Islamic 'martyrs' who begged for mercy
Terrorists who rejected The West shouted 'I know my rights' during police raid
Islamic 'martyrs' who begged for mercy
DIRTY, hungry, tired and humiliated, Osman Hussain was already a broken man when Italian security officers took him in for questioning. The suspected bomber had been seized in Rome the previous day as part of an astonishing intelligence operation that snared all of the fugitives being hunted for bringing Islamic terrorism to the UK.
In London four other suspects, Muktar Said-Ibrahim, Yasin Hassan Omar, Ramzi Mohammed and Wahbi Mohammed, were being grilled by specialist interrogators at the high-security anti-terrorist unit at Paddington Green.
Unable to sleep on the uncomfortable concrete slabs and under the round-the-clock glare of the strip lighting in their cells, the prospect of hours of endless questioning will have been daunting.
It seems Osman was the first to break.
Yesterday morning, Italian officials alleged that the 27-year-old Briton, who has Ethiopian citizenship, had begun to give up information, giving the first insight into how the July 21 gang, which tried and failed to blow up London's public transport, operated.
In what was said to be a signed confession he admitted carrying the rucksack containing explosives but insisted he never intended to kill anyone. Instead he wanted to sow the "seeds of terror".
He accused fellow suspect Said-Ibrahim of being the "head" of their group and said they had watched videos of women and children dying in Iraq together. He also denied his group had any connections to the July 7 attacks which killed 56 people and said that those bombings had "come as a surprise".
This frank insight into the inner workings of the terror gang came at the end of an extraordinary week that ended in the dramatic arrests of the suspected bombers.
For Mohammed and Esha Ibrahim, the face staring out of the front page of the national newspapers a week ago was all too familiar. It was their son Muktar Said-Ibrahim. It was a nightmare discovery. The 27-year-old Somali had been captured in CCTV footage on the top deck of the No 26 bus in Hackney just moments before a failed attempt to blow it up on July 21.
At their home in Stanmore, north London, the couple faced an agonising dilemma. Could their son, a shy child when he came to Britain aged 14, really have grown up to plot mass murder?
As a teenager, Muktar had been an unemployed trouble-maker, sent to prison when his gang robbed another teenager at knifepoint. At Canons High School in Edgware, north London, he was known as a drug-smoking bully.
But he was also a keen footballer who admired his idols Manchester United and who enjoyed a kickabout with friends.
"We were shocked when we saw Muktar's picture in the national news," a statement from his relatives said. "We are a peaceful family. We immediately attended the police station and made statements to the police."
Their brave actions provided police with the breakthrough they desperately needed, giving them the first firm information about the identity of bomb suspects. It marked the start of breakneck developments in the investigation into the bomb attempts of July 21 and the deadly attacks on July 7.
Using the information from Said-Ibrahim's family, corroborated by a tip-off from a member of the public, anti-terror officers tracked down the flat on a rundown north London housing estate where he lived.
Said-Ibrahim, also known as Muktar Mohammed-Said, shared the scruffy £75-a-week flat, in a building known as Curtis House, with his friend Yasin Hassan Omar. There the pair are accused of planning and preparing the weapons for the bombings. Omar, 24, is suspected of trying to blow himself and other passengers to pieces on a Tube train at Warren Street station.
But when armed police stormed the flat on Monday morning they found it empty. Instead they discovered a large quantity of chemicals in a nearby lock-up garage as well as traces of the chemicals at the one-bedroom flat. Documents recovered also gave more evidence as to the identities of the bombing suspects.
During the raids a man was arrested near the building while another was arrested in the block itself. Neither were the bombers, but are believed to have been associated with them.
Stunned neighbours later revealed the police had missed the two bomb suspects by only a couple of days. They said the pair returned to the flat on the Friday after the failed attacks.
"I came out of the lift and saw three guys in the flat," said 32-year-old Tanya Wright. "They were nervous. They jumped back inside and slammed the door. When the police made the raid I realised one of them looked like the photograph."
Residents in the block of flats knew Said-Ibrahim and Omar as jobless layabouts who regularly played football with friends in the area. "They always spoke to my children," said Zandile Mthethwa, 39, who lives nearby. "They looked so normal, I was never intimidated by them.
"They were always very smart as well, especially Muktar, who always had on a clean shirt, although you often saw them in football gear as well. I have two boys aged five and three. My five-year-old son loves football and they said they would teach him how to play properly. I'm so glad I never let him go."
Their interest in Islam and their backgrounds are believed to have drawn the two men together. Both fled as children with their families to the safe refuge of Britain from bloody conflicts in their home countries.
While Said-Ibrahim came with his parents and brother Amir in 1991 from Eritrea, Omar came with his elder sister and her husband from Somalia the following year.
A tip-off from a member of the public eventually helped the police catch up with Said-Ibrahim. He had been spotted at a flat in North Kensington. Surveillance teams using hi-tech listening equipment quickly established that he was inside the two-bedroom flat in Delgarno Gardens together with another man, later identified as Ramzi Mohammed, the suspect in the attempted Oval bombing.
Police and SAS specialists dressed in gas masks and body armour surrounded the building and ordered the men to give themselves up. The cornered suspects could be heard pleading not to be shot and refusing to emerge.
A barrage of gas canisters were then sent hurtling into the third-floor flat, setting off a smoke alarm. With a flash as the door was blown open and stun grenades hurled inside, officers then stormed the flat. Residents reported hearing shouts ordering those inside to remove their clothes.
Minutes later, as trails of gas continued to pour out of the open door, Muktar and Ramzi appeared outside.
The two men were left humiliated on a cold, grubby balcony as their arrest was broadcast on international television. Stripped to their underwear, arms held aloft and choking on the effects of CS gas, it was a far cry from death as an Islamic "martyr".
Desperately trying to wipe the stinging smoke from his face, the stunned look on Said-Ibrahim's face revealed how quickly the onslaught from the security services had come. As he knelt before his captors, their guns trained on him at all times, it may never have occurred to him that his downfall had started at the hands of his own family. A third man, Mohammed's brother, Wahbi, was arrested in another dramatic siege a mile away in the Notting Hill area of London. He is alleged to be the "fifth bomber" who dumped a explosive-filled rucksack on Little Wormwood Scrubs, West London, after failing to blow up a Tube train on the Central line.
Two women carrying rucksacks and large boxes were also bundled to the ground and arrested at Liverpool Street station.
Earlier in the week, the police's first stroke of luck had arrived with a breathless phone call from a woman in Birmingham. The trail of the suspected bombers had gone cold after police failed to find them at the flat in Curtis House.
Now, the woman described how four suspicious looking men had been carrying cardboard boxes and bulging bin bags into a dilapidated ground-floor flat a couple of doors away from her home in the Hay Mills area of the city.
One of the men, she claimed, looked similar to one of those in the photographs issued by Scotland Yard. Her detailed account brought plain clothes officers to the tree-lined street to watch the activity at the flat. Their surveillance established Omar was inside.
Rather than risk him escaping, security officials decided to seize him and at 4.30am the raid began. Armed MI5 agents and more than 50 police poured into the flat as stun grenades were fired through windows.
They found Omar, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, lying on a sofa. It is claimed that he made a desperate grab for a rucksack lying a few feet away as the officers burst in. Fearing it may contain explosives one officer shot him in the chest with a Taser gun, sending 50,000 volts of electric current through his body. It left him temporarily paralysed as he was overpowered.
Investigators believe the alleged terror cell had been using the flat as a safe house with support from a group of other East Africans. A second address in Birmingham was also raided, the entire door wrenched from its frame as police arrested three men inside.
Omar was later taken away to the high-security anti-terrorist unit at Paddington Green Police Station in London, where he was subjected to intense interrogation by specialist officers. A series of further raids followed as detectives pieced together the identities of the other bombing suspects. A flat in the Stockwell Gardens area of South London, where Osman had lived was raided and three women arrested on suspicion of harbouring offenders.
A further nine men were arrested in another major operation at two properties in the Tooting area of south London.
As his fellow suspects were gradually rounded up, Osman was fleeing across Europe, unaware his movements were being tracked by British, French and Italian secret services.
In the days after the failed bombings he took a train from Waterloo Station to Paris through the Channel Tunnel. From Paris he moved to Milan and then finally to Rome where his brother-in-law lived.
He was traced through intercepted calls to a relative's mobile phone. Italian police swooped on his brother-in-law's flat on Friday and Osman surrendered. He is now expected to be extradited to the UK.
Sir Ian Blair, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, described the hunt for the bombers as "the greatest operational challenge that the Metropolitan Police Service has faced since the Second World War". Costing more than £500,000 a day, the investigation was fuelled by more than 5,000 calls to the anti-terrorist hotline.
Using information they have managed to extract, police will hope to start tracing back through the terrorists' network to the shadowy organisers of the bomb plots.
While many in Britain will today be breathing a little easier in the knowledge the suspects have been captured, security sources claim they are just foot soldiers. The more dangerous financiers, recruiters and planners are still at large.
"The people behind the plots were expecting the bombers to die," explained Aberdeen University terrorism expert David Capitanchik. "Consequently they may have given them more information than they would have liked."
Even if the police cannot identify the masterminds directly, they may be able to obtain crucial information that will lead them further back to the head of the network that has so effectively infiltrated the country.
Forensics officers searching the flats the men had been using as hide-outs may also uncover vital lines of inquiry.
Police will also be hoping to confirm links between the July 7 atrocities on the London transport network and the failed attacks of July 21.
Investigators are also expected to start examining foreign links to the plots. At least four of the suspected bombers came to Britain with their families seeking sanctuary from the war-torn Horn of Africa. The majority of the other arrests surrounding the bombings have also been of people of East African origin.
Another suspect being hunted in connection with the bombings, Haroon Rashid Aswat, a British man of Indian origin alleged to have helped mastermind the London July 7 bombings, was also arrested in Zambia last week.
"East Africa has been a major recruiting ground for Islamic extremists," explained counter-terrorism expert Rebecca Cox, from the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in London.
Since the collapse of the previous Somali government in 1991 and the civil war that followed, the country has been eyed with suspicion by Western intelligence forces. The US has long suspected money and guns for al-Qaeda flow through Somalia from its long, unpoliced coastline.
Bombers who attacked US embassies in Nairobi, Nigeria, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1998 and a hotel in Mombassa, Kenya, popular with Israeli tourists in 2002 are thought to have come though Somalia.
Neighbouring Eritrea has also become a focal point for training camps set up by several radical groups. Among them is the Eritrean Islamic Jihad Movement. Growing numbers of moderate Muslims have also become radicalised in the country after the government there imprisoned Muslim leaders without trial for over two years.
With Osman and his accomplices now in custody, the police investigation will expand. Nothing, however, suggests that with one cell down Britain is close to being safe from Islamist terror.