Skip to comments.Pakistan : the incubator for al-Qaeda's attacks on London
Posted on 07/24/2005 5:49:30 AM PDT by Qaz_W
Deep inside an anonymous office building at the heart of the Pakistani Army's sprawling Rawalpindi headquarters last week, a metal door swung open and two smartly dressed British officials stepped into a spartan, windowless room.
Sitting before them at a bare table, clad in traditional attire of shalwar kamis, loose trousers and shirt, was a slight, bearded figure who was handcuffed and flanked by stern-faced armed guards. The visitors were members of MI5, Britain's security service. Officers of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) assumed that their business suits, worn despite the sweltering heat, concealed pistols and recording devices.
One spoke fluent Urdu, the other was a veteran anti-terrorism specialist. They had flown into Pakistan's main airport outside the capital, Islamabad, to interview two terror suspects who they believed could hold the key to preventing further deadly al-Qaeda attacks on London. The handcuffed man in front of them was Zeeshan Hyder Siddiqui, 25, who had been captured two months earlier in Peshawar, in the war-torn north-west Frontier Province. When interrogated by the ISI, he revealed that he had been involved in a failed plot to bomb pubs, restaurants and railway stations in London while he was living in Hounslow.
Awaiting the MI5 officers in an adjoining questioning room was Naeem Noor Khan, alias Abu Talha, 26, who was arrested in Lahore a year ago. He had confessed to interrogators that his al-Qaeda cell had been planning to attack Heathrow and paralyse London by carrying out explosions across the Tube network. Although not a British citizen, he had visited the country several times, renting a flat in Reading in late 2003 beneath a main Heathrow flight path.
A note found in Siddiqui's possession stated that one of his accomplices had been unwilling to proceed with the attack, which the terrorists had called Operation Wagon, and it had been called off. Now the MI5 officers were hoping Siddiqui might provide valuable information about the mission that probably replaced it: the dispatching of suicide bombers on to the streets of London that left 56 people dead on the morning of July 7,
Almost all roads in the inquiry to track down the extended al-Qaeda network behind the 7/7 atrocities lead to Pakistan. The country has become, as one senior Pakistani intelligence official told The Sunday Telegraph last week, an "incubator where al-Qaeda and Taliban remnants continue to flourish and regroup".
Many of the young British-born Muslims who return to the land of their parents and grandparents come simply to visit relatives or to discover their roots. But some come to learn how to destroy the West.
There are some 45 violent extremist Islamic groups in Pakistan. The best-known are Harkat-e-Jihad-e-Islami (The Movement for Islamic Jihad), Jaish-e-Mohammed (Army of Mohammed) and Jundullah (Army of God), but with ever-changing names, splits and overlapping ideologies, it is difficult to differentiate one from another let alone keep track of their murderous attempts to topple Pakistans' current leaders and replace them with a fundamentalist regime.
Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, conceded last week that his country was being used as both a base and a route for al-Qaeda. "Whenever any terror act takes place it is revealed that either these men may have obtained training in Pakistan or may have used our territory as a transit point to go to Afghanistan," he said in a national address on Thursday.
So it was with the London bombers. Mohammad Sidique Khan, the Edgware Road bomber, and Shehzad Tanweer, who blew himself and seven others up at Aldgate, were in Pakistan between November 19, 2004 and February 8 this year. Inquiries continue into whether they and any of the other bombers spent time at any of Pakistan's estimated 14,000 madrassas, the religious schools that espouse a fundamentalist and sometimes violent form of Islam.
One line of inquiry being pursued by Scotland Yard detectives centres on the activities of the Hizb-u-Tehrir (The Party of Liberation) "missionary" group, which has offices in Lahore and London. "Hizb-u-Tehrir members play a vital role in indoctrinating so many of the youth who are later on used in various missions of al-Qaeda," a Pakistani intelligence official said.
However, Hizb-u-Tehrir in the UK insisted last week that it rejected violence, armed struggle and terrorism. A spokesman said that the organisation was political and that the "rules of Islam do not allow the harming of innocent civilians".
Al-Qaeda documents seized in the port city of Karachi indicate how the London bombers might have communicated with each other. Nearly 300 three-digit coded text messages for mobile phones were listed. To direct someone to go underground, the text message "721" was sent. The code "352" indicated that "it is not a good time to meet" while "943" directed: "Contact me through MSN messenger". If a weapon was needed, this was communicated by "730".
During their stay in Pakistan, Tanweer spent most of his time with relatives in Kottan, a village north of Faisalabad. Mohammed Khan visited him there twice. The Sunday Telegraph has learned that ISI officials now believe that Khan, thought to have been the leader of the London suicide team, spent much of his time in the country liaising with an al-Qaeda operative now considered central to the plot and whose identity is being revealed for the first time. ISI sources last week identified Kahn's contact as Mohammed Yasin, alias Ustad ("the teacher") Osama, an explosives specialist with Harkat-e-Jihad. A veteran of terrorist training camps along the remote Afghan-Pakistani frontier (he lost two fingers in the course of his work), he is in his 30s and reputed to be an expert at manufacturing "suicide jackets".
Yasin, included on a list of 70 "most wanted" terrorists issued by Pakistani officials in December, is believed to have prepared British Muslims to fight in Afghanistan and Bosnia. It is now suspected that he may have trained Khan in how to make the sort of home-made bombs used in the London attacks
MI5 is also seeking to establish whether Khan, a special-needs assistant at a primary school in Leeds, met Haroon Rashid Aswat, a 31-year-old Muslim of Indian descent, who is believed to have studied at the London School of Economics and who was once a senior aide to Abu Hamza, the radical hook-handed Finsbury Park cleric who was arrested in Britain last year. Aswat is regarded by the ISI as a prime suspect for masterminding the London bombings. Although there is no firm evidence that he is in Pakistan, the ISI has been desperately searching for him. Last week, a ceramics salesman from London who shared the same surname as Aswat spent 48 hours in custody after being arrested near Islamabad.
Pakistani investigators believe that in 2004 members of UK-based sleeper cells linked to al-Qaeda travelled to Pakistan to discuss acquiring the services of local "suicide bombers" and to arrange for them to travel to Britain to carry out attacks. The idea was dropped, however, because of the likelihood of detection when entering the country. Investigators believe that al-Qaeda figures in Pakistan instead suggested that British youths be recruited for suicide bombings. Their ideological suitability for such missions could then be assessed in Pakistan if necessary.
The question now is how many were recruited and trained - and how quickly MI5, Scotland Yard and their ISI counterparts can unravel the conspiracy and break the chain of terror that continues to threaten Britain. British anti-terrorist officers have long viewed Pakistan as having a dangerous ambivalence towards Islamist extremism. While General Musharraf announced on Thursday what appeared to be another tough crackdown against extremists, many see it as too late. It has only been after fierce American pressure following September 11 and, more particularly, since Islamists made concerted attempts to assassinate him that his rhetoric has been matched by apparent genuine determination.
General Musharraf is largely reliant on the army and the ISI for his power and has courted the support of Pakistan's Islamic parties. "The political crutch on which military governments rely has always been the Right-wing religious parties," Mian Raza Rabbani, the leader of the opposition in the Pakistani Senate, said. "It's a case of the chickens coming home to roost."
Pakistan's president now runs the risk of an Islamic backlash, after ordering the arrests of 300 religious extremists last week. At a protest in Islamabad after Friday prayers, demonstrators chanted slogans denouncing General Musharraf as a dog being stroked by Tony Blair and George W. Bush. "Shame on you Bush-Mush-Blair", proclaimed the main banner while youths carried placards that read "Mr Tony Bush, We Are Human Too" and "We Are Not Involved in London Blasts". There were chants of "Taliban, Taliban" and "Down with America".
Most of the demonstrators refused to believe that Muslims, let alone people of Pakistani descent, were responsible for the bombings. "As it was in America on 9/11, the Jews have done this to discredit Muslims," said S. A. Shamsi of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, when asked about the attacks on London.
Despite the potential risks to him from Islamic extremists, General Musharraf won the praise of British officials last week, who described his co-operation in the London bombings inquiry as swift and exemplary. "It's unclear how many assassination attempts there have been on him but it's at least five," said one diplomat in Islamabad. "He's now very publicly pinning his colours to the mast. If he survives he might just be successful."
We've got to stop the travel of young men from Pakistan and other Muslim countries. No one between the ages of 6 and 60 should be permitted to enter the US or any other western country. If you leave and go there, you can't return. I sincerely do not know why this hasn't already been done. I don't care if 99.9% of them are good, keeping out 100% will keep out the .1% who are bad.
The ISI has been searching for him? Yeah, right.
If 50% are good, I'd be astonished.
All visas for Pakistani nationals should have been cancelled on 9/11/01, and all Pakistani nationals in the US should have been sent home.
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