U.K. Official Resigns After Security Lapse
By CARRICK MOLLENKAMP, ALISTAIR MACDONALD and SIOBHAN GORMAN | April 10, 2009
LONDON -- The Metropolitan Police Service entered a new phase of turmoil when its top counterterrorism official, Bob Quick, resigned in the wake of his inadvertent disclosure of secret plans to stop an alleged terrorist plot in northwest England.
John Yates, a 28-year Metropolitan Police veteran known for his skill in murder cases and delicate political inquiries, immediately succeeded Mr. Quick, becoming the third counterterrorism chief Scotland Yard has had since late 2007. The change comes as the U.K. is dealing with the reality that small, radical Islamic cells remain a big threat -- even as the government spends more time and money on intelligence and outreach to Muslim communities.
When Robert Quick arrived at No 10 Downing Street in London earlier this week, he was carrying a document labeled "Secret" visible in his hand.
Police now plan to question the 12 people arrested in raids across northwest England on Wednesday. Among them were 10 Pakistani-born U.K. students who may have entered the U.K. as a working group, according to people familiar with the situation. One suspect is U.K.-born.
Peter Fahy, chief constable of the Greater Manchester Police, said Thursday that the arrests had been planned for a day later. But officers scrambled to change plans when Mr. Quick -- visiting Downing Street Wednesday morning for a briefing with Prime Minister Gordon Brown -- was photographed carrying a briefing paper with a page of details of the raid clearly visible.
In the aftermath of the arrests, Mr. Quick apologized immediately. But pressure quickly mounted for his resignation, which he delivered Thursday morning.
Police haven't said whether the suspects were known to have a plan to attack specific targets.
Mr. Quick's gaffe drew attention away from the fact that the potential for terrorism remains an important issue in the U.K. A 2005 attack on the London transportation system left 56 people dead, and several failed attempts followed in 2006 and 2007. Last month, the Home Office said that al Qaeda may fragment, but that the terrorist threat will likely diversify toward smaller "self-starting" groups.
"We do have some very serious contamination" in the U.K. community, said Tarique Ghaffur, a London security consultant who served as a high-ranking Scotland Yard assistant commissioner until last November. "It's a very difficult scenario and a very dangerous one."
At the same time, there has been instability in the country's top counterterrorism ranks. In the past 18 months, counterterrorism chiefs Peter Clarke and Andy Hayman departed. Mr. Quick was named to the post a little more than a year ago.
A spokesman for London Mayor Boris Johnson wasn't immediately available for comment. A Scotland Yard spokesman said the turnover in such a critical post wouldn't have a negative impact on police performance.
Ties to Pakistan in the alleged terrorist plot are likely to be an important focus for the police, who have traced connections to that country in prior terrorist probes traced connections. Large-scale immigration to the U.K. from Pakistan, a former British colony, dates to the 1950s.
More than 250,000 people from Pakistan were allowed into the U.K. in 2007 for reasons including business, visits and emigration from Pakistan. In 2007, 10,600 people from Pakistan were granted student visas. A Home Office spokesman said the visa applications require fingerprinting and scrutiny of ties to terrorism.
A suspected terrorist named Rashid Rauf was thought to be a leader of a failed plot to blow up trans-Atlantic flights in 2006. Mr. Rauf, a U.K. citizen of Pakistani origin, was believed killed in a drone attack in Pakistan there last November. Since last summer, the U.S. has stepped up Central Intelligence Agency drone attacks against al Qaeda targets in Pakistan's tribal region along the Afghan border. Western security officials said the missile attacks appear to have reduced but not eliminated British terrorist plots linked to Pakistan.
A Pakistani security official said his government was aware of Wednesday's arrests and awaiting confirmation that those arrested were of Pakistani origin. The official said Pakistan was prepared to cooperate but wanted proof. Mr. Brown, the U.K. prime minister, was expected to speak soon with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.
In a separate headache for Scotland Yard, police on Thursday suspended an officer following the death of a man during protests surrounding last week's Group of 20 meeting of world leaders. The suspension followed the disclosure of video footage that showed a police officer knocking down the man -- who wasn't protesting -- minutes before he collapsed and died from an apparent heart attack.
—Jennifer Martinez contributed to this article.
Write to Carrick Mollenkamp at firstname.lastname@example.org, Alistair MacDonald at email@example.com and Siobhan Gorman at firstname.lastname@example.org