Tuesday, May 1, 2007

LONDON — A judge sentenced five men to life in prison yesterday for plotting to attack targets in London, including a popular nightclub, power plants and shopping malls, with bombs made from a half-ton stockpile of fertilizer.

The trial for the first time exposed connections between the defendants and the deadly 2005 al Qaeda-linked attack on the city’s transit system.

Details kept secret to ensure a fair trial showed that counterterrorism agents tracking the five men also stumbled onto the transit plotters.

Despite disturbing signs that the transit plot was in the works, the agents failed to piece together the elements in time to prevent the July 7, 2005, bombings that killed 52 persons, testimony and official briefings during the trial showed.

The revelations are at odds with statements by Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government after the 2005 attack. Senior ministers, who a month earlier lowered the country’s alert status, said the 2005 attack was unexpected and the perpetrators unknown.

Omar Khyam was found guilty of conspiracy to cause explosions made from a chemical fertilizer that could endanger life. Also found guilty were Anthony Garcia, Jawad Akbar, Waheed Mahmood and Salahuddin Amin.

“All of you may never be released. It’s not a foregone conclusion,” Judge Michael Astill told them.

Though sentenced to life, Khyam, Garcia and Waheed Mahmood could be considered for parole after 20 years; Amin and Akbar after 17 years.

Two others, Nabeel Hussain and Shujah Mahmood, were cleared of conspiracy to cause explosions. All were arrested on March 30, 2004.

The jury that convicted the five men deliberated for about a month after nearly a year of testimony in Britain’s longest terror trial. The men, all British citizens, were accused of plotting a series of attacks using more than 1,300 pounds of fertilizer they had placed in a storage unit.

Court-imposed restrictions prohibited reporters from revealing links between the men and the four 2005 suicide transit bombers until the case ended.

Counterterrorism officials acknowledged that intelligence that could have raised alarms before the July 7 transit attacks was never thoroughly investigated, explaining that they were overwhelmed by seemingly more urgent threats.

A government security official gave one-on-one briefings with reporters toward the end of the trial, detailing the path that security agents followed.

As agents monitoring the fertilizer plot listened in on a bug, they heard one of the July 7 bombers, Mohammed Siddique Khan, warn that he planned to kill non-Muslims, a security official said during the briefing, demanding anonymity to discuss sensitive details of the cases.

A tracking device was placed in Khan’s car a year before the 2005 suicide bombings and details of his phone calls and meetings with radicals were reported to Britain’s domestic spy agency, MI5, on at least four occasions, he said.

Khan took militia training in Pakistan with at least some of the fertilizer plotters, a witness in the case and officials said.

But, lacking resources, MI5 never pieced together the shreds of intelligence, the official said.

“There needs to be that killer fact, and it just wasn’t there,” he said, noting that Khan had used several aliases.

Jonathan Evans, director-general of MI5, said in a written statement that his agents would forever be disappointed that they did not prevent the subway attacks, but he defended their work and said the scale of the threat was unprecedented.

Mohammed Junaid Babar, a former al Qaeda operative who was a naturalized American citizen and FBI informant, had reported that a Briton using an alias — later identified as Khan — attended a Pakistani militia camp with al Qaeda-linked radicals from Britain and the United States in 2003.

Khan visited Pakistan again in 2004 with accomplice Shehzad Tanweer. A surveillance team recorded Khan and Tanweer during a 2004 operation to monitor the fertilizer plot — bugging 100 phone lines, a vehicle and two houses. Agents also took pictures of Khan in the company of terrorist suspects.

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide