UK airline bomb plotters had Pakistan links

Reports show how US nearly ruined efforts to bring culprits to justice

Meanwhile, reports emerged on Tuesday of how a “jittery” US “nearly ruined” British efforts to bring the plotters to justice.

Evidence presented in court and indications from senior police figures show that al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan provided key knowledge for the co-ordinated attacks intended to surpass the horror of 9/11, the  British media reported. A Woolwich Crown Court jury on Monday convicted Pakistani-origin Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 28, Tanvir Hussain, 28, and Assad Sarwar, 29, of conspiring to activate bombs disguised as soft drinks in a 2006 plot.

“A large part of this plan was invented in Pakistan,” a source told The Guardian.
Both Ali and Sarwar made several trips to Pakistan in the years preceding their 2006 arrest. A string of coded e-mails between the terror cell leaders in Britain and their “al-Qaeda taskmasters” revealed the extent to which the airline plot was being run from Pakistan, reports said. At the centre of the exchange of messages was a figure referred to as “Paps” or “Papa” — believed to be a pen-name of Rashid Rauf, the bombers’ al-Qaeda linkman in Pakistan.

Media reports also said a nervous US pressurised Pakistan to arrest Rauf even before British detectives could gather all the evidence, forcing Britain to prematurely detain the UK suspects and “nearly ruining” the probe.

‘Many still free’
The plotters were arrested before they had bought the airline tickets that would have been the ultimate proof of their intentions and the police fear that several key figures of the plot have remained free.

Andy Hayman, who was the Metropolitan Police’s Assistant Commissioner Specialist Operations at the time of the plot, said he believed that the White House had grown “jittery” as the British updated them of the mounting evidence of a plot targeted at American cities.

Although Britain was running the investigation, the UK was not warned that Rauf was going to be arrested.

“We believed the Americans had demanded the arrest and we were angry we had not been informed,” said Hayman, writing in The Times on Tuesday.

“We were forced to take action, to arrest a number of suspects, which normally would have required days of planning and briefing... the arrest hampered our evidence-gathering and placed us in Britain under intolerable pressure,” he said.

A senior police officer has told the BBC that Rauf’s arrest followed a meeting at the White House, chaired by President George W Bush himself.

This, however, has been denied by former advisers to President Bush.

Rauf was also in contact with the 7/7 bombers on London transport, the failed 21/7 London bombers, and the fertiliser bomb plotters picked up by Operation Crevice.
After his arrest, Rauf managed to escape from Pakistani custody . Late last year, it was reported that he was killed in a US drone attack in Pakistan’s tribal belt. However, Rauf’s DNA was never retrieved from the site.

The coded e-mails exchanged between the airline plotters and Rauf were essentially updates on their progress.

“I set up my music shop now. I only need to sort out an opening time. I need stock,” Ali wrote on August 3, 2006. The prosecution said he was telling Rauf that the bomb factory was ready, that he just needed to choose a day for the attacks and to get hydrogen peroxide, a key ingredient, from Sarwar.

“How is the skin infection you were telling me about? Has it got worse?” said a message from Pakistan to Ali, referring to police surveillance.

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