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Pakistani links to terror in UK

BBC | May 02, 2007 
Barbara Plett

Five men found guilty of plotting a massive blast using a fertiliser bomb came together for secret military training camps in Pakistan.

It is not the first time there have been Pakistani links to terrorist activity in the UK.

The Pakistani relatives of Waheed Mahmoud refuse to believe he's a terrorist, even though he's been convicted along with four other men of plotting bomb attacks in Britain.

In the village of Dongi just outside Islamabad Imran Mustafa described his cousin as a devout and peaceful man.

He told the BBC that Mahmoud prayed regularly, but had no contact with jihadi groups during his stay in Pakistan.

The court, however, heard that the conspirators decided to target Britain while visiting a house Mahmoud was building for his family in Dongi.

The men also set up an ad hoc training camp in a remote and mountainous part of Pakistan, where they learned to fire weapons and experimented with making bombs.

'Shared information'

The trial that ended this week clearly revealed at least the third incidence of Pakistani links to a British terror plot. Pakistan's government helped to foil it.

"We know who the persons were and what their activities were in Pakistan," said Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao.

"And the UK government knows what activities they carried out over there, so shared information is being used in the trial."

That shared information involved one of the plotters named Salahuddin Amin. He was interrogated for months by Pakistani intelligence, during which time he says he was tortured.

Amin was arrested when he returned to England, and his confession to British police formed a key part of the prosecution's case.

'Bomb-making lessons'

Counter terrorism co-operation between Pakistan and Britain has increased since the 7 July London bombings, because two of the bombers appeared to have had contact with radical groups here.

"We co-operate very closely with the authorities in Pakistan now, keeping a track on people who are coming and going between the two countries," says the British High Commissioner, Robert Brinkley.

"And here in Islamabad and Karachi we have recently introduced a biometric visa process so that all visa applicants have their fingers scanned at the time they apply, so they can't change their identity."

According to court testimony, the link with Pakistan was two-way. While the men received bomb-making lessons here, some had already been channelling money from Britain to radical groups.

It's not hard to see why Pakistan was their focus.

There's a history of connections between Pakistan and its former colonial power, with nearly a million Britons of Pakistani origin, and lots of travel back and forth.

'New recruits'

There's also a history of jihad. In the 1980s Pakistan and America sponsored Islamist militants to take on the Soviets in neighbouring Afghanistan. In the 1990s Pakistan set up jihadi groups to fight in the disputed region of Kashmir.

Officially the government no longer backs these militant networks, but it hasn't dismantled them.

And they were reinvigorated by the US-led invasion of Afghanistan - because remnants of al-Qaeda and the Taleban fled to Pakistan, and because there were new recruits who wanted to fight the perceived Western aggressors.

"What has given impetus to the militancy is the perception that the 'war on terror' is a war against the Muslims," says security analyst Ayesha Siddiqa, "that it's fundamentally a clash of civilizations, the West against Islam, which complicates it and gives it life."

That seems to have been the pattern with at least some of the British plotters. The court heard that the ringleaders came to Pakistan intending to "help the struggle in Afghanistan" against Coalition forces, before they decided Britain could also be attacked at home.

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