Five are jailed for plotting to blow up high-profile nightclub and shopping centre
IAN MACLEOD AND SARAH KNAPTON
CanWest News Service
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Despite winning guilty verdicts in a landmark case against a “homegrown” Al-Qa’ida terror cell, Britain’s security agencies are on the defensive today after admitting the 2004 investigation identified, but failed to stop, two of the 2005 London transit bombers.
The revelations by London police and the MI5 security service are at odds with statements by British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government after the subway and bus attacks on July 7, 2005, when senior ministers said the strikes were unexpected and the perpetrators unknown.
Immediately after five young British Muslims were handed life sentences yesterday for plotting a 2004 bombing campaign against the capital, opposition parties and survivors of the 7/7 carnage demanded a public inquiry.
After deliberating for 27 days, a jury found the five guilty of planning to blow up a famous London nightclub, a 330-store shopping complex southeast of London and parts of the country’s electrical and natural gas system.
“You have betrayed the country that has given you every advantage in life,” Judge Sir Michael Astill told the men. “You are considered cruel, ruthless misfits by society,” and were intent on causing “indiscriminate death and suffering.” He handed ringleader Omar Khyam, 25, and four others indeterminate life sentences for conspiring to cause explosions likely to endanger life. None will be considered for parole before they have served at least 171/2 years and some “may never be released,” the judge said.
The men later issued a statement: “We did not pose any threat to the security of this country. It is no offence to be young, Muslim and angry at injustices.” The trial, they said, was marred by “coached witnesses” and “an atmosphere of hostility against Muslims at home and abroad.” Two other defendants were acquitted in the 13-month trial, the longest terrorism prosecution in British history, and the first involving a “homegrown” Muslim terror cell with links to the Al-Qa’ida terror network.
Momin Khawaja, an Ottawa computer expert, is to stand trial in Ottawa this year for his alleged role in making detonating devices that were to have triggered fertilizer bombs the group was constructing from 600 kilograms of ammonium nitrate costing about $220. The 28-year-old denies the charges.
Although Khawaja was formally named and repeatedly mentioned at the London trial, he has not been charged by the British with any crime. Yesterday’s convictions also have no legal bearing on his eventual Canadian trial.
The heads of the London metropolitan police counter-terrorism unit and the MI5 domestic security service took the unusual step yesterday of issuing statements on their organizations’ websites defending their actions during the investigation, including not paying closer attention to two suspects who later resurfaced as 7/7 bombers.
During their trial, most of the seven defendants admitted supporting jihad, or “holy war,” in places such as Afghanistan, Chechnya and Kashmir and several (allegedly including Khawaja) had travelled to Pakistan for training in weapons and explosives. But they all denied plotting to attack their own country.
Yet the trial heard considerable evidence to the contrary. In a conversation taped by police between defendant Jawad Akbar, 23, and Khyam, they men discussed blowing up The Ministry of Sound, London’s most popular nightclub.
“No one can turn around and say they were innocent, those slags dancing around,” Akbar says on the recording.
Another defendant discussed trying to buy a radioactive “dirty bomb” from the Russian mafia to be “bigger than 9/11,” though nothing appeared to have come from his inquiries, the trial was told.
Another, Waheed Mahmood, 35, boasted he could cause “a little explosion” at the Bluewater shopping centre, Europe’s largest.
Their claims of innocence were seriously damaged by the testimony of the prosecution’s star witness, Mohammed Junaid Babar, 31, a New York native turned Al-Qa’ida operative in Pakistan. He detailed the group’s training at a terror camp in Pakistan and their plans to bomb London.
The British defendants were arrested March 30, 2004, as their plan was nearing an operation stage, the court was told. Khawaja was arrested a day earlier by the RCMP in Ottawa and held incommunicado.
Immediately after the verdicts were rendered, the judge lifted a publication ban on the dramatic connection between the group, the 7/7 bombers and the police-MI5 surveillance of the two meeting.
The information, summarized in a court document and which prosecutors unsuccessfully tried to enter as evidence at the trial’s start, states that two of the London suicide bombers – Mohammed Sidique Khan, the 30-year-old leader, and 22-year-old Shehzad Tanweer – first came to the attention of investigators in February 2004 during the joint police-MI5 operation into the activities of the seven defendants.
Code-named Operation Crevice, it was then the biggest counter-terrorism project in British history.
But authorities mistakenly believed Khan and Tanweer were “peripheral” figures and petty fraud artists trying to raise money for radicals rather than training for an attack and decided they didn’t rate continued scrutiny with investigative resources already stretched thin.
Seventeen months after first coming to police attention, Khan and Tanweer, plus two accomplices, detonated backpacks jammed with explosives on three morning rush hour subway trains and a double-decker bus, killing themselves and 52 passengers, and injuring more than 700 in the worst peacetime attack on the capital.
At the time, security officials said the bombers were unknown to them.
Ottawa Citizen/ Central News Agency
© The Gazette (Montreal) 2007