McClatchy : Iraq redux? Obama seeks funds for Pakistan super-embassy

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Iraq redux? Obama seeks funds for Pakistan super-embassy

By Saeed Shah and Warren P. Strobel | McClatchy Newspapers | May 27, 2009

ISLAMABAD — The U.S. is embarking on a $1 billion crash program to expand its diplomatic presence in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan, another sign that the Obama administration is making a costly, long-term commitment to war-torn South Asia, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

The White House has asked Congress for — and seems likely to receive — $736 million to build a new U.S. embassy in Islamabad, along with permanent housing for U.S. government civilians and new office space in the Pakistani capital.

The scale of the projects rivals the giant U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, which was completed last year after construction delays at a cost of $740 million.

Senior State Department officials said the expanded diplomatic presence is needed to replace overcrowded, dilapidated and unsafe facilities and to support a "surge" of civilian officials into Afghanistan and Pakistan ordered by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Other major projects are planned for Kabul, Afghanistan; and for the Pakistani cities of Lahore and Peshawar. In Peshawar, the U.S. government is negotiating the purchase of a five-star hotel that would house a new U.S. consulate.

Funds for the projects are included in a 2009 supplemental spending bill that the House of Representatives and the Senate have passed in slightly different forms.

Obama has repeatedly stated that stabilizing Pakistan and Afghanistan, the countries from which al Qaida and the Taliban operate, is vital to U.S. national security. He's ordered thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan and is proposing substantially increased aid to both countries.

In Pakistan, however, large parts of the population are hostile to the U.S. presence in the region — despite receiving billions of dollars in aid from Washington since 2001 — and anti-American groups and politicians are likely to seize on the expanded diplomatic presence in Islamabad as evidence of American "imperial designs."

"This is a replay of Baghdad," said Khurshid Ahmad, a member of Pakistan's upper house of parliament for Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the country's two main religious political parties. "This (Islamabad embassy) is more (space) than they should need. It's for the micro and macro management of Pakistan, and using Pakistan for pushing the American agenda in Central Asia."

In Baghdad and other dangerous locales, U.S. diplomats have sometimes found themselves cut off from the population in heavily fortified compounds surrounded by blast walls, concertina wire and armed guards.

"If you're going to have people live in a car bomb-prone place, your are driven to not have a light footprint," said Ronald Neumann, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and the president of the American Academy of Diplomacy. Neumann called the planned expansions "generally pretty justified."

In Islamabad, according to State Department budget documents, the plan calls for the rapid construction of a $111 million new office annex to accommodate 330 workers; $197 million to build 156 permanent and 80 temporary housing units; and a $405 million replacement of the main embassy building. The existing embassy, in the capital's leafy diplomatic enclave, was badly damaged in a 1979 assault by Pakistani students.

The U.S. government also plans to revamp its consular buildings in the eastern city of Lahore and in Peshawar, the regional capital of the militancy plagued North West Frontier Province. The consulate in the southern megacity of Karachi has just been relocated into a new purpose-built accommodation.

A senior State Department official confirmed that the U.S. plan for the consulate in Peshawar involves the purchase of the luxury Pearl Continental hotel. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly.

The Pearl Contintental is the city's only five-star hotel, set in its own expansive grounds, with a swimming pool. It's owned by Pakistani tycoon Sadruddin Hashwani.

Peshawar is an important station for gathering intelligence on the tribal area that surrounds the city on three sides and is a base for al Qaida and the Taliban. The area also will be a focus for expanded U.S. aid programs, and the American mission in Peshawar has already expanded from three U.S. diplomats to several dozen.

In all, the administration requested $806 million for diplomatic construction and security in Pakistan.

"For the strong commitment the U.S. is making in the country of Pakistan, we need the necessary platform to fulfill our diplomatic mission," said Jonathan Blyth of the State Department's Overseas Buildings Operations bureau. "The embassy is in need of upgrading and expansion to meet our future mission requirements."

A senior Pakistani official said the expansion has been under discussion for three years. "Pakistanis understand the need for having diplomatic missions expanding and the Americans always have had an enclave in Islamabad," said the official, who requested anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the matter publicly. "Will some people exploit it? They will."

In Kabul, the U.S. government is negotiating an $87 million purchase of a 30- to 40-acre parcel of land to expand the embassy. The Senate version of the appropriations bill omits all but $10 million of those funds.

(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent. Jonathan S. Landay contributed to this article.)

Times : 7/7 bombers could not have acted alone

Friday, May 29, 2009

7/7 bombers could not have acted alone

Commentary: Andy Hayman | April 29, 2009

The acquittals of three men on charges of helping the July 7 suicide bombers leave me with a sense of bitter disappointment. I suspect that feeling is shared by the families of the victims, the survivors and the police investigation team.

These charges would not have been brought unless police and prosecutors were satisfied that there was significant evidence implicating the defendants in the preparation of the 7/7 attacks.

I have no doubt that Mohammad Sidique Khan and the other three bombers had significant assistance from others here and overseas.

There were several sets of fingerprints, other than those of the four dead bombers, in the bomb factory in Leeds. There was extensive telephone contact with other people, here and in Pakistan. In my mind, it is inconceivable that the only people involved in planning these attacks were the four who carried them out.

The end of this trial probably represents the last throw of the dice for the police investigation into 7/7. It is extremely frustrating to reach this milestone knowing that people who aided and abetted the murders of 52 innocent people remain at large. I remain firmly of the view, however, that everything that could possibly be done was done and every lead was pursued.

The scale of the investigation was immense: more than 37,000 exhibits were examined, 4,700 telephones seized, producing more than 90,000 numbers requiring analysis and 24,000 people to be traced, interviewed and eliminated. Officers from Scotland Yard relocated to West Yorkshire to conduct inquiries.

This investigation was conducted by counter-terrorism units that were stretched to their limit and ran alongside inquiries into 11 other high-profile terrorist cases. But at the end of that inquiry the evidence that could be put before the court was circumstantial. Perhaps that is the only evidence there was to be found. A brave choice was made to put it before a jury and let justice take its course.

This was no half-baked police operation. I know that the officers involved had the grief of the bereaved etched on their minds. However, despite their best efforts, the evidence was not convincing enough.

Andy Hayman was Assistant Commissioner Special Operations in the Metropolitan Police 2005-07

Guardian : Timeline: The 7/7 London bombings

Friday, May 29, 2009

Timeline: The 7/7 London bombings

The 7 July attacks took the conspirators repeated trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and years, to plan

Rachel Williams | April 28, 2009



Mohammed Shakil attends three-day militant training camp in Kashmir, where he learns to fire a gun. He describes the thrill as being "like a bungee jump".

July 2001

Mohammad Sidique Khan and Waheed Ali travel to Pakistan, where they spend a fortnight at a training camp in Kashmir before travelling into Afghanistan to a base camp a mile behind the frontline. They return to the UK a week before the September 11 attacks on the US.

July 2003

Khan and Shakil travel to Pakistan. They meet Mohammed Junaid Babar and the fertiliser bomb plotter, Omar Khyam, telling them they are on a fact-finding mission. They are persuaded to attend a training camp, however, and there they take part in firearms training using light machine guns, AK47s and rocket-propelled grenades.

February 2004

Khan, Shehzad Tanweer, Ali and Khyam meet several times in the UK and are captured on police surveillance discussing how to raise money for jihad by defrauding builders' merchants and banks.

November 2004

Khan makes home video recordings for his baby daughter, Maryam, saying goodbye before he goes to fight jihad. In one, he introduces the six-month-old to her "uncles": Tanweer, fellow 7 July bomber Hasib Hussain, and Ali. Days later, he and Tanweer fly to Pakistan. At the end of the month Khan's wife records in her diary that he may be back by February.

December 16 2004

Ali, Sadeer Saleem and Shakil drive from Leeds to London with Hussain on a trip described by the prosecution as a reconnaissance mission. They spend time in east London, where Ali, by his account, stays in the afternoon to visit his sister and her children. Saleem, Shakil and Hussain go to the Natural History Museum. They are joined in the evening by Jermaine Lindsay. All five stay the night at the Journey's Hostel, King's Cross.

December 17 2004

Lindsay leaves early in the morning; Ali, Saleem, Shakil and Hussain go on the London Eye and to the London Aquarium. They leave the city at lunchtime.

December 2004

Ali and Saleem fly from Manchester to Islamabad. They claim that while in Pakistan they spent several weeks at a training camp, where they say they were visited by Khan and Tanweer, and were told the pair were returning to the UK to "do a couple of things for the brothers".

February 2005

Khan returns to the UK; Ali and Saleem come home later in the month.

April to June 2005

Khan, Tanweer, Hussain and Lindsay are captured on CCTV visiting the second bomb factory, in Chapeltown Road, Leeds.

June 28 2005

Khan, Tanweer and Lindsay make a final reconnaissance trip to London.

July 7 2005

Khan, Tanweer, Lindsay and Hussain detonate suicide bombs on London's transport system, killing 52 people.

October 2006

"Cell site analysis" of mobile phone calls alerts police to the December 2004 trip.

March 2007

Ali and Shakil are arrested as they prepare to board a flight to Pakistan. Saleem is taken into custody at home in Leeds.

Guardian : Trio not guilty of helping 7/7 London bombers

Friday, May 29, 2009

Trio not guilty of helping 7/7 London bombers

Jury clears men of conspiring with four bombers over London 2005 explosions that killed 52

Rachel Williams | April 28, 2009

Three British Muslims were today cleared of helping the 7 July bombers choose their targets by carrying out a reconnaissance mission in London seven months before the attacks that killed 52 people and injured almost 1,000.

A jury at Kingston crown court unanimously found Waheed Ali, 25, Sadeer Saleem, 28, and Mohammed Shakil, 32, all from Beeston, Leeds, not guilty of conspiring with the four bombers to cause explosions, after deliberating for eight days.

They are the only people to be charged over the attacks in 2005, which prompted the biggest criminal investigation in British history – more than 18,450 statements were taken and at least 37,000 exhibits were collected.

Ali and Shakil were, however, convicted of conspiracy to attend a place used for terrorist training. They were about to board a flight to Pakistan when they were arrested in 2007. The pair will be sentenced tomorrow afternoon.

The home secretary, Jacqui Smith, welcomed those guilty verdicts, which she said "clearly demonstrated the determined stance the UK takes against those suspected of involvement in terrorism".

As the verdicts were read out, Ali smiled broadly, Saleem wiped his eyes and Shakil leant forward, mouthing "thank you" to the jury. The trio had been retried after a jury failed to reach a verdict on the charges relating to the 7 July attacks last year after about three weeks of deliberations.

Survivors of the attacks and family members of those who died said today's verdicts strengthened the case for an independent inquiry into the bombings.

The end of the trial clears the way for the publication of a long-awaited report into whether the attacks could have been prevented, which is expected to be critical of the way MI5 and West Yorkshire police responded to earlier intelligence linking some of the suicide bombers with a group who were plotting to explode a series of huge fertiliser bombs.

The two key bombers, Mohammad Siddique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, crossed MI5's radar several times in 2004 as the security service watched the gang that was later convicted of plotting to blow up Bluewater shopping centre in Kent and south London's Ministry of Sound nightclub.

Ali was also present when Khan and Tanweer met the leader of that cell, Omar Khyam, and Shakil and Khan trained with him at a camp in Pakistan in 2003.

But after the fertiliser plotters were arrested in March 2003, Khan and Tanweer, who had been judged to be peripheral figures because they only seemed interested in committing fraud to fund overseas jihad, were not followed again by M15 and were not identified by the service.

Khyam was referred to as "Ausman" during the trial for fear that revealing his true indentity to the jury would prejudice the case.

Graham Foulkes, whose 22-year-old son David worked for the Guardian in Manchester and was killed in the Edgware Road tube explosion, said: "For almost four years, we have been asking for an inquiry into what led up to 7/7.

"We are not looking for people to blame, but we also know that we have not been told the whole truth. We believe that crucial lessons need to be learned. If mistakes have been made, they should be put right, not covered up. This is not a witch-hunt, it is simply about saving lives."

Police have said they know others were involved in the attacks and believe there are still people in Beeston with significant information who have never come forward.

Deputy assistant commissioner John McDowall, the head of the Metropolitan police's counterterrorism command, said he believed others were involved in planning the attacks.

"I would urge anybody who has any information about 7/7 to come forward and contact police," he said. "I do understand that people may have concerns about the impact of giving us information, but it is the right thing to do."

Speaking about Ali and Shakil, he said: "These two men learned to fight at training camps attended by other terrorists. Mohammed Siddique Khan and Mohammed Shakil told other attendees that their aim was to fight in Afghanistan. They were proficient in the use of, and handling of, terrorist weapons and were certainly not enjoying a day out in a beautiful and mountainous area of Pakistan, as was suggested in court.

"Shakil himself accepted that the camp at Malakand was a serious business, whose purpose was to train willing volunteers to fight and kill in Afghanistan on behalf of the Taliban, a cause to which both he and Ali were, and remain, sympathetic.

"Ali and Shakil clearly associated with, and shared the terrorist beliefs of, the London bombers."

Ali, Saleem and Shakil spent two days in London with the bus bomber, Hasib Hussain, in December 2004 and were joined there by another of the attackers, Jermaine Lindsay, who killed 26 people on a Piccadilly line underground train.

The trio had denied the charges and said they were on a sightseeing trip. They went on the London Eye and visited the Natural History Museum and the London Aquarium as they travelled around the capital.

The prosecution alleged they conducted a "hostile reconnaissance" of potential targets, claiming it was "an important first step in what was, by then, a settled plan to cause explosions in the UK".

Interviewed by police shortly after the bombings, Ali, Saleem and Shakil distanced themselves from the bombers but, in the year that followed, DNA and fingerprint evidence linked them to the two bomb factories in the city and made them "persons of interest".

Detectives first realised the trio may have been to London with Hussain and Lindsay while analysing the details of 4,700 phone numbers and 90,000 calls. Cell site analysis, pinpointing the location of a mobile phone when a call is made, revealed that all five men had been in the capital on 16-17 December. The analysis allowed the group's movements across London to be mapped.

But there was no CCTV footage to show what they had been doing and no proof they had even been on the London underground, where three of the four bombs exploded.

The trio argued during the trial that the items carrying their DNA had been taken to the bomb factories by the bombers, not them.

The jury was warned not to think that they must be guilty just because they were friends with the bombers, with whom they attended the same mosques, gyms and community organisations growing up in Beeston.

The Crown Prosecution Service later defended its decision to prosecute the three men and to go for a retrial following the first court case, although it "fully respected" the jury's verdict.

Sue Hemming, the head of the counterterrorism division, said: "Although there was no direct evidence that these men were involved in the terrible events of 7/7, we felt there was sufficient evidence to show they were involved in reconnaissance and planning for an attack of some kind and it was in the public interest that such a serious matter should be put before a court."

Saleem, who was cleared of all charges, called for an inquiry into his prosecution.

In a statement read by Imran Khan, his solicitor, on the steps of Kingston crown court, Saleem said: "I have lost over two years of my life which I will never get back. Even though I have been acquitted, some people will always connect me with these events.

"I want people to know I am totally innocent and I want there to be an inquiry into why I was prosecuted on the flimsiest of evidence. Nobody should be put through what I have gone through."

Guardian : Four years, 52 dead, £100m - no convictions

Friday, May 29, 2009

Four years, 52 dead, £100m - no convictions

Police say further 7/7 charges unlikely
Security officials say little chance of 7/7 bombing charges as three cleared

Sandra Laville, Rachel Williams and Richard Norton-Taylor | April 29, 2009

Senior security officials conceded last night that it is likely no one will be brought to justice for the 7 July bombs that killed 52 people in London in 2005, despite their belief that more than 20 people were involved in the attacks.

The admission came shortly after the only three men to be charged in connection with the suicide bombings were acquitted yesterday.

After a £100m criminal investigation, the biggest police inquiry in modern times, the trio were cleared by a jury at Kingston crown court of helping to plan the attacks by carrying out a reconnaissance mission with two of the bombers.

The men, Waheed Ali, 25, Mohammed Shakil, 32, and Sadeer Saleem, 28, had already been tried once last year, when a jury failed to reach a verdict.

Peter Clarke, former head of the Metropolitan police's anti-terrorism branch, who led the inquiry until his retirement last year, told the Guardian: "Every possible line had been followed and there didn't seem to be any fresh new lines. The core of the investigation was the people that were in court over the last few weeks."

Another senior source said the investigating officers were now at a loss where to turn. The Guardian understands that counter-terrorism officials believe around 20 people were involved, from those associated with the bombers to those who helped them plan the attacks.

The three men acquitted yesterday became "persons of interest" when officers discovered DNA and fingerprints linking them to the two bomb factories in Leeds. Detectives first realised they had been to London with bombers Hasib Hussain and Germaine Lindsay while scrutinising the details of 4,700 phone numbers and 90,000 calls. Cell site analysis, pinpointing the location of a mobile phone when a call is made, revealed that all five men had been in the capital on 16-17 December.

But during the trial they insisted that they had been on a sightseeing trip, visiting the London Eye, the London Aquarium and the Natural History Museum, and were opposed to suicide bombings. No CCTV of the visit remained. At least 10 sets of fingerprints found at the bomb factories have never been identified.

The verdict opens the way for fresh and highly damaging disclosures by the parliamentary intelligence and security committee (ISC) about how MI5 and West Yorkshire police missed opportunities to follow - and possibly stop - two of the 7 July suicide bombers.

A report by the ISC, which the Guardian has been told describes in detail how MI5 and West Yorkshire police failed to intercept the attackers, was withheld in case it prejudiced the trial but will be released next month. Campaigners said it had been described to them as "devastating".

More intelligence is also believed to have emerged about what the security and intelligence agencies knew about the training camps in Pakistan, the number of people connected with the 7/7 bombers who visited them and how many times.

The Guardian understands the ISC report details how MI5 officers monitored four meetings in early 2004 between Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer - the ringleaders of the 7/7 attacks - and Omar Khyam, the ringleader of a plot to blow up shopping centres and nightclubs who was jailed for life in 2007. Ali was also at some of the meetings.

Crucial questions that have not been answered include:

• Why MI5 and police did not take more urgent steps to identify Khan and Tanweer, whom they had photographed and bugged.

• Whether Scotland Yard's anti-terrorism branch or MI5 alerted West Yorkshire police about everything they knew.

• Has the ISC now been given all the new evidence, including about links between the plotters here and camps in Pakistan?

Survivors and family of those who died stepped up calls for an independent inquiry, saying that if the report fails to answer "key questions" they will push ahead with a judicial review into the government's refusal to order one. They called for inquests to be arranged as soon as possible, and voiced fears the hearings could be held in secret under the coroners and justice bill going through parliament.

Robert Webb, whose 29-year-old sister Laura died in the Edgware Road bombing, said: "The trial ... raises again the awful question of whether the bombings could have been prevented."

Saleem, 28, spoke outside court to say he was "totally innocent" yesterday. "I have lost over two years of my life which I will never get back," he said.

Ali and Shakil were convicted of planning to attend a terrorist training camp, charges added at the retrial. They were arrested on their way to Manchester airport to fly to Pakistan in March 2007.

Times : British trio cleared of helping to plan 7/7 London attacks

Friday, May 29, 2009

British trio cleared of helping to plan 7/7 London attacks

David Brown | April 28, 2009

Three British Muslims were cleared today of helping to plan terrorist attacks on London that killed 52 people and injured almost 1,000.

Waheed Ali, Mohammed Shakil and Sadeer Saleem are the only people to have been prosecuted over Britain's first suicide bomb attacks, on July 7, 2005

They were accused of carrying out a reconnaissance mission to identify targets for the 7/7 gang but were found not guilty of conspiracy to cause explosions after a three-month trial at Kingston Crown Court.

Ali and Shakil were convicted of planning to attend a terrorist training camp when they were arrested on their way to Manchester Airport for a flight to Pakistan in March 2007.

Senior police officers have admitted that no one else is likely to be charged in connection with the London attacks despite evidence that other people were involved.

Andy Hayman, Britain’s most senior anti-terrorism police officer at the time of the attacks, told The Times: “We must respect the verdict of the jury but, rather than it starting to bring a small degree of closure, we are instead left with a deep sense of emptiness.

“I have no doubt in my mind that Mohammed Sidique Khan and the other three bombers had significant assistance from other people in this country and overseas.”

Mr Ali, 25, Mr Shakil, 33, and Mr Saleem, 28, admitted that they had been committed jihadists and had previously attended training camps in Pakistan. They insisted that they had no knowledge of the planned attacks on London and said that it was against their faith to attack civilians.

The men – all from Beeston, Leeds – travelled to London in December 2004 with two of the 7/7 gang, Jermaine Lindsay and Hasib Hussain. During the two-day trip they visited the Natural History Museum, the London Eye and the London Aquarium, as well as the eventual targets chosen for the attacks.

The men insisted that they had visited to capital so that Ali could see his sister before flying to Pakistan to join a terrorism training camp. They said that they were sightseeing.

Seven months later their friends detonated explosives on three packed Tube trains and a bus at the height of the morning rush hour.

Hussain killed 13 passengers on a bus in Tavistock Square and Lindsay killed 26 people on a Piccadilly Line train at Russell Square.

Mohammad Sidique Khan killed six people on a Circle Line train at Edgware Road and Shezhad Tanweer killed seven people at Aldgate.

Mr Justice Gross had told the jury that they should not convict the men simply because they were outraged by the events of July 7 and could not punish the dead bombers.

A previous jury last year failed to reach verdicts on the charges of conspiracy to cause explosions.

Today’s acquittals after two trials estimated to have cost at least £5 million will lead to renewed calls for a public inquiry into events leading up to the 7/7 attacks.

The Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, which had previously defended the failure to identify the bombers before they struck, has completed a report that is expected to be more critical of the missed opportunities to stop the attacks.

Mohammad Sidique Khan, the leader of the 7/7 gang, his fellow bomber Shezhad Tanweer and Ali had appeared four times in M15 surveillance more than a year before the attacks.

They were spotted after meetings with another terrorist gang in Crawley, West Sussex. But the jury was not told that the other gang planned to attack a London shopping centre or nightclub with a massive fertiliser-based bomb.

Ali, who was born in Bangladesh, boasted in court that his “ultimate aim” was to fight coalition forces in Afghanistan and kill British soldiers. He described civilian deaths as “collateral damage”.

He attended a jihadist training camp in Pakistan with Khan in 2001 and both men served with the Taleban in Afghanistan for two weeks. He attended another jihad camp in Pakistan from December 2004 to March 2005.

Shakil, also a father of three, was born in Pakistan. He had worked with Mohammad Sidique Khan as a youth leader at the Hardy Street Mosque in Beeston.

He attended a jihad training in Kashmir in 1999 and in 2003 travelled to Pakistan with Khan to take part in another camp, were they met members of the fertliser-bomb gang.

Attendance at a terrorism training camp abroad was made illegal by the Terrorism Act 2006.

Guardian : 7/7 bomb attacks: police and MI5 cleared of blame

Friday, May 29, 2009

7/7 bomb attacks: police and MI5 cleared of blame

MPs say agency suffered serious lack of resources
Survivor describes report as 'catalogue of excuses'

Rachel Williams and Richard Norton-Taylor | May 19, 2009

Families of the victims of the 7 July suicide bombings today stepped up demands for an independent inquiry, as a long-awaited report into whether the atrocities could have been prevented revealed that the bombers' leader had crossed the radar of police and MI5 on eight occasions but had never been assessed as a threat.

The intelligence and security committee (ISC) cleared the police and agencies of any blame for failing to track Mohammad Sidique Khan and his right-hand man, Shehzad Tanweer, after they appeared as part of an investigation into a plot to detonate fertiliser bombs in the UK, almost 18 months before the 2005 attacks in London; the ISC said there was no evidence the pair planned to launch attacks themselves.

But it also listed a string of occasions, dating back to 1993, when versions of Khan's name or addresses connected to him were recorded by police or MI5, all but the earliest because of links to people being investigated over extremism.

In unprecedented detail, the committee also revealed a lack of co-operation between MI5 in London and police special branch in West Yorkshire. But it concluded that MI5 suffered at the time from a serious lack of resources.

The heavily censored, 102-page report revealed that in 2001 West Yorkshire police had videoed Khan at a training camp in the UK organised by two known extremists, an event described as a "significant lead" by the ISC. Images from the footage were shown to their sources but Khan was not identified.

The other pieces of information on Khan, held variously by West Yorkshire police, the Metropolitan police and MI5, were never connected before 7 July. It was "surprising" that MI5 said it had not identified Khan by then, given the amount of information held, the report said.

Rachel North, a survivor of the attacks, which killed 52 people, said she was "sad but not surprised" by the report. She described it as a "catalogue of excuses for MI5's narrow focus and failure of intelligence caused by failure of imagination and failure of co-operation [between police and MI5] at a critical time".

The report revealed that MI5 is not automatically informed when the police special branch receives intelligence about terrorism. It also said MI5 had no legal power to pass to the police all the intelligence it collects from counter-terrorism operations. But the committee concluded that, having looked at all the evidence in "considerable" detail, "we cannot criticise the judgments made by MI5 and the police on the information that they had and their priorities at the time".

Ten secure emails were exchanged between MI5 and West Yorkshire police referring to an individual now known to be Khan after the fertiliser bomb plotters had been arrested, the ISC discovered, but the force "did not find anything significant".

The chairman of the ISC, Kim Howells, said: "Our criticism at the time was mainly that MI5 acted on a need-to-know basis and there ought to have been a more complete dialogue between MI5 and special branch."

The report repeatedly asserted that MI5's lack of resources meant it could not have followed Khan and Tanweer after the fertiliser plotters had been arrested. Even if the service had had greater capacity, it would not have happened since they were not seen as a threat, it added.

It described it as "astounding" that in 2004 it was not possible to provide intelligence coverage for 52 "essential" targets, and MI5 could only provide reasonable coverage for 6% of the overall known threat. The MPs said that despite an increase in surveillance capability since then, the committee remained "concerned that not enough targets can be covered adequately".

The committee said that in the course of this second review of the intelligence it had uncovered new information that even the organisations involved had not connected together before.

Giving evidence in June 2007, the head of MI5 admitted it was "unsatisfactory" that even then the service was discovering new references to Khan.

It was not until after the 2005 attacks that a conversation in the car of Omar Khyam, leader of the fertiliser plotters, was fully transcribed and then revealed that Tanweer was present, praising the Madrid bombings.

The report said it was possible that a "facilitator", whose name is redacted, was involved in the 7 July bombings. The Guardian understands the individual is Rashid Rauf, a British-Pakistani believed to have died in an American drone strike on the Afghan border.

The former shadow home secretary, David Davis, said there was a clear need for a senior judge to lead an investigation. "There were errors which, if avoided, would have led to a prevention of this attack."

Gordon Brown said there was no evidence to support allegations about missed clues or ignored warnings and that an investigation into the fertiliser bombs understandably took precedence.

Times : 7/7 bombings: end of the road

Friday, May 29, 2009

7/7 bombings: end of the road

Sean O’Neill and David Brown | April 29, 2009

No one will be brought to justice for the mass murder of 52 people in the 7/7 London bombings, security sources conceded last night as three men were acquitted of helping the terrorists.

After a massive security operation, a four-year investigation and two trials costing well in excess of £100 million, three friends of the lead suicide bomber, c, were cleared by a jury of being part of his support cell. Sadeer Saleem, 28, left court a free man but Waheed Ali, 25, and Mohammed Shakil, 32, were convicted of attending terrorist training camps and will be sentenced today.

Detectives are certain that the bombers received help from within the Muslim community in Beeston, Leeds, which, they say, is reluctant to co-operate with police. Sources said that potential witnesses had been “actively dissuaded” from helping police. As many as ten sets of unidentified fingerprints were found in bomb factories used by Khan, 30, and the three other men who killed themselves in the attacks on three Tube trains and a London bus on July 7, 2005.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner John McDowall, of the Scotland Yard Counter Terrorism Command, said: “While those directly responsible for the bombings died in the attacks, we remain convinced that others must have been involved in the planning.”

Mr McDowall appealed for witnesses to come forward, but Andy Hayman, the Yard’s head of counter-terrorism in July 2005, writes in The Times today that the trial was “the last throw of the dice” for the 7/7 investigation.

Survivors and relatives of the victims accepted the verdicts with resignation and demanded immediate publication of an Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) report into 7/7, the urgent opening of inquests and an independent inquiry with powers to summon witnesses.

“We want an inquiry which can get to the bottom of what went wrong and why Khan wasn’t stopped. We don’t want a witch-hunt, we just want the truth,” said Rachel North, who was injured in the blast at King’s Cross.

The ISC report is expected in two weeks. The key issue for the relatives will be the fate of a fax message sent by MI5, which watched Khan in 2004 as he associated with another British terrorist, to West Yorkshire Police asking for his movements to be watched.

Informed sources say that receipt of the fax was never acknowledged. Police did not monitor Khan and he flew to Pakistan where he was groomed by al-Qaeda leaders to become a suicide bomber.

Graham Foulkes, whose son David, 22, died on a Circle Line train at Edgware Road, said that the trial revealed that there had been significant pre-attack intelligence about Khan.

He said: “Immediately after the bombings the Home Secretary, Tony Blair and other politicians were saying these men were ‘clean skins’ and the attacks came ‘out of the blue’. Either they were lying, or the intelligence community lied to the politicians.”

Telegraph : Abu Ghraib abuse photos 'show rape'

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Abu Ghraib abuse photos 'show rape'

By Duncan Gardham, Security Correspondent and Paul Cruickshank | May 27, 2009

Photographs of alleged prisoner abuse which Barack Obama is attempting to censor include images of apparent rape and sexual abuse, it has emerged.

At least one picture shows an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee.

Further photographs are said to depict sexual assaults on prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube.

Another apparently shows a female prisoner having her clothing forcibly removed to expose her breasts.

Detail of the content emerged from Major General Antonio Taguba, the former army officer who conducted an inquiry into the Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq.

Allegations of rape and abuse were included in his 2004 report but the fact there were photographs was never revealed. He has now confirmed their existence in an interview with the Daily Telegraph.

The graphic nature of some of the images may explain the US President’s attempts to block the release of an estimated 2,000 photographs from prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan despite an earlier promise to allow them to be published.

Maj Gen Taguba, who retired in January 2007, said he supported the President’s decision, adding: “These pictures show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency.

“I am not sure what purpose their release would serve other than a legal one and the consequence would be to imperil our troops, the only protectors of our foreign policy, when we most need them, and British troops who are trying to build security in Afghanistan.

“The mere description of these pictures is horrendous enough, take my word for it.”

In April, Mr Obama’s administration said the photographs would be released and it would be “pointless to appeal” against a court judgment in favour of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

But after lobbying from senior military figures, Mr Obama changed his mind saying they could put the safety of troops at risk.

Earlier this month, he said: “The most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to inflame anti-American public opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.”

It was thought the images were similar to those leaked five years ago, which showed naked and bloody prisoners being intimidated by dogs, dragged around on a leash, piled into a human pyramid and hooded and attached to wires.

Mr Obama seemed to reinforce that view by adding: “I want to emphasise that these photos that were requested in this case are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib.”

The latest photographs relate to 400 cases of alleged abuse between 2001 and 2005 in Abu Ghraib and six other prisons. Mr Obama said the individuals involved had been “identified, and appropriate actions” taken.

Maj Gen Taguba’s internal inquiry into the abuse at Abu Ghraib, included sworn statements by 13 detainees, which, he said in the report, he found “credible based on the clarity of their statements and supporting evidence provided by other witnesses.”

Among the graphic statements, which were later released under US freedom of information laws, is that of Kasim Mehaddi Hilas in which he says: “I saw [name of a translator] ******* a kid, his age would be about 15 to 18 years. The kid was hurting very bad and they covered all the doors with sheets. Then when I heard screaming I climbed the door because on top it wasn’t covered and I saw [name] who was wearing the military uniform, putting his **** in the little kid’s ***…. and the female soldier was taking pictures.”

The translator was an American Egyptian who is now the subject of a civil court case in the US.

Three detainees, including the alleged victim, refer to the use of a phosphorescent tube in the sexual abuse and another to the use of wire, while the victim also refers to part of a policeman’s “stick” all of which were apparently photographed.

Independent : Bombings spooked security services

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bombings spooked security services

By Robert Verkaik, Home Affairs Editor | May 21, 2009

Al-Qa'ida's attacks on London in the summer of 2005 exposed Britain's vulnerability to a new kind of terrorism.

The discovery that the July bombers and their accomplices were home-grown meant the police and the Security Service needed to rethink their counter-terrorism tactics. The subsequent hunt for groups of British-born men who might be planning similar attacks was given the highest priority.

Key to the new approach would be deeper penetration of Muslim communities. The police worked to gain the confidence of Muslim leaders; the Security Service stepped up its recruitment of informers.

Some of the intelligence obtained was key to foiling major terrorist attacks but there were also mistakes. The raid on the home of two brothers in Forest Gate, London, resulted in one of them being shot and both being exonerated. This year, the arrests of 11 Pakistani students and one British student ended in embarrassment when the raids were brought forward and the men were all released without charge.

Undaunted by the errors and damaging impact these tactics were having on Muslim communities, MI5 has pressed on with its recruitment drive.

While a few of these "spies" will be crucial to counter-terrorism operations, many will be of little or no intelligence value while others targeted will be hostile to the crude approaches of MI5 officers. The six north London men who say they have been targeted allege they have been blackmailed and intimidated by the Security Service.

For months, the men kept their contact with MI5 secret and did not even confide in their families. "No one wants to be accused of spying on their own community, people would never trust you," said Mohamed Nur, one of the men that MI5 approached. "I would not be able to work or live here again."

Only when Abshir Mohamed decided to tell the chairman of a north London community centre about his MI5 encounters did the scale of the intimidation and harassment emerge.

Shaharbeen Lone, a Kentish Town Community Organisation leader, said: "Abshir called me when he reached home [from Heathrow, where he was quizzed], extremely worried and very anxious. His mother and wife, who has just had heart surgery, had been travelling with him and had to wait throughout his ordeal. Abshir is a senior youth leader who works hard to stop young Muslims getting involved in crime."

Mr Lone called a youth leader meeting to see if others had similar experiences. What he heard appalled him. Two men said they had been detained abroad and interviewed by MI5 upon their return to the UK. Another was questioned when he returned from his honeymoon to Saudi Arabia. Two more were visited by MI5 agents at home.

MI5 wanted to use the men as informers. Those who refused to co-operate received threatening phone calls.

Born in Somalia, the men had all come to Britain as children. Growing up in north London, they had overcome troubled backgrounds, which had occasionally brought some of them to the attention of the police. To escape these influences, their families sent them to study Arabic in Cairo. But none of them, says Mr Lone, who has known them for years, has held extremist views or had links to terrorism. Today they lead exemplary lives. The organisation's chairman complained to the local MP, Frank Dobson and to police. The police told him they would tell MI5 of his concerns.

Mr Lone says by the end of last year the message seemed to have got through and the intimidation ended. Then last month, MI5 agents questioned Mahdi Hashi at Gatwick and told him if he didn't spy on his friends, he could expect to be locked up at airports for hours. "It has started again. There seems to be nothing we can do to stop them ruining these young men's lives," says Mr Lone.

Independent : Pauline Neville-Jones: MI5 must use persuasion – not coercion

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pauline Neville-Jones: MI5 must use persuasion – not coercion

May 21, 2009

When I read the Intelligence and Security Committee's report on the July 7 terrorist attacks that was published this week, two points struck me.

The first is that the Security Service did not give due attention to key indicators which would now flash red lights. For example, that two of the would-be attackers had travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan. The second is the Security Service's assertion that they did not actually have sufficient resources to devote attention to these individuals and had to prioritise other investigations that were considered more pressing.

The Committee said that for the Service to achieve coverage of all targets, it would need "to be a very different organisation, both in terms of its size and how it operates, which would have huge ramifications for our society and the way we live". This is undoubtedly true.

But recruiting or using informants is unlikely to produce a sufficiently rich picture or provide full coverage. When recruiting informants and making use of the information they provide, we must bear in mind three potential problems.

First, there is always a risk that human sources might be unreliable. Secondly, there is always a risk that they might have ulterior motives. Thirdly, it is unlikely that they will reflect all the complexities and diversities of the communities from which they come.

At worst, if known, people might resent the fact that the Security Service is recruiting informants specifically from their community. It could create a perception that they are all being stigmatised and spied on, and this could in turn create a culture of mistrust.

This is not to say that traditional intelligence methods have no place. But I would suggest that the aim should be to reach a situation in which people come of their own accord to the authorities – to the police, local councils, schools – with any concerns about those in their neighbourhoods. In this situation there would be less need for informants. Why is this point important? Changes in behaviour and in attitudes can be subtle and gradual, and communities and families are best placed to notice early on any behaviour that is out of the ordinary.

They can, for instance, help the authorities understand the significance of a recent visit to Pakistan. Information forthcoming in this way would fill intelligence gaps and provide context.

It would help with the early identification and intervention of individuals at risk. It would also help the security services better prioritise resources and investigations.

To get to this point, great attention will need to be paid over the coming years to integrate counter-terrorism work into an effective system of community policing. It also follows from all this that counter-terrorism programmes and tactics must be assessed against their likely effect on community relations.

Today's Independent contains allegations from young Muslim men that they have been harassed by the Security Service to become informants. I have no knowledge of the validity of these complaints but it is clear that promising initiatives can be easily wrecked in their implementation, resulting in the reverse effect from the one desired and intended – a reduction in trust and communication between communities and police.

In what is without question a delicate and difficult challenge for our security services, great skill will be need to be shown over the coming years to effectively integrate counter-terrorism work into successful community policing.

The author is the shadow Security minister and former chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee

Independent : Home Secretary was warned of MI5's 'blackmailing of Muslims'

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Home Secretary was warned of MI5's 'blackmailing of Muslims'

By Robert Verkaik, Home Affairs Editor | May 22, 2009

The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, was warned nine months ago about MI5's alleged campaign of blackmail and intimidation against a group of young Muslim men, The Independent has learnt. Veteran Labour MP Frank Dobson wrote to Ms Smith in September about concerns raised by a north London community leader who claimed six youth workers had endured an 18-month campaign of threats and coercion in an attempt to recruit them as informants on their friends and neighbours.

When they refused to co-operate, the men were targeted by the Security Service who threatened to set them up as terror suspects, Mr Dobson was told. The allegations have provoked outrage among Muslim leaders who say MI5's alleged actions have not only damaged relations with ethnic-minority communities but harmed efforts to gather intelligence on real terror suspects.

Mr Dobson was contacted by Sharhabeel Lone, chairman of the Kentish Town Community Centre, on 29 August last year, who told the former cabinet minister of the alleged harassment and urged him to intervene. The MP for Holborn and St Pancras then wrote to Mr Lone on 3 September saying he had raised the men's complaints with the Home Secretary. But Ms Smith is understood to have written back, declining to intervene.

Last night MPs and Muslim leaders demanded to know whether the Home Secretary had sanctioned the alleged blackmail and harassment. Edward Davey, foreign affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said: "These disturbing allegations have echoes of the kinds of dark deals that were allegedly put to British inmates at Guantanamo Bay. Recent allegations over Britain's complicity in abduction and torture have already undermined community confidence in the security services."

He added: "Good intelligence is vital to our security, but it is totally counter-productive to risk alienating communities through heavy-handed recruitment and intelligence-gathering tactics. Both the Foreign Office and the Home Office need to clarify the extent to which they have sanctioned policies that would condone these tactics."

In allegations published in yesterday's Independent three of the men claim they were detained at foreign airports on the orders of MI5 after leaving Britain on family holidays. After they were sent back to the UK, they were interviewed by MI5 officers who, they say, falsely accused them of links to Islamic extremism. On each occasion the agents said they would lift the travel restrictions and threat of detention in return for their co-operation. When the men refused some of them received what they say were intimidating phone-calls and threats.

Two other Muslim men say they were approached last year by MI5 at their homes after police officers posed as postmen. Each of the five men, aged between 19 to 25, were warned that if they did not help the security services they would be considered terror suspects. A sixth man was held by MI5 for three hours after returning from honeymoon in Saudi Arabia. He claims he was threatened with travel restrictions if he tried to leave the country.

Inayat Bunglawala, spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain, said: "We fully understand that the security services have the very grave responsibility of trying to protect all of us from terrorism. We believe that the most effective way forward is for them to work in co-operation with Muslim communities around the country. Utilising the methods of coercion or issuing veiled threats is not only unethical but will be entirely counterproductive."

A spokesman for the Muslim Public Affairs Committee said: "MI5's entrapment methods are completely counter-productive. We are constantly trying to sell the idea of liberal democracy to young Muslims but when the security services act like this, it makes our job very difficult. Either MI5 are out of control or the Government has sanctioned this kind of behaviour. Either way we would like a full inquiry to uncover whether this sort of behaviour is being backed by the Government."

A spokeswoman for the Home Office confirmed that Jacqui Smith had responded to Mr Dobson's letter but declined to say what she had written as this was confidential.

Independent : Exclusive: How MI5 blackmails British Muslims

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Exclusive: How MI5 blackmails British Muslims

'Work for us or we will say you are a terrorist'

By Robert Verkaik, Law Editor | May 21, 2009

Five Muslim community workers have accused MI5 of waging a campaign of blackmail and harassment in an attempt to recruit them as informants.

The men claim they were given a choice of working for the Security Service or face detention and harassment in the UK and overseas.

They have made official complaints to the police, to the body which oversees the work of the Security Service and to their local MP Frank Dobson. Now they have decided to speak publicly about their experiences in the hope that publicity will stop similar tactics being used in the future.

Intelligence gathered by informers is crucial to stopping further terror outrages, but the men's allegations raise concerns about the coercion of young Muslim men by the Security Service and the damage this does to the gathering of information in the future.

Three of the men say they were detained at foreign airports on the orders of MI5 after leaving Britain on family holidays last year.

After they were sent back to the UK, they were interviewed by MI5 officers who, they say, falsely accused them of links to Islamic extremism. On each occasion the agents said they would lift the travel restrictions and threat of detention in return for their co-operation. When the men refused some of them received what they say were intimidating phone calls and threats.

Two other Muslim men say they were approached by MI5 at their homes after police officers posed as postmen. Each of the five men, aged between 19 and 25, was warned that if he did not help the security services he would be considered a terror suspect. A sixth man was held by MI5 for three hours after returning from his honeymoon in Saudi Arabia. He too claims he was threatened with travel restrictions if he tried to leave the UK.

An agent who gave her name as Katherine is alleged to have made direct threats to Adydarus Elmi, a 25-year-old cinema worker from north London. In one telephone call she rang him at 7am to congratulate him on the birth of his baby girl. His wife was still seven months' pregnant and the couple had expressly told the hospital that they did not want to know the sex of their child.

Mr Elmi further alleges: "Katherine tried to threaten me by saying, and it still runs through my mind now: 'Remember, this won't be the last time we ever meet.' And then during our last conversation she explained: 'If you do not want anything to happen to your family you will co-operate.'"

Madhi Hashi, a 19-year-old care worker from Camden, claims he was held for 16 hours in a cell in Djibouti airport on the orders of MI5. He alleges that when he was returned to the UK on 9 April this year he was met by an MI5 agent who told him his terror suspect status would remain until he agreed to work for the Security Service. He alleges that he was to be given the job of informing on his friends by encouraging them to talk about jihad.

Mohamed Nur, 25, a community youth worker from north London, claims he was threatened by the Security Service after an agent gained access to his home accompanied by a police officer posing as a postman.

"The MI5 agent said, 'Mohamed if you do not work for us we will tell any foreign country you try to travel to that you are a suspected terrorist.'"

Mohamed Aden, 25, a community youth worker from Camden, was also approached by someone disguised as a postman in August last year. He alleges an agent told him: "We're going to make your travelling harder for you if you don't co-operate."

None of the six men, who work with disadvantaged youths at the Kentish Town Community Organisation (KTCO), has ever been arrested for terrorism or a terrorism-related offence.

They have repeatedly complained about their treatment to the police and to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which oversees the work of the Security Services.

In a letter to Lord Justice Mummery, who heads the tribunal, Sharhabeel Lone, the chairman of the KTCO, said: "The only thing these young people have in common is that they studied Arabic abroad and are of Somali origin. They are not involved in any terrorist activity whatsoever, nor have they ever been, and the security services are well aware of this."

Mr Sharhabeel added: "These incidents smack of racism, Islamophobia and all that undermines social cohesion. Threatening British citizens, harassing them in their own country, alienating young people who have committed no crime other than practising a particular faith and being a different colour is a recipe for disaster.

"These disgraceful incidents have undermined 10 years of hard work and severely impacted social cohesion in Camden. Targeting young people that are role models for all young people in our country in such a disparaging way demonstrates a total lack of understanding of on-the-ground reality and can only be counter-productive.

"When people are terrorised by the very same body that is meant to protect them, sowing fear, suspicion and division, we are on a slippery slope to an Orwellian society."

Frank Dobson said: "To identify real suspects from the Muslim communities MI5 must use informers. But it seems that from what I have seen some of their methods may be counter-productive."

Last night MI5 and the police refused to discuss the men's complaints with The Independent. But on its website, MI5 says it is untrue that the Security Service harasses Muslims.

The organisation says: "We do not investigate any individuals on the grounds of ethnicity or religious beliefs. Countering the threat from international terrorists, including those who claim to be acting for Islam, is the Security Service's highest priority.

"We know that attacks are being considered and planned for the UK by al-Qai'da and associated networks. International terrorists in this country threaten us directly through violence and indirectly through supporting violence overseas."

It adds: "Muslims are often themselves the victims of this violence – the series of terrorist attacks in Casablanca in May 2003 and Riyadh in May and November 2003 illustrate this.

"The service also employs staff of all religions, including Muslims. We are committed to recruiting a diverse range of staff from all backgrounds so that we can benefit from their different perspectives and experience."

MI5 and me: Three statements

Mahdi Hashi: 'I told him: this is blackmail'

Last month, 19-year-old Mahdi Hashi arrived at Gatwick airport to take a plane to visit his sick grandmother in Djibouti, but as he was checking in he was stopped by two plainclothes officers. One of the officers identified himself as Richard and said he was working for MI5.

Mr Hashi said: "He warned me not to get on the flight. He said 'Whatever happens to you outside the UK is not our responsibility'. I was absolutely shocked." The agent handed Mr Hashi a piece of paper with his name and telephone contact details and asked him to call him.

"The whole time he tried to make it seem like he was looking after me. And just before I left them at my boarding gate I remember 'Richard' telling me 'It's your choice, mate, to get on that flight but I advise you not to,' and then he winked at me."

When Mr Hashi arrived at Djibouti airport he was stopped at passport control. He was then held in a room for 16 hours before being deported back to the UK. He claims the Somali security officers told him that their orders came from London. More than 24 hours after he first left the UK he arrived back at Heathrow and was detained again.

"I was taken to pick up my luggage and then into a very discreet room. 'Richard' walked in with a Costa bag with food which he said was for me, my breakfast. He said it was them who sent me back because I was a terror suspect." Mr Hashi, a volunteer youth leader at Kentish Town Community Organisation in north London, alleges that the officer made it clear that his "suspect" status and travel restrictions would only be lifted if he agreed to co-operate with MI5. "I told him 'This is blatant blackmail'; he said 'No, it's just proving your innocence. By co-operating with us we know you're not guilty.'

"He said I could go and that he'd like to meet me another time, preferably after [May] Monday Bank Holiday. I looked at him and said 'I don't ever want to see you or hear from you again. You've ruined my holiday, upset my family, and you nearly gave my sick grandmother in Somalia a heart attack'."

Adydarus Elmi: 'MI5 agent threatened my family'

When the 23-year-old cinema worker from north London arrived at Chicago's O'Hare airport with his pregnant wife, they were separated, questioned and deported back to Britain.

Three days later Mr Elmi was contacted on his mobile phone and asked to attend Charing Cross police station to discuss problems he was having with his travel documents. "I met a man and a woman," he said. "She said her name was Katherine and that she worked for MI5. I didn't know what MI5 was."

For two-and-a-half hours Mr Elmi faced questions. "I felt I was being lured into working for MI5." The contact did not stop there. Over the following weeks he claims "Katherine" harassed him with dozens of phone calls.

"She would regularly call my mother's home asking to speak to me," he said. "And she would constantly call my mobile."

In one disturbing call the agent telephoned his home at 7am to congratulate him on the birth of his baby girl. His wife was still seven months pregnant and the couple had expressly told the hospital that they did not want to know the sex of their child.

"Katherine tried to threaten me by saying – and it still runs through my mind now – 'Remember, this won't be the last time we ever meet", and then during our last conversation explained: 'If you do not want anything to happen to your family you will co-operate'."

Mohamed Nur

Mohamed Nur, 25, first came into contact with MI5 early one morning in August 2008 when his doorbell rang. Looking through his spyhole in Camden, north London, he saw a man with a red bag who said he was a postman.

When Mr Nur opened the door the man told him that he was in fact a policeman and that he and his colleague wanted to talk to him. When they sat down the second man produced ID and said that he worked for MI5.

The agent told Mr Nur that they suspected him of being an Islamic extremist. "I immediately said 'And where did you get such an idea?' He replied, 'I am not permitted to discuss our sources'. I said that I have never done anything extreme."

Mr Nur claims he was then threatened by the officer. "The MI5 agent said, 'Mohamed, if you do not work for us we will tell any foreign country you try to travel to that you are a suspected terrorist'."

They asked him what travel plans he had. Mr Nur said he might visit Sweden next year for a football tournament. The agent told him he would contact him within the next three days.

"I am not interested in meeting you ever." Mr Nur replied. As they left, the agent said to at least consider the approach, as it was in his best interests.

LAT : Alleged N.Y. terrorist plotters known as regular guys

Monday, May 25, 2009

Alleged N.Y. terrorist plotters known as regular guys

Prosecutors say four suspects sought to kill Jews and bring down a military aircraft in New York. Friends and family say that doesn't square with the men they knew.

By Tina Susman | May 22, 2009

Reporting from Newburgh, N.Y. -- To his Uncle Richard, Onta Williams is passive to a fault, too weak-willed to defy men at the local mosque who urged him to shun his uncle, who is gay. To his neighbors, James Cromitie is a "cool dude," a Muslim who prayed regularly but also joined their beery chat sessions and never uttered a hateful word.

But to prosecutors, Williams and Cromitie are homegrown terrorists who, working with two other men, spent nearly a year formulating a plot to blow up Jewish centers in the New York City suburb of Riverdale and shoot a military plane over blue-collar Newburgh in the Hudson River Valley.

Williams, 32, and Cromitie, 55 -- along with codefendants David Williams, 28, and Laguerre Payen, 27 -- appeared in federal court Thursday on charges of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction in the U.S. and conspiracy to acquire and use an antiaircraft missile. They were arrested late Wednesday outside a synagogue they allegedly targeted.

Prosecutors called it the latest in a string of homegrown terrorism plots hatched after Sept. 11. The case is likely to energize opponents of President Obama's argument that the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should be closed and that its inmates should be sent elsewhere -- some to the U.S.

"It's hard to envision a more chilling plot," Assistant U.S. Atty. Eric Snyder said in court Thursday. He described all four suspects as "eager to bring death to Jews."

"It shows how real the threat is from homegrown terrorists," said Rep. Peter T. King of New York, the senior Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee.

The indictment described the four men as seeking to avenge the deaths of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan, and driven by a hatred of Jews.

Cromitie, the alleged ringleader, first began discussing the plan in June after meeting an FBI informant at the Masjid Al-Ikhlas mosque in Newburgh, according to the charges. He said he felt ties to Afghanistan because his parents had lived there before he was born, and he expressed interest in joining Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistan-based group labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S.

He described the World Trade Center as "the best target" and lamented that it already had been destroyed. After months of research, he settled on a Jewish community center and nearby synagogue, because quiet Riverdale would be "a piece of cake" to attack, he allegedly told the informant.

Cromitie and the others -- some of whom embraced Islam in prison -- also plotted to buy a Stinger missile to shoot a military aircraft over Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, prosecutors said. Troops and military supplies bound for Iraq and Afghanistan leave from Stewart.

Richard Williams, brother of Onta Williams' late mother, shook his head in wonder Thursday as he sat on the porch of his worn two-story brick house in Newburgh. Across the road, geese ambled across the lawns of a shady park. But just down the block, locals said, crack cocaine is sold openly.

It was drugs that landed Onta Williams in prison, where he turned to Islam, said his uncle. When Onta Williams was released about three years ago, he came to live with his uncle.

"I'm the favorite uncle. I'm the gay uncle, so he viewed me as a second mother," said Richard Williams. But mosque members objected to homosexuality and persuaded his nephew to move out about a year ago. Onta Williams moved in with a girlfriend in nearby Beacon. He had a job loading and unloading trucks.

"He's a follower, not a leader. He's easy to push around," said Richard Williams. "I just can't think of why he would do something like this, except for the crew he was running with."

Onta Williams sometimes brought friends to the house and used the peeling wooden porch for boozy parties, though Islam prohibits alcohol. But he also grew his beard thick and bushy in keeping with devout Muslim norms, to the point that "he looked like a pilgrim," his uncle said.

Cromitie, too, served time in prison on drug offenses.

Neighbors in the apartment block alongside a lake where Cromitie lived said his drug days appeared to be over. For several years, they said, they had known him as an easygoing, friendly man who went to work at Wal-Mart and went to the mosque, but never tried to convert anyone to Islam.

He also never shied away from the regular gatherings of beer-drinking pals who were hanging out Thursday near Cromitie's unit.

"There's nothing bad to say about him," said one, who gave his name only as Ricky and who had a large cross tattooed on his forearm. Others said Cromitie would help them carry their groceries and prune their hedges.

"He's an average guy," said Ricky.

"Whatever he did," Ricky said, "he didn't do around us."

Suspect David Williams (no relation to Onta Williams) is another prison convert to Islam, according to aunt Aahkiyaah Cummings. She described him as a good father to his two young children.

The only one of the four suspects who appears to have aroused any suspicion was Payen, a Haitian native who attended the Newburgh mosque. Assistant imam Hamid Rashada said his dishevelment and odd behavior disturbed some members, said the assistant imam, Hamid Rashada.

When Payen appeared in court, defense attorney Marilyn Reader described him as "intellectually challenged" and on medication for schizophrenia. The Associated Press said that when he was asked if he understood the proceedings, Payen replied: "Sort of."

NYT : In Bronx Bomb Case, Missteps Caught on Tape

Monday, May 25, 2009

In Bronx Bomb Case, Missteps Caught on Tape

[Secret Recordings Reveal Details of Terror Plot Accusations]

By MICHAEL WILSON | May 22, 2009

They were four ex-convicts — one a crack addict, another whose most recent arrest involved snatching purses — and they gathered their terror tools as they went.

They bought cellphones, the authorities said; they bought a camera in a Wal-Mart to take photographs of the synagogues in New York City that they wanted to blow up. When their attempt to buy guns in Newburgh, N.Y., fell through — their gun dealer told them she had sold out — they drove downstate, buying a $700 pistol from a Bloods gang leader in Brooklyn.

After months of planning, the authorities allege, the men had their first real scare this month, driving to Stamford, Conn., to pick up a surface-to-air missile that was waiting for them in a warehouse. One of the men in the car believed they were being followed by law enforcement, so they returned to Newburgh, drove around until they were satisfied they were in the clear, then went back to Stamford for their missile and bombs.

They brought them back to Newburgh, locked them in a storage container, and celebrated, shouting, “Allah akbar!”

These details as told by the authorities describe a homegrown terror plot to bomb two synagogues in the Bronx and shoot down a military aircraft in Newburgh. The outlines of the plan were fleshed out on Thursday, in court hearings, documents and interviews, as were bits and pieces of the checkered life stories of the four men charged in the plot.

Remarkably, vast passages of the conspiracy the federal authorities described — the talk of killing Jews, the testing of the men’s would-be weaponry — played out on a veritable soundstage of hidden cameras and secret microphones, and involved material provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. A house in Newburgh, a storage facility in Stamford, the planting of the would-be bombs in the Bronx neighborhood of Riverdale — everything was recorded, according to the complaint.

“It’s hard to envision a more chilling plot,” Eric Snyder, an assistant United States attorney, said on Thursday in federal court in Manhattan. “These are extremely violent men. These are men who eagerly embraced an opportunity” to “bring deaths to Jews.”

On Thursday, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly appeared at the Riverdale Jewish Center, which the F.B.I. identified as one of the targets of the plot. Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Kelly praised the work of the agencies behind the arrests and sought to tamp down any fears of a larger terrorist organization at work.

“Sadly, this is just a reminder that peace is fragile and democracy is fragile and we have to be vigilant all the time,” said Mr. Bloomberg, who along with Mr. Kelly stressed that the four men had no connection to any international terror groups. “The good news is that the N.Y.P.D. and F.B.I. prevented what could have been a terrible event in our city.”

The case is the latest in a series in New York and around the country since Sept. 11, 2001, and sounded familiar in some ways. The investigation, for instance, began with the work of a confidential informant, who portrayed himself as an agent of a Pakistani terror organization, and who became a critical member of the men’s plot.

The full nature and extent of the informant’s role in facilitating the plot is unknown. In other cases, defense lawyers have sought to portray these informants as engaging in entrapment, suggesting they had, in effect, provoked and fueled the actions of their clients.

But where past terror prosecutions have been based mostly on conversations about a planned or imagined attack, this one went further, the authorities alleged: the men went through critical acts in what they believed to be a deadly assault.

As for the defendants — James Cromitie, 44; David Williams, 28; Onta Williams, 32, and no apparent relation to David; and Laguerre Payen, 27 — most of the details that emerged on Thursday stemmed from their criminal pasts.

David Williams, who lately had grown a beard and taken to reading the Koran on slow nights at a steakhouse job, was described as particularly violent by prosecutors on Thursday. When the plan to buy guns from a woman in Newburgh fell through, it was David Williams who quickly improvised, arranging to buy a gun from a man he described as a “supreme Blood gang leader” in Brooklyn, Mr. Snyder said. After buying the gun in the company of the informant, David Williams said he would have shot the gang leader if he were alone with him, and kept his $700.

Mr. Payen, described as a nervous, quiet sort who took medication for schizophrenia or a bi-polar disorder, was unemployed and living in squalor in Newburgh. His last arrest, in 2002, was for assault, after he drove around the Rockland County village of Monsey, firing a BB gun out of the window — striking two teens — and snatching two purses. A friend who visited Mr. Payen’s apartment on Thursday said it contained bottles of urine, and raw chicken on the stovetop.

Onta Williams had been addicted to cocaine since he was a teenager, according to his lawyer, Sol Lesser, at his sentencing in 2003. Mr. Cromitie has spent 12 years in prison, most recently for selling drugs to undercover officers behind a school.

Law enforcement officials initially said the four men were Muslims, but their religious backgrounds remained uncertain Thursday. Mr. Payen reported himself to be Catholic during his 15-month prison sentence that ended in 2005, according to a state corrections official. Mr. Cromitie and Onta Williams both identified themselves as Baptists in prison records, although Mr. Cromitie changed his listed religion to Muslim upon his last two incarcerations; David Williams reported no religious affiliation.

The men never served in the same prison together. Three of them regularly lunched together at Danny’s Restaurant in Newburgh, chatting over plates of rice and beans, said Danny DeLeon, the owner.

Salahuddin Mustafa Muhammad, the imam at the mosque where the authorities say the confidential informant first encountered the men, said none of the men were active in the mosque. An assistant imam, Hamin Rashada, said Mr. Cromitie and Mr. Payen occasionally attended services.

Mr. Cromitie was there last June, and he met a stranger.

He had no way of knowing that the stranger’s path to the mosque began in 2002, when he was arrested on federal charges of identity theft. He was sentenced to five years’ probation, and became a confidential informant for the F.B.I. He began showing up at the mosque in Newburgh around 2007, Mr. Muhammad said.

The stranger’s behavior aroused the imam’s suspicions. He invited other worshipers to meals, and spoke of violence and jihad, so the imam said he steered clear of him.

“There was just something fishy about him,” Mr. Muhammad said. Members “believed he was a government agent.”

Mr. Muhammad said members of his congregation told him the man he believed was the informant offered at least one of them a substantial amount of money to join his “team.”

The informant met Mr. Cromitie, and it quickly appeared that Mr. Cromitie was of a like mind with the apparent radical before him, according to the complaint. Mr. Cromitie said his parents had lived in Afghanistan before he was born and that he was angry at the killing of Muslims there.

The next month, on July 3, the two men met and discussed the terror organization Jaish-e-Mohammed, based in Pakistan, with which the informant claimed to be involved. Mr. Cromitie told him he wanted to join and “do jihad,” according to the complaint.

All of this came as a shock to Mr. Cromitie’s mother after his arrest on Wednesday. Adele Cromitie, 65, said her son was raised a Christian, and that neither she nor his father, who left the family when Mr. Cromitie was a young child, had lived in Afghanistan. She said Mr. Cromitie visited her, at her apartment in the Castle Hill neighborhood of the Bronx, for the first time in nearly 15 years about three years ago, after getting out of prison, and announced he had converted to Islam.

“When he told me that, I said, ‘Get out of here,’ ” Ms. Cromitie recalled.

About six months ago, Mr. DeLeon, the restaurant owner, noticed that a new man was showing up for lunch. He was about 50 and appeared to be South Asian, and he usually paid for the group. Mr. DeLeon thought he was the boss.

Beginning in October, the informant began meeting Mr. Cromitie at a home in Newburgh that was wired with hidden cameras and microphones, the criminal complaint said. David Williams, Onta Williams and Mr. Payen attended these meetings, and the group discussed Mr. Cromitie’s desire to strike a synagogue in the Bronx and military aircraft at the Air National Guard base in Newburgh, according to the complaint.

In December, the plan began to take shape in the Newburgh house. On Dec. 5, Mr. Cromitie asked the informant whether he could acquire “rockets” and “devices” for attacks, and the informant said he could provide C-4 plastic explosives to fashion improvised bombs. On Dec. 17, Mr. Cromitie said he wanted to case the air base later that week, and that he would remove his traditional Muslim attire — a white jalabiya and cap — so as not to draw suspicion. David Williams suggested they refer to the synagogues as “joints.”

On April 10, Mr. Cromitie, David Williams and the informant drove to a Wal-Mart in Newburgh and bought a camera, and then went to the Bronx, where Mr. Cromitie took pictures of synagogues. He said blowing up the Riverdale Jewish Center would be “a piece of cake.”

Several days later, the three men met again and discussed picking up a Stinger heat-seeking missile in Connecticut and synchronizing the aircraft strike and the bombings.

On the night of April 28, after figuring out where they could get a gun, the men reinforced their commitment to the plan to one another, according to the authorities. They each said they were willing to perform jihad, and Onta Williams spoke, saying the military is “killing Muslim brothers and sisters in Muslim countries, so if we kill them here with I.E.D.’s and Stingers, it is equal,” according to the complaint.

On May 6, the five men drove to Stamford to pick up the explosives and the Stinger, according to the complaint. The location was carefully chosen in advance, but not by any of the men in the vehicle.

The Stamford police were approached by the F.B.I. several months ago, officials said, and asked for help in finding a warehouse where a meeting with the suspected terror cell could take place. A warehouse on the Waterside section of town was chosen and wired for video and audio for the meeting.

The men, after the brief scare about being followed, eventually made it to Stamford. There, they inspected the explosive devices. Each weighed 37 pounds and was inside a canvas bag. None of them, nor the Stinger missile at the warehouse, was operational, having been disabled by the F.B.I.

The four men tested one of the detonators for the bombs, which was to be set off with a cellphone, the compliant said. They drove the weapons to Newburgh, locked them in a storage container and celebrated.

The five men met at the storage unit to inspect the weapons on May 8. Twelve days later, they drove to the Bronx with the bombs.

The Australian : Obama to confront anger over order to shut Guantanamo Bay

Friday, May 22, 2009

Obama to confront anger over order to shut Guantanamo Bay

Agence France-Presse | May 21, 2009

BARACK Obama will today use a national security speech to attempt to quell concern on both sides of politics over his order to shut Guantanamo Bay.

The President has chosen the National Archives, which houses the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, to argue his effort to reframe the legal front in the battle against terror honours bedrock US values.

But he will step to centre stage just a day after his plan to close the “war on terror” camp in Cuba suffered a rebuke in the Senate, and following a tough FBI warning not to bring detainees to US soil.

Mr Obama's speech comes on the heels of reports that the US government will bring a top al-Qa'ida suspect held at Guantanamo to trial in New York.

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian accused in the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, would be the first former detainee at Guantanamo, the US naval base where 240 terror suspects are held, to face trial in a civilian court in the United States.

The speech comes as an unreleased Pentagon report _ cited in The New York Times _ concludes that about one in seven of the 534 prisoners already transferred abroad from Guantanamo Bay has returned to terrorism or militant activity.

And as Mr Obama makes his speech, ex-vice president Dick Cheney will deliver his own address, leading Republican charges that Mr Obama's national security policies leave America vulnerable to terrorists.

Mr Obama's Democratic allies joined Republican critics in a lopsided vote that stripped $US80 million dollars he requested to shutter the facility.

Still, the White House insists Mr Obama will work with Congress to honour his vow to shut Guantanamo in January 2010, a year after taking office.

Obama aides decry the heavily fortified encampment as a recruiting tool for al-Qa'ida and other extremist groups and a stain on the US image abroad.

But working out how to close the facility, and bring its inmates to justice, or send them to third countries, is proving a political headache.

Mr Obama is under intense pressure to decide the fate of the detainees from 30 nations at the camp, many of whom have not been charged.

Some may be impossible to try - as their evidence may be inadmissible due to interrogation methods branded as torture - but may also be judged too dangerous to release.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said earlier this week the speech would contain a “hefty” helping of Mr Obama's plans to try or disperse inmates, including a number of top al-Qa'ida terror suspects.

Mr Gibbs backtracked slightly yesterday, saying Mr Obama would provide a framework of “decisions that he knows have to be made in conjunction with other agencies in this administration, as well as members of Congress”.

Republicans have battered the White House in the debate about Guantanamo and harsh CIA interrogation tactics now banned by Mr Obama, seeking to wound the new president and portray majority congressional Democrats as weak on terror.

John Boehner, the top Republican in the House of Representatives, called on Mr Obama to keep “all of the terrorists at the Guantanamo prison off American soil”, tweaking skittish Democrats who fear a backlash from constituents if al-Qa'ida detainees enter US prisons in their states.

While under attack from Republicans seeking to make a rare dent in his political armour, Mr Obama will also hope to lance the fury of his own supporters.

Many liberals and civil liberties groups were dismayed by his decision to reconstitute Bush-era military tribunals for terror suspects, despite deriding them as a failure during his election campaign.

Rights groups were also dismayed by the president's announcement that he will attempt to block the release of new photos showing abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr Cheney is scheduled to speak to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank, the latest in a string of appearances in which he has been highly critical of Mr Obama's anti-terror policies.

FBI Director Robert Mueller dealt another blow to Mr Obama's goal of shutting the prison by a self-imposed January 22, 2010 deadline by challenging Democratic assertions that maximum-security US prisons can safely hold accused terrorists.

“The concerns we have about individuals who may support terrorism being in the United States run from concerns about providing financing to terrorists, radicalising others with regard to violent extremism, the potential for individuals undertaking attacks in the United States,” he said.

Albany Times-Union : Local link in terror plot

Friday, May 22, 2009

Local link in terror plot

Informant used by FBI in Albany terror sting plays similar role in cracking alleged Newburgh cell

By BRENDAN J. LYONS, Senior writer | May 22, 2009

ALBANY — The informant used to ensnare a group of suspected jihadists in Newburgh Wednesday was also used by the FBI in 2004 in a widely publicized terrorism case against two Albany residents.

Two persons familiar with the case confirmed that Shahed "Malik" Hussain, a former Loudonville resident, was involved in the sting operation that authorities said exposed a desire by four men to attack targets ranging from synagogues to military bases.

Paul Holstein, spokesman for the FBI in Albany, declined to comment and referred all questions to the bureau's New York City field office.

Hussain, convicted of federal fraud-related charges in 2002, became an FBI informant, according to court records. However, his criminal file has since vanished from public records in U.S. District Court.

In 2004, the FBI recruited him to infiltrate the inner circle of Masjid As-Salam, a storefront mosque that had drawn the attention of federal agents after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Hussain's efforts helped lead to the convictions of Central Avenue pizza shop owner Mohammed Mosharref Hossain and Yassin Muhiddin Aref, the mosque's imam, in a sting operation built a spurious scheme to aid terrorists.

Hussain's role on behalf of the FBI was sharply criticized by defense attorneys who argued that his efforts amounted to entrapment against Hossain and Aref.

Terence L. Kindlon, Aref's criminal defense attorney, called Hussain a ''highly sophisticated confidence man'' who cannot be trusted because he is paid for his informant work.

"My experience taught me that I couldn't trust him,'' Kindlon said. "As for the case based upon his work, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is."

Mohammed Hossain's attorney, Kevin A. Luibrand, expressed a similar opinion of the FBI's informant, who had befriended the Albany targets at the direction of the FBI, who suspected Aref was tied to Middle Eastern terrorists.

"It's interesting that the government again recruited Malik since it was established in the Albany case that he lied repeatedly and consistently to his FBI handlers," Luibrand said.

During the Albany trial, there was testimony that the informant's recorded conversations with the Albany targets were in Urdu. The informant would then translate those conversations for FBI agents, who later learned that the translations were not always accurate, according to the defense team.

Hussain also played a role as informant in the probe that led to Wednesday's arrest of four men from Newburgh after authorities said they planted what the suspects believed to be plastic explosives outside the Riverdale Jewish Center and Riverdale Temple in New York City. The four men were identified as Laguerre Payen, 27; James Cromitie, whom records show is 44; Onta Williams, 32, and David Williams, 28.

Authorities told The Associated Press that the four men were ex-convicts who envisioned themselves as holy warriors. But they had trouble finding guns and bought cameras at Wal-Mart to photograph their targets. Payen was a convicted purse snatcher, and Cromitie smoked marijuana the day the plot was to be carried out.

They spent months scouting targets and securing what they thought was a surface-to-air missile system and powerful explosives — all under the watch of the FBI informant.

The bombs they planted Wednesday were useless, packed with inert explosives supplied by the FBI instead of the Pakistani terrorist group they had pledged to support, according to a criminal complaint.

They appeared in court Thursday to answer charges of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction within the United States and conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles. They did not enter pleas and were held without bail; they face life in prison if convicted.

Besides planting the bombs in the heavily Jewish Riverdale section of the Bronx, they intended to shoot down planes at the Air National Guard base in Newburgh, prosecutors said.

Relatives said the defendants were down-on-their-luck men who found work at Wal-Mart, a landscaping company and a warehouse when they weren't behind bars. Payen's lawyer, Marilyn Reader, said he was "intellectually challenged" and on medication for schizophrenia and has "a very low borderline" IQ.

Payen appears to be a Haitian citizen, while the other three are Americans. The Williamses are not related.

Relatives said Payen, David Williams and Onta Williams were introduced to Islam in prison. According to The New York Times, law enforcement officials initially said the four men were Muslims, but on Thursday their religious backgrounds remained uncertain. They didn't serve prison time together.

Authorities say the informant first met Cromitie at the Masjid al-Ikhlas mosque in Newburgh in June 2008.

The mosque is led by Imam Salahuddin Muhammad, who has worked since 1985 as a chaplain in Fishkill Correctional Facility, the medium-security prison in Beacon, and also serves as a chaplain one day a week at Bard College.

"I know the mosque and I know the imam very well," said Lawrence Mamiya, an expert on Islam who teaches at Vassar College. "He's not radical at all. He's very mainstream."

The complaint portrays Cromitie as the instigator of the conspiracy, telling the informant last July that he wanted to join Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistani terrorist group with which the informant claimed to be involved. By December, Cromitie was asking the informant to supply explosives and surface-to-air missiles, in one of many discussions secretly recorded in a Newburgh home the FBI had outfitted with video and audio equipment, the complaint said.

The Australian : Four men arrested for plotting New York terrorist attacks

Friday, May 22, 2009

Four men arrested for plotting New York terrorist attacks

Agence France-Presse | May 21, 2009

FOUR men have been arrested on charges linked with planning attacks against a synagogue and New York military bases, prosecutors said today.

The men, who according to a US congressman were all born in the US, were arrested “on charges arising from a plot to detonate explosives near a synagogue in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, New York,” according to the complaint filed at a White Plains, New York federal court.

The group, residing in New York, where al-Qa'ida extremists with hijacked commercial airliners destroyed the World Trade Centers on September 11, 2001, also “planned to shoot down military planes located at the New York Air National Guard Base at Stewart Airport in Newburgh, New York, with Stinger surface-to-air guided missiles,” officials said.

They were set to appear in federal court in White Plains, New York today. The charges hold a minimum sentence of 25 years in prison to a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Three of the men were of Arabic descent and one of Haitian descent, according to New York Governor David Paterson. They all used Arab aliases. New York Representative Peter King said the men were Muslim and that some had converted to Islam in prison.

The suspects - identified as James Cromitie, also known as Abdul Rahman; David Williams, also known as Daoud or simply DL; Onta Williams, also known as Hamza; and Laguerre Payen, also known as Amin and Almondo - had been tracked for over a year, officials said.

To obtain weapons, the defendants dealt with an FBI informant, who provided the group “with an inactive missile and inert explosives,” officials said.

According to the complaint in June 2008 when a Federal Bureau of Investigations informant met with Cromitie in Newburgh, New York, the suspect explained his anger over the US-led war in Afghanistan.

At that time Cromitie “expressed an interest in 'doing something to America'," the complaint said.

Beginning in October 2008, the informant began meeting with Cromitie regularly along with David Williams, Onta Williams and Payen at a house in which the FBI had concealed video and audio equipment.

The group “expressed desire” to attack targets in New York, and Cromitie “asked the informant to supply surface-to-air guided missiles and explosives, according to prosecutors.

In April this year the group agreed on the synagogue they intended to attack and proceeded to conduct surveillance, including taking photographs of the warplanes at the military base.

“As alleged in the complaint, the defendants wanted to engage in terrorist attacks,” said acting US attorney Lev L Dassin.

“Fortunately, the defendants sought the assistance of a witness cooperating with the government. While the weapons provided to the defendants were fake, the defendants thought they were absolutely real,” Dassin added.

New York Congressman Peter King told CNN television that the attacks would have involved exploding bombs in cars parked outside the Jewish temple and a community centre.

“This would have been a tragic loss of life if the FBI and the NYPD (New York Police Department) had not been monitoring it.”

King said he believed all four of the men were born in the US, and that they were all Muslim. “One is of Afghan descent,” he said, adding that some of the group converted to Islam in prison.

“Thank God for the NYPD and it shows what a real threat we face from homegrown terrorists, and it shows especially those of us living in New York, we live with this every day,” he said.

“We can rest secured tonight because this plot was stopped but we don't know how many others are out there, and it's why we can never let our guard down and we have to be extremely vigilant and realize the true diabolic nature of this enemy.”