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May 8, 2007

Explosive Revelations in UK 'Fertilizer Plot'


by Loretta Napoleoni

The true story of the foiled "fertilizer plot," in which Muslim radicals planned to bomb a shopping center and a famous London nightclub using over a half ton of ammonium nitrate, has finally emerged. The jihadist cell in Crawley, a small town south of London, was dismantled thanks to the largest British counter-terrorism effort to that point: 36,000 man-hours of surveillance on both coasts of the Atlantic and in Pakistan and hundreds of reconnaissance missions led to the arrest and conviction of the thwarted bombers. This operation, code-named Crevice, should have been a feather in the cap of the MI5, but instead it risks throwing the Blair government into crisis as it unveils more lies fed to a credulous public.

In the face of alarming news from the trial records of this case, Britons are asking two agonizing questions. First, why, in the aftermath of the suicide bombings of July 7, 2005, did the government declare that the 7/7 bombers had "clean skin" when two of them had come to the MI5’s attention at least three times during Operation Crevice? And why did the special services let them escape the surveillance net without alerting the police in the city where they resided?

As if this were not enough, from the court records it has emerged that a mysterious individual of Pakistani origin known as "Q," who would come to be identified as Mohammed Quayyum Khan, recruited both cells’ heads. Mohammed Sidique Khan, leader of the 7/7 suicide mission, and Omar Khyam, the brains behind the fertilizer plot. Even more disconcerting is the revelation that Q is still on the loose, even though he only vanished just before the court’s verdict. The MI5 claims that there is no evidence to indict Q, therefore he cannot be arrested. But habeas corpus has been abolished in Tony Blair’s England, and the police have almost unlimited powers when it comes to "suspected terrorists." Hundreds of Muslims are sitting in British jails awaiting formal charges against them; why is Q not one of them?

The uncomfortable questions don’t end there. Why wasn't Q included on the the blacklists of al-Qaeda financiers? The trial transcripts confirm that one of his skills was securing funds and materiel for bombings. Mere suspicion of involvement is normally enough to land one on the lists, making it difficult to vanish, because access to funds is barred. Credit cards, debit cards, checks, bank accounts – all are frozen.

The press has proffered the hypothesis – neither confirmed nor denied by the special services – that Q was a "Deep Throat" similar to Mohammed Junaid Babar, also part of the fertilizer plot, who became an FBI informer after he was arrested in 2004. Babar – who is also free, thanks to the immunity granted him by the American authorities – revealed to the court that the heads of the two cells were identified in the spring of 2003 as they trained in the same jihadist camp in Pakistan. There they would have learned terror techniques, including how to use explosives and how to compartmentalize their cells. Babar also identified Q and established a link between the UK cells and al-Qaeda in Pakistan. Both Babar and Q were followers of Omar Bakri Muhammad, a charismatic preacher who lived in England for almost 20 years. Muhammad, the head of al-Muhajiroun, a very popular group among Pakistani immigrants to Britain, fled the law in 2005 by moving to Lebanon, where he continues to grant inflammatory interviews to the British press. Al-Muhajiroun was looked upon favorably by the British authorities in the 1980s for supporting the mujahedeen in Afghanistan. It was only in the 1990s that they entered al-Qaeda's orbit. The Pakistani trail that came to light after the 7/7 attacks is back in the news, as are questions about the mysterious relationship between the two countries.

In the wake of the new revelations, the survivors and the families of the victims of the 7/7 bombings are calling for a public inquiry into the government's handling of the two plots. If Q was an informer, why not say so? Or does the hawkish and intransigent Blair fear having to admit that even he is willing to negotiate with the enemy? More damning is the notion that two of the 7/7 bombers were left loose because, as the MI5 maintains, the government lacks the resources to properly survey the jihadist cosmos. If this is indeed the problem, then why spend money and sacrifice human life to "export democracy" overseas when the government cannot protect the citizens at home?

 

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Born and raised in Rome, Loretta Napoleoni was a Fulbright scholar at Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C., and a Rotary Scholar at the London School of Economics (LSE). She has an M.Phil. in terrorism from LSE, a master's in international relations from SAIS, and a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Rome.

Napoleoni is an expert on the financing of terrorism and is well known internationally for having calculated the size of the terror economy. She is the author of the best-selling book Terror, Incorporated (Seven Stories Press), which was translated into 12 languages.

Visit her Web site.

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