New Developments Following the London Bombings
Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 23
The release of a videotape featuring July 7 bomber Mohammed Siddique Khan’s message to the world, cleverly interspersed with Ayman al-Zawahiri, has led many to suspect al-Qaeda’s controlling hand. Yet the most credible leads continue to point to a self-starter cell of dedicated young British Muslims motivated by injustice .
Khan, Clerics and Extremists
As he began to rediscover his faith in 2000, a broad range of influences gradually radicalized Mohammed Siddique Khan. Over five years, this quintessential British- Pakistani transformed into an automaton divorced from the society of his birth. During his secular education, Khan maintained a mixed group of white and Pakistani friends; he avoided confrontation, appeared politically apathetic and demonstrated a good sense of humor. His main ambition upon leaving school was to travel to the United States, a country with which he had developed a fascination. Yet in his post school years he lacked drive and held various positions of employment, including an administrative job in the civil service, where he exaggerated his status to former school associates. He studied business at a local college and later converted this into a degree from the local university.
In 2001 he was employed as a drugs worker and established a gym within the Hardy Street mosque. The community worker who employed Khan knew him from school and noticed that he had begun to spend comparatively more time in the mosque than in previous years. He also took up a job as a learning mentor in a local school where he developed a reputation as a committed employee dedicated to the children. Around this time Khan also began volunteering in a local Islamic bookshop, Iqra .
An investigation into the Iqra bookshop—where both Khan and Shehzad Tanweer worked as volunteers—has revealed links with 41-year-old Scots-born James McLintock. A Muslim convert who changed his name to Mohammed Yacoub, McLintock relocated to Pakistan in 2000. In December 2001 he was arrested by Pakistani security forces on the border with Afghanistan on suspicion of militant activities, leading to him being dubbed the “Tartan Taleban” by the media. He claimed to be working for a charitable organization and was released the following month. During a visit to the UK in 2003 he was again arrested on suspicion of extremist activities, but he has repeatedly denied such allegations.
While living in the city of Bradford in the mid-1990s, McLintock worked in nearby Leeds in an Islamic bookshop called “Rays of Truth.” One of his work colleagues was Martin “Abdullah” McDaid, a fellow Muslim convert and ex-UK Special Forces operative. McDaid had close contacts with the Iqra bookshop in Beeston where Khan worked from 2001. The shop sold jihadi multimedia products. A former friend of Khan from the area confirmed that McLintock had been in Beeston and ran a series of Islamic study sessions in Iqra in 2000. McDaid did not deny that McLintock had been involved in Iqra when queried by a journalist.
Further information has also emerged through a local community worker, and former associate of Khan, that a radical London-based Sheikh, Abdullah al-Faisal, had been in Beeston on at least two occasions. That worker had opposed Jamaican-born al-Faisal’s presence in the area as he preached violent jihad to local youths. Al-Faisal was jailed for his activities in 2003 .
Khan’s own activities in the Hardy Street mosque began to draw attention in 2001. The mosque’s secretary has said that Khan and some of his associates subscribed to Wahhabi views and had upset some of the mosque’s community. Eventually he was asked to leave .
Throughout 2003 Khan appeared to become less reliable in his employment at the school and began disappearing for weeks at a time. Between January and February 2003 he performed the Hajj with his wife, and by the time he returned to work, parents started to notice that his personality seemed to have changed: he had become more aggressive and less engaged with the children.
Around this time Khan joined a paintballing group of 15-20 young Muslim men drawn from a loose social network spanning the greater Leeds area. This is the first evidence of how his fellow bomber Germaine Lindsay, from the nearby town of Huddersfield, met Khan. A man known as “Khalid,” who was close to Khan in the last years of his life, also attended these games.
Khalid stated that these regular paintballing sessions were often preceded by meetings in one of the participants’ homes. There, Islamist videos portraying the suffering of Muslims were sometimes shown and the young men would then participate in a general discussion. According to Khalid it was not Khan who instigated these video sessions but someone else. He also reported that Khan’s response to the imagery was solemn, but that he soon perked up once paintballing began. Khalid said that there was no attempt to raise funds, or identify volunteers for extremist activities during these video sessions and they appear to have had the aim of stirring the viewers’ blood for the subsequent adventure game. Despite that, they provided the common setting for Khan and Lindsays’ relationship to develop. Moreover, in 2003 stories began to emerge from within the group that Khan had traveled abroad to Pakistan and then onto Afghanistan to participate in military training .
The Pakistan Connection
Much has been made of Khan’s and Tanweer’s visits to Pakistan and potential links with Pakistani militant groups and extremist madrassahs, but the key connections remain centered upon the activities of individuals rather than groups.
Following Khan’s identification as one of the bombers, a terrorist suspect in the U.S., Mohammed Junaid Babar, claimed to recognize him from Afghanistan. This link gained currency through a “very well placed” BBC source who confirmed that Khan traveled to Pakistan in 2003 where he met Babar .
Babar is a Pakistani-American Islamist from New York who has admitted providing logistical support to an al-Qaeda operative in South Waziristan between summer 2003 and April 2004 when he was arrested by U.S. authorities in Queens, New York, following his return from Pakistan . Babar’s extremist connections began in the “Masjid Al-Fatima” Islamic Center in the Woodside district of Queens. In the mid-1990s Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters had attempted to wrest control of the mosque, but were eventually expelled. By the late 1990s extremists again began targeting the mosque in a recruitment drive, though now under the mantle of London-based Omar Bakri Muhammad’s Al-Muhajiroun organization. Babar was a leading member of the Queens Al-Muhajiroun cell.
Khan again flew to Pakistan with Shehzad Tanweer in November 2004 for a three-month trip, resigning from his job in December. By this time, eight months before the bombing, he appears to have been committed to carrying out a terrorist act. It is likely that he videotaped his final testimony during this trip, as his associates noted the differences in his appearance before the attacks and in the video. Investigators believe that video testimony from Tanweer also exists but has yet to surface.
Information gleaned from the surveillance of Mohammed Junaid Babar before his April 2004 arrest led to Operation Crevice in the UK at the end of March that year, when police arrested eight British Pakistanis on suspicion of a chemical bomb plot in central London. Also detained was Mohammad Momin Khawaja, a Canadian Pakistani who had lived in Saudi Arabia for some time. He had visited the cell in the UK in the months prior to his arrest and had become acquainted with Babar during trips to Pakistan .
In August 2004 another UK cell, consisting of a dozen mainly British South Asians, was disrupted. Those arrested included Abu Issa Al Hindi, allegedly a significant al-Qaeda operative in Britain. Al Hindi is linked with the radical Shaykh Abu Hamza al-Masri . The dismantling of this cell was apparently linked to the capture of British al-Qaeda computer expert Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, 25, in Lahore, Pakistan in July .
Mohammed Siddique Khan is believed to have cropped up on the fringes of one of the above investigations, apparently involving the March 2004 cell—indicating direct contacts with UK extremists—but was discounted as unimportant. The BBC managed to track down and interview an individual whom it called “Jamal,” a close friend of an unnamed “UK-based terrorist suspect.” He claims to have been shown transcripts and photographs of a meeting between Khan and the suspect last year – presumably by British intelligence. Following that suspect’s arrest in 2004, “Jamal” says that Khan contacted him twice. They then had a meeting in which Khan probed “Jamal” over the information the intelligence services had extracted from the detained individual, seemingly investigating whether his own cover had been blown .
No definitive information has emerged on whether there was a controlling mastermind behind either, or both, of the London attacks, and Khan made no reference to another cell in his video. However, mystery continues to surround the role of Haroon Rashid Aswat. Originally from Dewsbury near Leeds, the area to which Khan had recently relocated, Aswat is a former aide to the London-based cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri. He was alleged to have made around 20 phone calls to the bombers before slipping out of the country before July 7.
U.S. authorities have sought Aswat for years on charges of setting up a terrorist training camp in Oregon in 1999. However, he was not arrested until after July 7 when he was flown back to Britain after being tracked to Zambia. He entered Zambia on July 6 but had been living in South Africa as a traveling salesman, trading in Islamic CDs . U.S. officials have reported that over the years the UK had been obstructive during the Oregon investigation and even claimed that they had Aswat under surveillance, but that UK authorities would not let them detain him. Indeed, a former U.S. federal prosecutor, John Loftus, has claimed outright that Aswat worked for MI6. Aswat’s involvement in July 7 has yet to be confirmed or denied by the UK authorities, and it is unlikely ever to happen, as he is being held for extradition to the U.S. .
1. The events of July 21 remain best understood within the framework of a copycat attack of limited sophistication
2. Biography of a Bomber, BBC Radio 4, November17, 2005
3. Sunday Times, August 14, 2005
4. File on 4: The London Bombings, Radio 4, October 25, 2005
5. Biography of a Bomber, BBC Radio 4, November 17, 2005
6. File on 4: The London Bombings, Radio 4, October 25, 2005
7. Dawn, July 9, 2005
8. The Citizen, April 9, 2004; Globe and Mail, April 17, 2004
9. Yemen Times, August 19, 2004
10. Dawn, July 9, 2005
11. File on 4: The London Bombings, Radio 4, October 25, 2005
12. The Post, Zambia, July 31, 2005; The Star, August 2, 2005
13. AFP July 29, 2005, Guardian September 10, 2005