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UK security services missed Jihadi fundraising parties minutes from police HQ in Herndon

June 30, 2007

May 6, 2007

The jihadi house parties of hate

Britain's terror network offered an easy target the security sevices missed, says Shiv Malik

The barbecue was in full swing. Young men spilt out onto the street from the modest garden in a north London suburb and the air was thick with Urdu and heavily accented English.

The invitation had been specific: no wives or girlfriends. The party was to raise funds for a jihadi training camp: "Make sure your pockets are full."

The party, held four years ago within a few hundred yards of the Metropolitan police training centre in Hendon, helped to forge alliances among British Islamist radicals that were to be put to murderous effect.

By the end of the evening £3,500 had been raised for a camp at Malakand on the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Within weeks two of the most dangerous British-born jihadi terrorists — Mohammad Sidique Khan, leader of the 7/7 suicide bombers, and Omar Khyam, leader of the so-called Crevice gang — were learning to make bombs at Malakand.

Details of the party were disclosed this weekend by one of the guests, Hassan Butt, a former associate of the Islamist radicals who has turned against violence.

Butt's account both illustrates the extent of the jihadist network in Britain and throws harsh new light on the failure of the British security services to catch Khan before his 7/7 operation in London in which 52 people died.

Butt reveals that after the jihadist barbecue he drove to Khan's home near Leeds with another guest, Mohammed Junaid Babar, who would shortly become a supergrass. Babar's testimony helped to secure the conviction last week of five members of the Crevice gang, who had planned to blow up — among other targets — the Bluewater shopping mall in Kent and the Ministry of Sound nightclub in London.

Although Babar describes the barbecue in his testimony, he does not refer to the drive north, nor to some of the guests named by Butt.

However, if this supergrass was an associate of both the Crevice plotters and the 7/7 leader, why were MI5 and the police unable to halt Khan's conspiracy? And how could Charles Clarke, home secretary at the time, claim that Khan and his associates were "clean skins" unknown to the security services?

Butt — who was stabbed and beaten up near his home in Manchester last month after saying on American television that violence was a cancer in Islam — is prepared for further serious reprisals. He believes that the British authorities are only now waking up to the threat of the jihadist network in the UK. THE guests at the barbecue that evening in late April 2003 — held in the wake of the invasion of Iraq — included about 100 hardcore Islamists.

The host was a family man of 38 with four young children. He had hired catering staff to serve lamb kebabs and marinaded chicken breasts, while his brother, Tan, moved among the guests with an old Quality Street tin for donations. "People were dropping in whatever was in their hands — £20, £100, £200," Butt said.

In the months leading up to the barbecue there had been friction between British jihadist groups. Their members had returned from training camps in Pakistan as hardened would-be terrorists; but their personal rivalries and ideological disputes divided the different factions.

The host was a long-standing activist of Al-Muhajiroun, the group set up by Sheikh Omar Bakri in 1996, and was experienced in settling disputes between warring egos. According to Butt, who at the time was also a leading member of Al-Muhajiroun, he wanted to show it was possible to cooperate. "It was a mix between a corporate bonding session and one of those mafia meetings where groups could air any beef between them," Butt said.

The guest list included men who were later to become notorious. Among them, claims Butt, was Mohammed Quayyum Khan, a part-time taxi driver from Luton who is alleged to have sent Mohammad Sidique Khan to the Malakand training camp on behalf of Al-Qaeda.

Butt also recalls seeing an east London "crew" leader, Kazi Rahman chatting near the patio doors. Rahman, is serving nine years in prison for attempting to buy sub-machineguns.

Sitting on pillows and leaning against the wall of the sparsely decorated living room were other financiers and jihadists from Luton, Croydon, Hounslow and the home counties.

"The favourite topic of conversation was ‘where were you on September 11' but people also came up to me during the evening and asked if I knew how to get training," said Butt. "It was clear that people were making deals and forging links."

Butt believes that many of those present that evening had followed a similar trajectory to his own. From flirting with political agitprop before 9/ll, they had travelled to Pakistan after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and had become hardened through contact with serious players in the jihadi world.

According to Butt, several hundred British radicals received weapons training and Islamist tutorials. Lacking central leadership, however, they splintered into cells, incapable of operating effectively on their own.

Babar, his fellow guest at the jihadist barbecue, played a key part in bringing these groups together before he became a supergrass.

An American citizen and at the time a member of Al-Muhajiroun, Babar is intriguing both as a jihadist and as a deserter from the cause. According to Butt, he had been regarded as a fat lay-about at home in New York.

"He was the black sheep. He was the only one of three children who never completed his degree and he lived in the basement of the family home, separated from the three floors above where the rest of his family lived.

"He told me once that he'd robbed a hot dog vendor to get enough money to escape from his parents. He was planning to run away to California but he didn't get very far."

Babar went to Pakistan, Butt said, to prove himself to his family. They came from the tribal

areas of Pakistan — home to the terrorist training camps — and he was one of the few members of Al-Muhajiroun who could speak Pashto, the local language.

When Butt first met him in Pakistan he was still overweight — "a fat blob" — but his experiences there and in the Afghan war brought to light an unsuspected steeliness. He organised a training camp and is alleged to have taken orders directly from Al-Qaeda to plan a terrorist attack in Britain. BY April 2003, Babar was staying in the host's home in north London, scene of the barbecue. As the party continued into the early hours, he became embroiled in a row with some members of Hizbut-Tahrir, an Islamist group widely infiltrated into British universities.

"They were itching to get the shisha [smoking pipe] out," said Butt. Babar disagreed with smoking tobacco because he felt that it was "haram" (forbidden) in Islam. They backed down, but continued to taunt Babar and Butt had to restrain him.

Butt, who had borrowed his brother's navy blue Audi TT to get to the party from his home in Manchester, decided it was time to head back north. Babar asked to be dropped off near Leeds.

"He told me that he was trying to fix up a marriage with some girl in Leeds, but he'd only just got married [to a supporter of Al-Muhajiroun in Pakistan] and by now I thought it was getting far too late for him to start stopping in at some future fianc饦rsquo;s house," said Butt.

At 3am they stopped to buy snacks at a petrol station. Babar showed a glimpse of his old weakness. "A normal person

would buy one drink, one pack of crisps and one chocolate. He'd [ask for] five of everything. Maybe it's a New York thing."

Back in the car Babar began to confide details of a plot to murder President Musharraf of Pakistan. "He [was] getting a hit squad have Musharraf killed," said Butt.

As the sun rose, Babar directed Butt to a terrace house in Batley, West Yorkshire, 15 minutes from the M1. A man in pyjamas came out to greet them. It was Mohammad Sidique Khan.

Butt had met Khan before. Babar had introduced them in 2002 at a gathering at Butt's flat in Islamabad. Khan now recognised Butt and asked him if he wanted to come in.

"I was tired so I really didn't want to go in but he kept insisting," said Butt. They were shown into the front room. "The way Junaid [Babar] sat there, he looked very comfortable," said Butt, who believes the two men knew each other well.

Khan's small house was sparsely decorated with just a few large cushions and a rug to adorn the front room. Khan offered Butt something to drink and the three got talking.

"I was there for no more than 20 minutes and I remember talking about Iraq and Afghanistan; how the Americans couldn't find Bin Laden and Mullah Omar and how Allah protects people who are sincere and that was it," said Butt.

He expressed surprise that the security services, once Babar had turned supergrass, did not find out more from him about Khan that could have prevented the 7/7 bombings in London.

The FBI, which had been tracking Babar since he gave a hate-filled television interview to a western network in Pakistan in late 2001, arrested him when he flew home to America early in 2004. Faced with possibly spending the rest of his life in jail, he agreed to turn against his friends. He spent a week being debriefed and later pleaded guilty to five counts of providing material support to terrorists.

His evidence against some of his former associates in Britain's biggest terrorist trial — named after Crevice, the police operation that cracked the conspiracy — helped last week to condemn them to a lifetime behind bars.

Why then did Mohammad Sidique Khan remain free to kill?

Butt believes the answer lies in short-sightedness: "The security services were so engrossed in Crevice and other southern plots that they didn't take anyone from up north seriously, because at that time there was no one up north who was being arrested."

He also questions what the security services were doing between mid2004 and 2005. "After Crevice, who were they actually tracking if not Khan? Crevice ended in March 2004, so what happened after that? Was everyone on holiday for the next year?

"They [the security services] have to realise that everyone they put under surveillance is a potential bomber if they have the links because very few radicals are going to work as individuals."

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