Barot arrest one of the most difficult anti -terrorism operations ever from Pakistan to the UK
November 7, 2006
Barot operation posed complex challenge
Codenamed Operation Rhyme, it set new standards in terms of its scale and complexity, and forced police to confront new technological challenges and adapt their investigative methods to meet the challenges posed by a new brand of international terrorism.
Barot himself was nearly impossible to keep track of. An experienced terrorist, he was highly skilled in counter-surveillance techniques, and made it as difficult as possible for officers to gather the evidence they knew they needed if he was ever to be convicted in a court of law.
In the end, their hand was forced. When Barot's terrifying plans were discovered on a laptop seized during a raid in Pakistan, detectives knew they had to arrest him immediately, despite the fact that there was almost no admissible evidence against him.
Barot was first identified and put under surveillance in the UK on June 15 2004. For some time, police had been aware that a "significant al-Qaida operative" was operating somewhere inside the UK, but until then they did not know who or where he was, or even what he looked like.
Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch devoted huge resources to identify him, but even when they finally did, keeping track of him was nigh impossible. "He was probably the most difficult individual to keep under surveillance that we have had in recent times," a counter terrorism source said.
Barot was very security conscious. He was well versed in counter surveillance techniques, rarely stayed anywhere for more than a night, used a variety of different vehicles and hardly ever used mobile phones.
He would even perform sudden manoeuvres in heavy traffic or drive round and round roundabouts to make it harder for surveillance officers to tail him. Given that he had no obvious source of income so far as the taxman was concerned, and did not claim benefits, police believe that Barot must have had access to considerable resources to enable him to maintain his transient lifestyle.
He managed to maintain numerous bank accounts and credit cards, and it can only be assumed that his funding came from his well-documented terrorism connections. Whether, by the end of June 2004, Barot knew he was being followed is unclear. What is known is that he managed to disappear off the radar completely at the end of July.
It was while Barot had gone to ground that his plans for the "gas limos project" were discovered during an anti-terror raid in Pakistan. This proved the "trigger" for his arrest.
Once they realised what Barot was plotting, detectives decided it was simply too dangerous to leave him out on the streets. They resolved that the next moment he reappeared on the radar, he would be arrested.
Anti-terror officers are frequently caught in this kind of dilemma - whether to intervene and disrupt a plot or wait for more evidence - but in Barot's case the police had little choice. The need to ensure public safety was paramount.
A counter-terrorism source described the thinking of the authorities at that time: "It was always possible that Barot could have been alerted to what happened in Pakistan, and since we did not know how far advanced his attack plans actually were, the decision was made to arrest him as soon as he was next seen."
At the beginning of August, Barot was spotted by a surveillance team in London. Once he had been identified, police immediately began looking for a safe moment to arrest him. On August 3, detectives arrested Barot as he went for a haircut in the Golden Touch barbers in Willesden High Street, north London.
Armed police were involved, but officers describe it as a "low-key arrest". No shots were fired and Barot was taken for questioning at London's high-security Paddington Green police station. Then began a race against time to build a case against him within the 14-day maximum custody period.
"It is no exaggeration at all to say that, at the time of the arrest, there was little or no admissible evidence against Barot," a counter-terrorism source said.
The fact that it was possible to bring charges against him within 14 days, and then build a case that left him with no option but to plead guilty, was testament to the work of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch, the source said.
Senior officers described it as an "extraordinary investigation", the largest and most complex that Scotland Yard had ever carried out at that time.
Police examined more than 300 computers and 1,800 discs, CDs, zip drives and hard drives. Barot was skilled in using encryption software and, in what would become a feature of other major counter-terrorism operations, police had to develop new techniques to access the reams of research material he had buried deep within his computer files.
One of the most extraordinary aspects of the investigation was the sheer number of keys that police recovered. During the inquiry, detectives found more than 600 sets of keys and officers spent 14 months and visited more than 4,000 garages or lock-ups trying to match them up. The fear was that one could contain explosives or even radioactive material. Eventually they managed to match 77 keys, but hundreds remain unaccounted-for.
Over the next two years, detectives utilised their full range of investigative tools - handwriting analysis, facial mapping, forensic linguistics - to collate every scrap of available evidence against Barot. Their hard work paid spectacular dividends.
As one counter-terrorism source said: "The case against Barot built to the point where the evidence was overwhelming and he had no realistic option other than to plead guilty."
In doing so, Barot became the first British Muslim to admit to plotting to carry out a mass casualty terrorist attack in the UK. Nevertheless, and despite the fact that detectives spent two-and-a-half years investigating Barot, there remain significant gaps in their knowledge.
They still have little idea of what he was doing for much of 2002 and 2003, and the exact reasons for his conversion to Islam remain unclear. He had not worked properly since he left his job at Air Malta in 1995, apart from a brief period of employment with an agency when he worked as a night porter at a high-class apartment block in London. His book claims that he was married to a woman in Thailand, but she has never been traced.
Barot's family, from whom he is believed to be estranged, have shed little light on his background. But there is no mystery regarding what Barot will be doing with most of the rest of his adult life. He will be in jail.
Terrorism threat to UK