation was directly implicated in both this and probably in the July 7 outrage in London that killed 52 commuters and four suicide bombers.
The investigators also uncovered a route for suicide bombers from Britain to Iraq. They followed the trail of a French Algerian jihadist, Idris Bazis, who lived in Manchester and is believed to have died in a suicide attack in Iraq.
Asked if there was a "pipeline" to carry young British Muslims into Iraq, Mr Clarke said: "What we do see is individuals who, with connections, managed to facilitate people's travel.
There's probably a collection of individuals who are happy to try to organise the travel of others." He added: "We know who some of them are. We investigate, we carry out surveillance on a lot of people, but I'm not going to say exactly who."
Mr Clarke's figure of "thousands" of British Muslims either under surveillance, or at least causing concern, is certain to reignite indignation in the Islamic community about what they consider to be unfair targeting.
This was especially pronounced after the raid in Forest Gate, east London, in which a Muslim man was shot but no charges were brought.
However, there has been less hostility since charges were brought over the alleged plot to blow up airliners and the counter-terrorist agencies have been unapologetic about acting on intelligence, pointing to possible conspiracies that threaten the public.
Of the 24 people arrested, 15 have been charged and remanded in custody, five are being questioned and four have been released without charge. Since the alleged plot was smashed, MI5 has investigated other suspected plots, many just as alarming.
The counter-terrorist effort now under way, with some 70 investigations against suspected Islamic extremists, is unprecedented and unmatched even at the height of the IRA's mainland campaign.
Last month, John Reid, the Home Secretary, said the police and security services were aware of about 24 "major conspiracies", with another 50 peripheral inquiries also being conducted relating to fundraising.
A significant focus of the surveillance involves internet communication between groups, often Muslim men at colleges and universities.