Two years before the July 7 attacks, the leader of the plot was at a terrorist training camp in Pakistan, organised by the leader of the Crawley gang.
Anthony Garcia (left) and Omar Khyam at the Avari Hotel, Lahore, Pakistan in 2003|
The buzz among young British Muslim men in the wake of September 11 was to "get training" for their jihad.
Omar Khyam said he was organising a camp for those who wanted to fight in Afghanistan and told them there would be al-Qa'eda operatives among the trainers.
Mohammed Babar, who had left New York just weeks after his mother escaped death in the September 11 attacks, was already in Pakistan and agreed to liaise with the Pashtun tribes on the Afghan border.
He contacted a "mulana" or tribal leader in the lawless mountains of the North West Frontier Province and arranged to pay £3,500 to set up a camp and to add another storey to his brother's house for them to live in.advertisement
Khyam bought walking boots and sleeping bags, along with socks, gloves and hats in Britain and arranged for them to be sent to Pakistan but for clothing they simply sewed elastic around the bottom of their shalwar kemises and added extra pockets with zips.
The gang posed as tourists, trimming their beards and changing into western clothes for the 17 hour journey to Kalam where they took photographs of themselves which they planned to use to help pass the trip off if they were picked up by security services.
Meanwhile Babar returned to Lahore to pick up more young men arriving for the camp. At Islamabad airport on July 25 he described bumping into Salahuddin Amin who was also there, meeting two men from Britain introduced as Ibrahim and Zubair.
Babar, who become an informant for the FBI, later identified Ibrahim from pictures obtained by the British press as Mohammed Sidique Khan, the leader of the July 7 London bombers.
"We had just told them that we had set up a training camp and if they were free and they wanted to attend we had no problem with them attending the camp," he added.
Amin said later: "They rang me from England and said they had got my number from brothers in England and had money to give me. I had never met them before."
Heading back to his house in Lahore, Babar gathered up bomb-making equipment - a propane stove, thermometers, a sieve, bowls, beakers and digital scales - then went to the Capitol Hill Lodge hotel in Islamabad where he met up with Sidique Khan, Zubair and Jawad Akbar.
The group hired a pick-up truck in Rawalpindi to drive to the camp, stopping on the way to buy ammonium nitrate, a key ingredient for the bomb.
But the young men from suburban Crawley were ill-equipped for the mountains. Akbar in particular was poorly equipped, wearing a pair of Nike trainers and an ordinary town jacket, and the others made fun of him, dubbing him "Abu Finishup."
They got lost and had to sleep out overnight before eventually reaching the camp, 10,000 ft up in the mountains.
When the gang finally arrived they discovered there were only two tents - one for the local men who ran the camp and the other for everyone else - and they had to dig a hole for a latrine.
After a day of physical exercises, the local men got out a cache of three to five AK-47s, a light machine gun and a rocket launcher. A can was put on a rock 20 to 30 yards away and the young men were told to shoot at it in various positions while two others fired the rocket launcher.
Later most of the group was sent back down the mountain while Khyam, Babar and Anthony Garcia experimented with explosions.
The hard work of crushing a kilogram of ammonium nitrate was done overnight by the local men and in the morning they packed it into a canister with aluminium powder on top, stuck a detonator into it and buried the bomb underground with the wires sticking out.
The explosion was enough to satisfy Khyam they had the right ingredients for his purposes and the gang decided to make a video which they were going to edit together with Koranic verses to use for propaganda.
A week after the end of the camp Khyam went back to the mountains to meet Abu Munthir, one of the leaders of al-Qa'eda, and discuss the operation. He returned talking of multiple, simultaneous bombings.
MI5 decided to stop watching two suicide bombers
Close links to fertiliser bomb plotters stretch credulity of 'clean skin' claims for London attacks
Ian Cobain, Richard Norton-Taylor and Jeevan Vasagar
Tuesday May 1, 2007
When the identities of the four July 7 suicide bombers first became known, senior police and government officials were quick to claim that they were so-called "clean skins", men who had never crossed the radar of the security service or Scotland Yard. Charles Clarke, then home secretary, insisted that no intelligence had been missed and that the attacks "came out of the blue". It was a claim reinforced publicly by Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan police commissioner, and by countless off-the-record officials briefings for reporters.
The implication was clear: nobody could have foreseen the attacks, nobody slipped up. Nobody could possibly bear any blame other than the bombers themselves, and whichever shadowy figures stood behind them.
Today, with the lifting of a court order that has been in force for 15 months, we can disclose that far from being "clean skins", two of the bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, had been watched by the security service, MI5, almost 18 months before the attacks.
So much was known about Sidique Khan that MI5's repeated claim that it did not know his identity until after the 7/7 bombings is certain to come under scrutiny. It is now known, for example, that:
· MI5 officers had followed him while he was driving a car registered in his wife's name and at his mother-in-law's address. The car was later reregistered in the name Sidique Khan at a different address.
· On one occasion, MI5 had followed Sidique Khan to his mother-in-law's home.
· The security service also had a photograph of Sidique Khan.
· MI5 officers had made inquiries about a telephone registered in his name.
· Officers had recorded Sidique Khan's voice.
· MI5 even knew which garage he used to repair his car.
Despite possessing all this information, MI5 maintains that it was unable to identify Sidique Khan.
The security service gathered this material during an investigation codenamed Operation Crevice. Officers had been keeping watch on a group of men with al-Qaida connections who were planning a series of attacks across south- east England with enormous fertiliser bombs. Sidique Khan and Tanweer were repeatedly seen in the company of some of this group, yet slipped through the net because of a number of disastrous missed opportunities.
So serious were these apparent blunders that David Davis, the shadow home secretary, last night called for an independent - but not public - inquiry into the 7/7 bombings and into MI5's performance. "We weren't told the whole truth, or anything like the whole truth, about Mohammad Sidique Khan," said Mr Davis. "The government's claim that they were clean skins doesn't appear to stand up."
Senior opposition figures are questioning the ability of Westminster's watchdog, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), to scrutinise the work of MI5. Some told the Guardian they believed MI5 had let the country down and were convinced that Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller's decision to retire as director-general of MI5 from last weekend was prompted by the agency's failings - a suggestion MI5 firmly denies.
Survivors of the attacks renewed their demand for a public inquiry into the 7/7 bombings, with some voicing concern that MI5 may be withholding information about the suicide bombers in an attempt to safeguard its reputation, rather than to protect the public.
Meanwhile, some security sources are contradicting the assertion by John Reid, the home secretary, that MI5 had sufficient funds before July 7, saying that both MI5 and Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch were "strapped" for resources during 2004.
The court order lifted yesterday had been imposed to prevent the jury in the fertiliser bomb trial learning about some of the defendants' close links with the 7/7 bombers. The judge had ruled that the defendants might not receive a fair trial if those links were known. The jury heard repeatedly about one associate called "Ibrahim", but were never told that this man was Sidique Khan.
In January last year, before the trial began, the prosecution had argued unsuccessfully that the links with 7/7 should be allowed as evidence. During those arguments, prosecution lawyers described the way in which Sidique Khan had fallen under MI5 surveillance on at least four separate occasions during the investigation into the fertiliser bomb plot in early 2004. Tanweer came into the picture three times.
MI5 officers first saw, and photographed, Sidique Khan at Toddington service station on the M1, after he had met other terrorism suspects on February 2 2004. He was driving a green Honda Civic and officers established immediately the name and address to which the car was registered. The registered owner is now known to have been Sidique Khan's wife and the address was the home of his mother-in-law, in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, to which he was followed later that day. By MI5's own account, officers were unable to identify Sidique Khan on the basis of this information.
Later that month, MI5 officers tailed both Sidique Khan and Tanweer for a total of 15 hours as they drove around in the Honda. The pair were followed from Crawley, West Sussex, to Slough in Berkshire, up to Wellingborough in Northamptonshire, and finally back to Slough. However, they were in a two-car convoy, led by a silver-coloured Suzuki Vitara jeep driven by Omar Khyam, the leader of the fertiliser bomb gang. Khyam was the real target of the surveillance operation: he was about to be arrested with other members of his gang. MI5 had decided, on the basis of bugged conversations, that Sidique Khan was interested largely in petty fraud.
On March 23, a week before Khyam was arrested, MI5 again followed him from Crawley to Slough, and then to Upton Park in east London, and back to Slough. Sidique Khan and Tanweer were again following Khyam, and were secretly filmed climbing out of another car, this time a green Vauxhall Corsa. The Civic was being repaired after being involved in an accident; the Corsa was a courtesy car provided by the garage carrying out the work. For reasons that remain unclear, MI5 said it was unable to use this information to identify Sidique Khan.
In June that year, more than two months after the fertiliser gang was rounded up, the Civic was reregistered in the name Sidique Khan to an address in Batley, West Yorkshire. Even now, MI5 was unable to identify the man who was to go on to lead the July 7 suicide bombers.
As well as tailing the fertiliser bomb gang, MI5 had bugged a number of their homes and Khyam's jeep. Sidique Khan was among the many people who were covertly recorded, although jury members were not allowed to hear those recordings, as they may have recognised him from his Yorkshire accent. On February 21 2004, Sidique Khan was heard discussing travel plans with Khyam, who had bought an airline ticket for Pakistan - a move that police and MI5 took as a sign that the gang was ready to strike.
Khyam appears to be making similar arrangements for Sidique Khan, asking him: "This is a one-way ticket, bruv, yeah, you agree with that, yeah? You're happy with this ... basically ... because you're going to leave now, you may as well rip the country apart economically as well. All the brothers are running scams. All the brothers that are leaving are doing it. That's all I've got to say, bruv. Is there anything you'd like to ask? Then fire away."
Sidique Khan asks if he can delay his journey [his wife was six months pregnant] and is told by Khyam: "No problem."
The pair appear to be talking about fraud in the UK, and about waging jihad abroad. At one point Khyam tells Sidique Khan that within two weeks of landing in Pakistan he will be "at the front". However, there are also hints that Sidique Khan may have been seeking martyrdom. At one point, talking either about his wife or their unborn child, he says: "With regards to the babe, I am debating whether or not to say goodbye and so forth."
Khyam then informs him that "next month, they're going to start raiding big time all over the UK".
During the pre-trial legal argument, the prosecution insisted that the surveillance tapes made clear that Sidique Khan and Tanweer had travelled great distances to meet members of the fertiliser bomb gang, at a time when "the conspiracy was coming to fruition". The meetings, the prosecution argued, could have been "in furtherance of a conspiracy to cause explosions in the UK".
At one point, Sidique Khan was recorded asking Khyam: "Are you really a terrorist?
Khyam: "They are working with us."
Sidique Khan: "You are serious, you are basically?"
Khyam: "I am not a terrorist, they are working through us."
Khan: "Who are? There is no one higher than you."
By the time members of the fertiliser bomb gang had been rounded up, in late March and early April 2004, MI5 and the police had given Sidique Khan and Tanweer the names Unknown Northern Male One and Unknown Northern Male Two. The security service says that it had resolved to identify them.
The surveillance photograph of Sidique Khan taken at Toddington services was shown to Salahuddin Amin, a member of the fertiliser bomb gang who had been arrested in Pakistan. Unlike the young men arrested in Britain, Amin was cooperating with his interrogators. He says this was because he was being tortured.
Amin failed to identify the man in the photograph. Security sources said it was of poor quality, although it is unclear why a better photograph could not have been taken during the three subsequent occasions when Sidique Khan was watched.
The security service admitted it failed to include the photograph of "Unknown Northern Male One" in documents which it sent to the United States to be shown to Mohammed Junaid Babar, a member of the fertiliser bomb cell who had agreed to turn informer after being detained by the FBI in New York.
A surveillance picture had been handed to the FBI by British police, but MI5 said it was unaware of this until the end of March this year. Babar also failed to identify the picture, but when he was shown a good-quality picture of Sidique Khan after the 7/7 bombs exploded, he was able immediately to identify him as a man he knew as "Ibrahim", whom he met at an al-Qaida training camp in Pakistan during the summer of 2003. Sidique Khan had trained alongside a number of the fertiliser plot defendants at this camp, learning how to fire assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. Some also learned how to assemble homemade bombs.
Babar could also have told MI5 that Ibrahim was from Yorkshire, and that he had already undergone training at a terrorism camp in the region before 2003.
The disruption of the fertiliser bomb plot was a coup for MI5 and the police. The gang had amassed 600kg of ammonium nitrate, along with other ingredients and components that could have made a bomb almost three times as large as either of the 1998 east African embassy fertiliser bombs. Al-Qaida murdered 224 people and injured more than 5,000 in those attacks.
Sidique Khan and Tanweer were far from alone when they fell into the surveillance operation: MI5 and the police found themselves watching hundreds of people. Eighteen suspected of involvement in the plot were arrested on March 30 2004 in an operation involving 960 police officers from five forces. Some were released without charge, others prosecuted for other offences.
The security service then decided to investigate a further 55 people who had come to their attention, many of them who appeared to be involved in fraud, or had talked of waging jihad abroad. This group was split into 15 high-priority targets, and 40 who were not considered so important. Sidique Khan and Tanweer were placed in the second group.
As well as ensuring that the bombing never happened, police and the security service needed to gather evidence to secure the convictions of a small core group. It was during this process that Sidique Khan and Tanweer were in effect sidelined. They had not been heard discussing terrorist acts in Britain, MI5 said. "Like many they were talking about jihadi activity in Pakistan and support for the Taliban, and about UK foreign policy," said one security official.
The attempt to investigate the 55 remaining suspects was put to one side later in 2004 for the launch of a joint investigation with police, codenamed Operation Rhyme, which is said to have thwarted another al-Qaida plot to cause mass casualties in the UK.
MI5 believed that operations Crevice and Rhyme had severely disrupted terrorist activity in the UK. This, Dame Eliza admitted to the Intelligence and Security Committee, had been a mistake, one that led the official assessment of the threat level to be downgraded from "severe general" to "substantial" a few weeks before the 7/7 attacks.
The ISC concluded in its report last May: "As there were more pressing priorities at the time, including the need to disrupt known plans to attack the UK, it was decided not to investigate [Sidique Khan and Tanweer] further or seek to identify them. When resources became available, attempts were made to find out more about these two and other peripheral contacts, but these resources were soon diverted back to what were considered to be higher investigative priorities." The committee said these decisions were understandable.
On receiving the report, Mr Reid said the government was increasing spending on counter-terrorism from less than £1bn in 2001 to more than £2bn by 2008. How much of this money goes to the security service, as opposed to MI6 and GCHQ, is unclear, as each agency's budget remains an official secret. Mr Reid said the security service was receiving sufficient funds. The problem, he said, was that there was a limit to how fast it could expand. "It is not merely a matter of applying resources and bringing in lots of people without relevant skills," he said.
Not everyone at MI5 agrees. Security sources have told the Guardian that while MI5 now has more staff and greater technological capability, it was severely stretched at the time of Operation Crevice. "By the end of 2004, the police and MI5 were pretty much strapped," said one. In December 2005, five months after the bombings, MI5 was granted extra funds to acquire new computer systems designed to process large amounts of information gathered during investigations.
Meanwhile, the families of some of those who died remain deeply dissatisfied and suspicious. Lawyers representing several survivors delivered a letter to Mr Reid yesterday, demanding a public inquiry that could produce a "comprehensive, accurate and definitive factual account" of what happened before the bombs went off.
Grahame Russell, whose son Philip, 28, died in the Tavistock Square bus blast, said yesterday's disclosures underlined the need for a public inquiry. "I believe there are still lots of things to come out, things that are still hidden, and they will come out bit by bit. I used to get very angry about it, but there's no point in that, it doesn't do you any good. And I'm sure it will all come out one day. Nothing remains hidden for ever."
Terrorism threat to UK
UK resilience - Civil Contingencies Secretariat
Full text: the law lords' ruling on the detention of foreign terror suspects (December 2004)
Islamic Human Rights Commission
Liberty human rights organisation
Metropolitan police - counter terrorism section
Ministry of Defence