« Previous Post | Next Post »

Guest Analysts

Al Qaeda-on-Thames: UK Plotters Connected

By Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank -- Islamabad and New York

Five British citizens, four of whom are of Pakistani descent, were convicted Monday of planning to attack targets in the United Kingdom under orders from al Qaeda using fertilizer-based bombs. Their convictions underline the fact that from its Pakistani hub al Qaeda now has the capability not only to plan once-off attacks in the U.K., but is also able to plan a sustained campaign of terrorist operations against the United States’ closest ally. And the ease with which al Qaeda has recruited operatives from the U.K. suggests that a future attack on the United States by British militants trained in al Qaeda’s training camps in Pakistan is a real possibility.

Several U.K. terrorism plots involving British Pakistanis in recent years can be traced back to a senior al Qaeda commander, Abdul Hadi al Iraqi, (who it was announced on Friday is now in custody at Guantanamo.) A number of the fertilizer plotters and two of the suicide bombers who on July 7, 2005 killed 52 commuters on London’s transportation system attended a Pakistani terrorist training camp under Abdul Hadi’s orders. Abdul Hadi also reportedly met with Rachid Rauf, a British Pakistani, with reported ties to Kashmiri militants, who is alleged to be a key figure in last summer’s aborted al Qaeda plot to down as many as ten American airliners over the Atlantic. (According to the Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir, Abdul Hadi – a former Iraqi army major before he joined al Qaeda in the late 1990s – operated mainly out of Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan where he planned his terrorist operations.)

A possible al Qaeda link has also emerged in the case of five men suspected of attempting additional attacks on the London transport system on July 21, 2005. In their separate ongoing trial, not only did a government scientist testify that the explosive devices they used were remarkably similar in design to those used in the July 7 attacks, but a prosecution witness testified that the alleged ringleader of the plot trained in a Pakistani training camp with Kashmiri militants.

In fact, almost every significant terrorist plot uncovered in the U.K. in recent years has some link to a Kashmiri militant group, which is significant because most British Pakistanis are of Kashmiri origin. Since 9/11 al Qaeda has significantly deepened ties – dating back to the 1980s Afghan jihad against the Soviets – with such groups, helping it to revive its operational capabilities in Pakistan.

A perfect example of the worrisome nexus between British militants, Kashmiri groups and al Qaeda is Omar Khyam, the ringleader of the fertilizer plotters who was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the plot. Khyam is the cricket-mad son of middle-class Pakistani immigrants who grew up south of London in the tranquil, green commuter town of Crawley. He testified during his trial that around the age of sixteen he began to take the practice of Islam “quite seriously” and that it was above all the Kashmir issue that radicalized him after falling in with Al Muhajiroun, a British al Qaeda support group. In 1999, a year after his spiritual awakening, he went on a family holiday in Pakistan, one of four hundred thousand visits to the country made by British-Pakistanis each year. Near the capital, Islamabad, he stumbled across a rally organized by Al Badr Mujihadeen, a Kashmiri militant group, where he picked up some literature about the Kashmir jihad.

That chance encounter would plant the seed for his next trip to Pakistan in January 2000. Khyam told his family he was going on a brief trip to France. In fact he went to Pakistan for three months training with the Kashmiri militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba. Linking up with the group was surprisingly easy, Khyam testified that on landing in Islamabad, knowing that Kashmiri militants “had offices all over Pakistan in every major city,” he had simply told his taxi driver to “take me to the office of the mujahideen.” He was subsequently taken to a training camp in the mountains of Kashmir where he was trained on a wide range of weapons such as AK-47s and rocket propelled grenades. At the camp explosives training was also provided to the recruits by officers of ISI, the Pakistani military intelligence service. Eventually, Khyam’s concerned family tracked him down in Pakistan, sending an uncle to bring him back to the U.K.

Khyam returned to Pakistan in the summer of 2001 and traveled into Taliban-controlled Afghanistan where he said he found the Taliban to be “very close” to the ideals of the Prophet Muhammad and he resolved to move to Afghanistan at some point in the future. Back in the UK in September 2001 Khyam started a computing course at a college in North London. When the 9/11 attacks happened he testified that “I was happy…because America was and is the greatest enemy of Islam.”

Subsequently Khyam spent much of his time with a circle of radical young men, most of whom were second-generation British Pakistanis. Khyam testified at his trial that the 2001 war in Afghanistan against the Taliban turned his group of friends against their home country for the first time and that the war in Iraq was “just sort of the final [straw].”

By then Khyam had already started working for al Qaeda according to the testimony of Mohammed Junaid Babar, a Pakistani-American accomplice in the fertilizer plot turned-prosecution star witness. In the spring of 2003, as the Iraq war was getting under way, Khyam’s group traveled to Pakistan determined to get further training in jihadist camps. According to the confession one of them gave British police, the group was at this stage intent only on fighting in Afghanistan. However, Abdul Hadi sent word to them that because al Qaeda “had enough people…if they really wanted to do something they could go back [to the U.K.] and do something there.” Abdul Hadi’s deputy then met Khyam in Kohat, Pakistan and instructed him to carry out “multiple bombings” either “simultaneously” or “one after the other on the same day.”

Under Abdul Hadi’s orders, Khyam’s group exploited their contacts with Kashmiri militant groups to set up a training camp in Malakand, a district on the northern Afghan-Pakistan border where, together with two of the July 7 bombers, they were instructed in bomb making techniques (including fertilizer-based devices) and explained the rewards of martyrdom. Khyam’s group became much more serious after attending the training camp and started buying bomb-making supplies that they intended to ship back to the U.K.

Khyam and most of his group returned to the U.K in the fall of 2003 where they purchased 1,300 pounds of fertilizer and considered a variety of possible targets including a well known London nightclub, a shopping center, trains and synagogues. In February 2004, according to the confession one of the group gave British police, Khyam contacted Abdul Hadi’s deputy to check the precise bomb-making instructions he had learned in the camps the previous year.

That same February, the court was told that just before police swooped down on Khyam’s cell, he was visited by Momin Khawaja, a Canadian citizen of Pakistani descent, who had also attended the Malakand training camp in Pakistan, demonstrating al Qaeda’s ability to coordinate with many spokes from its Pakistani hub. Khawaja, who once had a job as a software developer for the Canadian government, worked on developing a remote-control detonation device for the fertilizer bomb Khyam planned to construct. The two kept in touch by saving emails in draft form in shared Hotmail and Yahoo accounts (“you don’t actually send the emails”, testified Khyam). Such techniques are standard al Qaeda practice and were used by the 9/11 hijackers under orders from their operational commander Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

The fact that al Qaeda has trained several separate cells of British recruits from its Pakistan base in recent years should be of great concern to U.S. national security officials because of the ease with which British passport holders can enter the United States.

That recruitment, however, has not been limited to the British Pakistani diaspora. Pakistani-Americans, such as Iyman Faris who plotted to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge, also trained with al Qaeda in Pakistan. Mohammed Babar, the star prosecution witness in the fertilizer trial is also a case in point. Babar, a one-time resident of Queens, was arrested in New York shortly after the arrest of the fertilizer conspirators in the U.K. He subsequently pled guilty to supplying money, night-vision goggles and sleeping bags to al Qaeda militants attacking U.S troops in Afghanistan. Babar testified that he also met with the senior al Qaeda commander Abdul Hadi al Iraqi four times in quick succession just before he returned to New York in early 2004 and he conceptualized (but did not plan in detail) an attack on Times Square during New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Unfortunately, it may be only a matter of time before an al Qaeda-trained British- Pakistani or Pakistani-American launches a successful attack in his own country.

Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank are research fellows at the NYU Center on Law and Security. Bergen, author of the book “The Osama bin Laden I Know,” is also a Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation.

Email This Post | Del.icio.us | Digg | Facebook

Please e-mail PostGlobal if you'd like to receive an email notification when PostGlobal sends out a new question.

Comments (17)

seroitu:

afty64w cool site!!! [url=http://seroitu1.com]cool site!!![/url] http://seroitu2.com rtj5653

Anonymous:
Anonymous:
Olga:

Thank you!
My homepage | Please visit

David:

Great work!
[url=http://zahthnbr.com/wavy/szfu.html]My homepage[/url] | [url=http://nbmypely.com/ibnr/qrzw.html]Cool site[/url]

Aamir Ali:

Kashmiri groups are made up mostly of Kashmiris. They fight because India has bled Kashmir dry. Get rid of the 700,000 Indian occupation troops and the Kashmir problem is solved, tomorrow.

Regarding British-Pakistanis, yes a few have been caught in terrorism acts. It has washed away any illusions others may have had about the terrorism path. I expect it to be an aberration on the part of British Pakistanis.

To respond to this by targeting all Pakistani-origin folk is a waste of time and reductive.

Sinc:

Some interesting facts about the trial:

It was the first ever trial in England to allow the use of ‘phone-tap’ evidence in court; the amendment to the law allowing this to happen was passed 2 court days before the jury delivered its verdict, after the longest ever period of jury deliberations in English history.

So without the phone tap evidence, the confessions by Salahuddin Amin (which he has stated were extracted under torture by the Pakistan ISI) and the information provided by star prosecution witness Mohammed Junaid Babar, the prosecution would have had no case.

Not a sure-fire ‘Al Queda plot’ by any means, as anyone who has ignored the screaming headlines and studied the evidence in the case.

scotch_chick:

kool punjaabi, you are so right! It's not just so called Western Civilization that's in danger, Islamic culture is more endangered as these zealots try to delegitimize centuries of culture and religious tradition. After all, Wahabism and the Deobandi schools are less than 200 years old. Imagine the Amish suddenly becoming belligerent and deciding to adopt modern technology just so they could destroy modern culture and re-impose pre-industrial living standards and rules of conduct. That's essentially what's happening in Islamic societies. Five hundred years ago, the Muslim Empire began to lose its super-power status. I wonder if the Western actually lost its super-power status if we would revert to a Crusader mentality to reclaim the 'golden age.' The dream that was Camelot wouldn't be Marilyn Monroe singing Happy Birthday, it would chastity belts and burning heretics and non-believers at the stake.

kool punjaabi:

The last sentence of this article must include Pakistani-Canadian. I live in Canada and recently RCMP busted our own homegrown terror network of Pakistani Canadian Teenagers led by a middle aged Arab Preacher.

The Canadian liberal govt at that time happily accepted Pakistani bogus asylum seekers who were being deported from USA post 9/11.I have seen staunch sunni muslims filing claims as Shias and Ahmedi minorty muslims even after living in USA for 10 years claiming there life is in Danger in Pakistan.

The disadvantage that the west faces now is that of being Politically Correct. whereas the terrorist dont have to answer anybody in his quest for 72 virgins in Heaven,

The western govts instead of spending 50 mill pounds on one case plus surveillance expenses should learn from India the way it Tackled militancy in Punjab and Kashmir. The cost of Five coffins would have been 5000 pounds to the max.

Wake up before its too late and hit these vermin Hard as they intend to destroy our civilization.

Sager:

Mr.Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank:

Please don't besmirch and slander such outstanding ultraseculars and liberals like 5 gentlemen arrested by british. Everyone knows all the terrorist activities are perpetrated by Hindu Fascists. Ask you editor Dr. Zakaria he will furnish you all the proof you need, if not he will happily manufacture it for you.

I got to give it to you guys, really, you managed to write the whole article about Kashmiri militants without even mentioning India even once! So in your racist world they are a problem only when these ultrasecularists target US and its close ally UK, what were they before, when they were killing and massacring Indians in Kashmir and imposing Sharia on till now a relatively secular democratic state of Kashmir. I haven't heard a peep from Dr. Zakaria who starts to howl from rooftop as soon as somebody even talks about equal law for everybody.

suresh sheth:

This trial of 5 Britons in bomb plot lays out Pakistani connection in the terror haunting West European and US lands - not Iraqi or Iranian, mind you - including that of Pakistani government in spite of all the denials by US/UK and other western governments as well as that of Pakistani government. Western news media all along has been playing the role of mouthpiece of all these governments including that of Pakistan, in covering up the role of Pakistani governments in this terror threat.

One has to wonder if the role of Pakistani government in 9/11 US attacks will ever see the light of day like that in British bomb plot. US knows very well that Pakistani government was responsible for the creation of Taliban government to begin with. All the Taliban leaders were schooled in Pakistani Madrasas, Pakistani military personnel manned top echelon of Taliban army and Taliban government payroll was financed by Pakistani government treasury. As Sandy Berger had told 9/11 Commission, Pakistani Army was the ‘midwife’ of Taliban.

Pakistani government also facilitated Osama bin Laden’s relocation to Afghanistan as 9/11 Commission reported. Pakistani ISI director General Mahmoud Ahmed asked Omar Sheikh (kidnapper of Daniel Pearl) to send $100,000 to Mohammed Atta (lead hijacker) one year before the attacks. Musharraf was forced to retire General Ahmed after Wall Street Journal exposed General's financing of 9/11 attacks. Another Pakistani ISI director Hamid Gul was the chief planner for Osama bin Laden. Karachi was the terror hub from where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) arranged for the flight of most of the terrorists to US.

Thus Pakistan was largely responsible for planning, financing and facilitating 9/11 attacks on World Trade Center and Pentagon. Ultimately Pakistan was rewarded with billions of dollars in US aid for carrying out 9/11 attacks, ironic as it sounds.

suresh sheth:

This trial of 5 Britons in bomb plot lays out Pakistani connection in the terror haunting West European and US lands - not Iraqi or Iranian, mind you - including that of Pakistani government in spite of all the denials by US/UK and other western governments as well as that of Pakistani government. Western news media all along has been playing the role of mouthpiece of all these governments including that of Pakistan, in covering up the role of Pakistani governments in this terror threat.

One has to wonder if the role of Pakistani government in 9/11 US attacks will ever see the light of day like that in British bomb plot. US knows very well that Pakistani government was responsible for the creation of Taliban government to begin with. All the Taliban leaders were schooled in Pakistani Madrasas, Pakistani military personnel manned top echelon of Taliban army and Taliban government payroll was financed by Pakistani government treasury. As Sandy Berger had told 9/11 Commission, Pakistani Army was the ‘midwife’ of Taliban.

Pakistani government also facilitated Osama bin Laden’s relocation to Afghanistan as 9/11 Commission reported. Pakistani ISI director General Mahmoud Ahmed asked Omar Sheikh (kidnapper of Daniel Pearl) to send $100,000 to Mohammed Atta (lead hijacker) one year before the attacks. Musharraf was forced to retire General Ahmed after Wall Street Journal exposed General's financing of 9/11 attacks. Another Pakistani ISI director Hamid Gul was the chief planner for Osama bin Laden. Karachi was the terror hub from where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) arranged for the flight of most of the terrorists to US.

Thus Pakistan was largely responsible for planning, financing and facilitating 9/11 attacks on World Trade Center and Pentagon. Ultimately Pakistan was rewarded with billions of dollars in US aid for carrying out 9/11 attacks, ironic as it sounds.

G Parthasarathy:

The writers loosely refer to terrorist groups the Lashkar e Toiba that have close lins with Al Qaeda as "Kashmiri" militant groups.This is incorrect. Hardly any member of these groups is Kashmiri. The Headquarters of the Lashkar e Toiba is in Muridhke near Lahore in Pakistan's Punjab Province. It is not in Kashmir.

The overwhelming majority of members of such groups claiming to be waging "Jihad" against "Christians, Jews and Hindus" are from the Punjab and Northwest Frontier Provinces of Pakistan. Likewise the bulk of the persons of Pakistani origin arrested for acts of terrorism in the UK are not "Kashmiris" but from the Punjab Province of Pakistan. These are factual errors that need to be corrected by the writers.

G Parthasarathy

Frank Livingston:

Just think, our Visa rules allow hem to just walk in unchecked like they live here.

raisalkhayal:

"And the ease with which al Qaeda has recruited operatives from the U.K. suggests that a future attack on the United States by British militants trained in al Qaeda’s training camps in Pakistan is a real possibility...."

The next attack above or on US soil could very well be planned and perpetrated by British cleanskins in the US on perfectly valid tourist or work visas.

(Cleanskins - trained/experienced operatives with no prior documented criminal/terrorism background).

I hope the intelligence and law enforcement services of the US, the UK and even Pakistan are able to glean usable information in the event something such as this is underway, otherwise, it's too late once the smoke begins to rise.

Washington, DC:

While the ties of the plotters to al Qaeda are fascinating, does this situation really relate to Pakistani-Americans? The Pakistani community in the UK is so much more disenfranchised and ostracized than immigrants in the US. The UK, as well as France and Germany, need to learn what the US has learned painfully over many generations -- they have pluralist nations now, and they won't survive globalization if they don't figure out that their ethnic minorities are there to stay.

Zathras:

This illuminating piece raises an interesting question.

To what extent has the reduction of tensions between India and Pakistan increased the terrorist threat outside of South Asia? Pakistani President Musharraf has in recent years sought to reduce the risk that terrorist attacks in Kashmir could escalate into a military confrontation with India, a confrontation Pakistan could not win and which might (since both countries have nuclear arsenals) kill millions. To a large degree he has succeeded; violence in Kashmir itself is down. This, however, has left a substantial number of Islamist types in Pakistan, and in the ISI, trained to conduct terrorism and deprived of their Indian targets. The many among them who are passionate about Kashmir haven't been reconciled to making peace with India, but for the moment find assisting the Taliban in Afghanistan and planning terrorist attacks outside the subcontinent safer.

This is bad for us, without question. It must cause American officials to start viewing with suspicion British visitors to this country of Pakistani descent, however distasteful this would be. But the alternative -- a Pakistan still intent on supporting terrorism against India over Kashmir -- might actually be worse, because following this policy would be more likely to produce a devastating war.

PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and washingtonpost.com, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send us your comments, questions and suggestions.