Guardian : Terror accused halts evidence citing fear for relatives

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Terror accused halts evidence citing fear for relatives

· Pakistan secret service 'had words with family'
· Defendant warned by judge about silence

by Jeevan Vasagar | September 19, 2006

The Old Bailey trial of an alleged British al-Qaida cell was halted yesterday after one of the defendants refused to carry on giving evidence, claiming the Pakistani secret service had threatened his family.

Omar Khyam, 24, who is accused along with six other men of plotting a bombing campaign in Britain using fertiliser-based explosives, astonished his defence barrister when he refused to answer questions. Asked by his counsel, Joel Bennathan, whether he had bought the fertiliser with the help of others, Mr Khyam said: "Before we go on to that topic, I just want to say the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] in Pakistan has had words with my family relating to what I have been saying about them.

"I think they are worried I might reveal more about them, so right now, as much as I want to clarify matters, the priority for me has to be the safety of my family so I am going to stop."

When asked by a clearly flustered Mr Bennathan what he meant by "stop", Mr Khyam said: "I am not going to discuss anything related to the ISI any more or my evidence."

Mr Khyam, from Crawley, West Sussex, gave evidence last week about a militant training camp in Pakistan where he claimed the ISI intelligence agency handled explosives training.

The defendant was warned by the judge, Sir Michael Astill, that his refusal to give evidence could count against him when the jury considers its verdict.

Addressing him directly, the judge said: "Mr Khyam, what I have to say to you now arises from your answers to questions put by your counsel Mr Bennathan, when the evidence you were giving began today.

"If you refuse to answer questions which were being asked at that time, or any other question without good cause, the jury may draw such inferences as thought proper from your failure to so do.

"Do you understand?"

"Yes," Mr Khyam said. The case was adjourned and is due to resume today.

Last week, Mr Khyam told the jury that many of his family were in the Pakistani military, and in the ISI. He said that when he was 18, he ran away from home to join a militant training camp in the mountains above Rawalpindi, where he was trained with AK47 rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns.

He said he was not involved in explosives training, which he claimed was run by the ISI. The court heard that he left the camp only after his family used their ISI contacts to find him.

Mr Khyam and six others were arrested in March 2004 after 600kg (1,300lb) of ammonium nitrate fertiliser was discovered in a west London storage depot. The prosecution alleges this was to be used for bombs against targets including the Ministry of Sound nightclub and Bluewater shopping centre.

Last week, Mr Khyam said he felt "happy" after 9/11 and discussed bombing the House of Commons. But he said this was a joke. He told the court he wanted to help Islamist fighters in Pakistan. "I wanted to help out with the cause," he said.

Mr Khyam, his brother Shujah Mahmood, 19, Waheed Mahmood, 34, and Jawad Akbar, 23, all from Crawley, Sussex, Salahuddin Amin, 31, from Luton, Bedfordshire, Anthony Garcia, 24, of Ilford, east London, and Nabeel Hussain, 21, of Horley, Surrey, deny conspiring to cause explosions likely to endanger life between January 1 2003 and March 31 2004.

Mr Khyam, Mr Garcia and Mr Hussain also deny a charge under the Terrorism Act of possessing 600kg of ammonium nitrate fertiliser for terrorism.

Mr Khyam and Shujah Mahmood further deny possessing aluminium powder for terrorism.