June 20, 2006Counter-terrorism
British agents trace 7/7 terror links to smalltown America
By Daniel McGrory
No 10 rejects calls for inquiry into bombings as evidence emerges of extremists’ role in global terror network
BRITISH agents are operating in the United States to trace links with Islamic extremists from England who recruit Muslims to fight for terrorist groups abroad.
The British-led investigation has played a part in identifying a number of US-based terrorists and helped the authorities in Washington to break up an al-Qaeda cell operating in Falls Church, Virginia.
The agents are particularly keen to discover if the visitors included Mohammad Sidique Khan, leader of the July 7 suicide bombers, who is alleged to have travelled to America’s East Coast to meet fellow militants and stage a series of attacks on synagogues.
Khan was considered such a threat that he was banned from returning to America two years before the attack on London, according to a book written by a US intelligence specialist.
The disclosure, made by the award-winning author Ron Suskind in an extract from The One Percent Doctrine in The Times yesterday, led to calls for a full public inquiry into intelligence lapses before the attacks on July 7 which killed 52 people in London.
Intelligence sources in America insist that the man they were alerted to was Khan.
However, Tony Blair’s spokesman said the claims would not lead to any further investigation by the Intelligence and Security Committee, which last month cleared MI5 of serious errors, or any other form of inquiry. “The [Security and Intelligence] Committee’s conclusion is that there was not an intelligence failure,” he said.
The Conservatives have called for an independent inquiry into the July 7 bombings, while the Liberal Democrats and victims’ relatives want a full public inquiry.
Neither the FBI nor police would comment on the investigations into Khan’s alleged visits to the US in 2002, but, in Falls Church yesterday, residents blamed “foreign agitators” for encouraging young men from the city’s Muslim community to join extremist groups linked to al-Qaeda.
In the Falls Plaza shopping mall, most preferred to chat about their historic city’s latest civic award for its floral displays and not its reputation as the jihad capital of America.
Over the past few months, 11 men who regularly attended the same Islamic Centre in Falls Church have been convicted of terrorism charges. Seven reportedly went to training camps in Pakistan, including one used by Khan.
Their trials exposed a network stretching from this placid commuter belt serving the US capital ten miles away, passing through British cities and on to jihadi camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
A twelfth man from this city of barely 11,000 residents, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, was jailed for 30 years in March for plotting to assassinate President Bush and being a member of al-Qaeda. FBI investigators claim in The One Percent Doctrine that Abu Ali, 24, was in regular e-mail contact with Khan.
The latest trial of the “Virginia 11” led to a junior school teacher, Ali Asad Chandia, being convicted on June 6 for giving aid to the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba group, which is banned in both the US and Britain. A number of Scotland Yard officers and British intelligence agents gave evidence.
Like Khan, who worked as a teaching assistant in Leeds, Chandia, 29, was popular with parents and pupils, and his family deny he had any links with British extremists or trained at a camp in Pakistan.
Prosecutors described how Chandia had worked as a chauffeur for a London-based terrorism organiser, Mohammed Ajmal Khan, who was jailed for nine years in March in Britain after admitting shipping weapons to Pakistan.
Chandia was also described as the personal assistant to a charismatic young preacher in Falls Church, Ali al-Tamimi — a US-born biology graduate — who in January was sentenced to life plus 70 years, without parole, for encouraging his followers to go to Afghanistan to fight US-led coalition troops.
The National Security Agency is accused of bugging mosques and private homes where al-Tamimi preached, including the Dar al-Hijrah centre on the edge of Falls Church. This glass-fronted mosque acquired its notoriety in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks when it was discovered that the imam, Sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki, was the spiritual mentor to two of the hijackers.
The imam was never charged but moved to Yemen. His successor, Joharri Abdul Malik, says: “The community is disturbed by what previously happened here,” but believes many of the “Virginia 11” were jailed for “having big mouths”.
“They made inappropriate and irreponsible comments,” the imam said. “Some did go to training camps but none fired a shot in anger, and once they were in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan and saw what it was really like, they soon had a change of heart and came home. They are guilty of thought crimes.”
Imam Joharri is angered that the FBI did not approach community leaders to discuss concerns that extremists from Britain and elsewhere were trying to recruit youngsters from the area. “If the authorities knew this was going on, why weren’t we warned?” he asked.
He described how Ali al-Tamimi, frustrated at his failure to take control of the mosque, led a breakaway group of his followers to a trading estate on the opposite end of the city to set up the Dar alArqam Centre for Islamic Information. The building included the offices of two charities outlawed by the US as fronts for terrorism organisations.
After al-Tamimi’s conviction, what was left of his group abandoned the Dar al-Arqam centre, which no longer has any links with fundamentalist groups. FBI sources say they are unsure what has happened to some of his followers.
Among the measures suggested by the task force which have yet to be taken up:
A public inquiry into 7/7 bombings
Rapid rebuttal unit to combat Islamophobia
National resource unit for development of curricula in mosques and madrassas, and guidelines for teachers
Programmes to “upskill” current imams
Muslim “beacon centres” to help small mosques and cultural centres
Set up and fund network of Muslim safety forums to promote meaningful partnership between community and police
Ministerial review of raids, stop and search and armed police activity
Correct the “alien” image of Islam in the national curriculum
And Where is this STORY in the AMERICAN PRESS?????????