Terror hunt 'to take decades'
London Observer | July 17, 2005
By Gaby Hinsliff, David Rose, Martin Bright and Ned Temko
Britain's most senior police officers believe that it will 'take decades' to successfully tackle British Islamist terror networks because of a failure to penetrate extremists in the Muslim community.
Senior police sources have said that the current state of knowledge about Islamic terrorism is comparable to that gathered on the IRA in the early Seventies, when it struck almost with impunity.
Cabinet ministers are also known to share concerns that the government, the intelligence services and the police have failed to provide a 'fundamental right' to British people to live in a secure country.
The parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee is now expected to hold a top-level inquiry into possible intelligence failures in the run-up to the 7 July London bombings.
One senior anti-terrorist officer who spoke to The Observer said that by the Nineties the IRA was 'completely penetrated', which helped to force it to the negotiating table. 'That wasn't the case in the Seventies. We had very little idea about what they were going to do,' he added.
'Just as it did with the IRA, building up an effective intelligence network [on Islamist terrorism] is going to take many years, perhaps decades.'
The Observer can reveal that Pakistani counter-terrorism officials warned their British counterparts about plans by militants to bomb London pubs, restaurants and possibly railway stations last May.
Interrogations of a Pakistan-born Briton, who was arrested by Pakistani authorities close to the border with Afghanistan that month, exposed the plot, which was supposed to be put into action in the early summer.
This claim will be embarrassing to UK authorities, already reeling from accusations that they failed to place under surveillance a key al-Qaeda operative who arrived in Britain a month before the London blasts.
'At that time we received information from a number of sources and passed it on to the British, 'Aftab Sherpao, the Pakistani interior minister, told The Observer. Sherpao refused to discuss details of the intelligence.
Senior British police officers have denied receiving any warning but it is understood from Pakistani sources that British officials have arrived in Pakistan in recent days to interview the man, aged 25, about his claims.
The news came as Paul Goggins, a Home Office minister, promised new ways to 'celebrate Britishness' and forge a multi-faith national identity. One option is to introduce citizenship ceremonies for every 18 year-old, regardless of background or birthplace, to affirm their allegiance to the nation.
'Finding ways of mobilising and celebrating Britishness of various kinds is very important,' he said. 'We certainly need to find ways of celebrating shared Britishness, which these days is so diverse. We don't have that at the moment, to the extent that we need it.'
The government is also drawing up plans to force religious leaders entering Britain to pass a test demonstrating involvement with their local community - including people of other faiths - before they receive an extension of leave to stay, normally a year after arrival.
Tony Blair will hold talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in London this week about terrorism and relations with the Muslim world, as well as meeting British Muslim leaders.
Ideas for discussion include a confidential hotline for Muslims to pass on tips about suspicious individuals. Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said one option was a hotline like one run by the Jewish community, which passes important tips to police.
'If someone has gone abroad as a westernised sports lover and come back wearing white robes and talking about the jihad, we need to know about it.' He offered Muslims 'the support of all the communities of London, in return for their help'.
Sir Iqbal Sacranie, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Great Britain, said it was right for Muslims to be 'absolutely vigilant'.
However, they could not play the role of the police or security agencies, he said. 'This is a major burden that cannot be passed on to the community - the capacity to police themselves in terms of finding out the criminality is not on.
'The Muslim community is no different to any other community in this country and they should not be treated as any different. Once you treat a Muslim community differently in the way it is being perceived, as though it is a criminal community, a troublesome community, then we will not get the support we would want from them.'
The talks are also expected to touch on broader issues, such as racism. Ted Cantle, the Home Office adviser on community cohesion, said the authorities 'just haven't moved fast enough' to heal segregated communities.
'In the 40 years we have had race relations legislation, we have never actually attempted to get people to interact with each other, to understand each other. We have focused on controlling people's behaviour,' he said. 'The consequence was people just saw that as being politically correct: they didn't change or challenge their underlying views.'
The Intelligence and Security Committee inquiry into the London bombings, chaired by former Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy, will not begin immediately. But senior Whitehall sources said it would review the intelligence problems.