February 04, 2011

7/7: MI5 Missed Leader 'Despite Links To Earlier Plot'

Ambulances at Russell Square, London after the...Image via WikipediaMohammad Sidique Khan 'groomed' by suspected terrorists in 2003, inquest into 7 July London bombings hears...
04-Feb-11
The security services were unable to identify the ringleader of a terrorist gang before it struck London on 7 July 2005, despite having his picture and having seen him associating with other terrorist suspects, the inquest into the 52 deaths heard yesterday.

Mohammad Sidique Khan was spotted by MI5 on the periphery of another terror plot as early as 2003, and was seen with suspected terrorists. Khan was groomed through contact with other suspected terrorists progressing from "an associate of terrorists to prime conspirator and murderer", said Hugo Keith QC, counsel to the inquests, in a statement assessing whether the attacks could have been prevented.

Security services did not believe Khan was a high priority and did not connect different pieces of information relating to him, including training at terrorist camps and having an interest in "martyrdom operations". Various sources pointed towards an individual in the West Yorkshire area, but the authorities never uncovered Khan's full name until he led the biggest mass murder on UK soil.

Several different men linked to different terrorism plots were shown photographs of Khan before the attacks, but they failed to recognise him. Khan was also linked to a number of different vehicles – a blue BMW, a green Honda Civic, and a green Vauxhall Astra – used to hold or travel to meetings with suspected terrorist ringleaders.

Keith told Lady Justice Hallett, who is sitting as the coroner: "One issue that my lady may need to explore, in particular with the security service, is whether it is fair to say that the threads of Mohammad Sidique Khan's graduation from an associate of terrorists to prime conspirator and murderer were in fact there to see.

"Was it simply a question of tying threads together? And that process, the process of tying those threads together, should, it may be argued, be carried out, not only as part of an investigation into those who may already have formed their plans, but also by aggressive investigation of those who may be in the process of radicalisation."

The inquest heard that Khan had a number of phone calls with Mohammed Quayyum Khan, accused of being one of al-Qaida's leaders in Britain. Khan also met with Omar Khyam, sentenced to life imprisonment for his part in the fertiliser bomb plot conspiracy at Islamabad airport in 2003, after they travelled to Pakistan to attend a terrorist training camp.

He and a Mohammed Shakil, who was later convicted of attending terrorist training camps, were met at Islamabad airport by a man called Mohammed Babar, who later gave evidence to the US authorities in 2004, but failed to identify Khan until he gained worldwide notoriety after the bombings in 2005. The security service started Operation Downtempo, with the aim of identifying the two men, in April 2005, but were unsuccessful.

Khan met Khyam again at the beginning of 2004 in his green Honda Civic, but was not identified on either occasion by the security services. The discussion was recorded by surveillance officers tracking Khyam – but did not appear to merit Khan's classification as a "high priority for further investigation", Keith said.

Keith said Khan's initial training in Pakistan, association with other terrorists, and later trips to Pakistan in November 2004 and February 2005 revealed that he was "being groomed to pursue his own misguided and deadly plans".

He told the inquest: "One issue that may be worthy of exploration is whether successful investigation at that [later] stage … might have brought these unusual activities to the attention of West Yorkshire police or the Special Branch or the security service."

Those on the edge of an established plot should perhaps have been considered as potentially dangerous, their activities "critical to identify the next possible attack," he added.

Security services would tell the inquest that even if Khan had been given greater priority there was "nothing to suggest that this would have led to any discovery or intelligence that could or might have prevented the events of the following July," he said.

Keith said that parts of a report by the Intelligence and Security Committee into what the authorities knew about Khan before the July 7 attack "may not … be quite accurate".

The report conclusion has been used by the security services to deflect criticism from the families of the bereaved that the attacks may have been preventable.

The inquest continues.

Image: Mohammed Sidique Khan (right) CCTV footage from Luton train station on 28 June 2005 shows Mohammed Sidique Khan (right) during an apparent dummy run of 7 July attack.
Photograph: Metropolitan police
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