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Known terrorist given sanctuary by MI5 in Britain

London Times | July 15, 2007
David Leppard

A SUSPECTED Al-Qaeda operative who is believed by MI5 to have played a key role in the events leading up to the July 21 failed bombings is at liberty and living in east London.

Mohammed al-Ghabra, a 27-year-old Syrian who has been given British citizenship, is said by security sources to have arranged for the leader of the failed 21/7 London suicide attacks to travel to Pakistan for terrorist training.

The sources said al-Ghabra instructed a second terrorist suspect to facilitate a four-month trip to Pakistan by Muktar Said Ibrahim, the leader of the July 21 gang.

Ibrahim learnt how to make bombs while in Pakistan. Four months later, he deployed his training in a bid to kill dozens of people on three London Tube trains and a bus.

Al-Ghabra – who last year was accused by the British and American financial authorities of association with terrorism – lives with his mother and sister in a maisonette in a cul-de-sac in Forest Gate, east London. He is unemployed and regularly attends the local mosque on Romford Road.

Patrick Mercer, the Tory MP and security expert, said: “It is extraordinary that a man who is alleged to be central to a mass murder plot is still at liberty. How can this be?”

Last week Ibrahim and three other bombers were convicted of conspiracy to murder at Woolwich crown court. The judge, Mr Justice Fulford QC, sentenced the gang to life imprisonment with a minimum of 40 years each. He said they would have murdered at least 50 people and injured hundreds more if their plot had succeeded.

After the court case, it emerged that in December 2004 Ibrahim was followed to Heathrow airport by 10 MI5 undercover agents. The MI5 team was tailing the man driving him, Rauf Mohammed, an Iraqi taxi driver who was suspected of working with al-Ghabra in helping radical British Muslims travel to Iraq to fight against British and American troops.

Ibrahim and two other passengers were in the car. A well-placed source said: “MI5 judged they were going to take part in holy war activities in Pakistan. It was thought this might include going to terrorist training camps.”

The source added: “We knew the journey was arranged by Rauf Mohammed, acting on the instructions of Mohammed al-Ghabra.”

The connection with Rauf Mohammed (who was later charged and acquitted of terrorism offences) led Ibrahim and his travelling companions to be questioned by Special Branch before they boarded their flight.

They were found to be carrying thousands of pounds in cash, a military first-aid kit and a ballistics manual. Nonetheless, MI5 allowed Ibrahim to travel to Pakistan. There he was trained by Al-Qaeda to make explosives and groomed to become a suicide bomber.

Despite his known links to Rauf Mohammed, Ibrahim was not stopped, searched or questioned by police when he returned to Heathrow on March 8, 2005.

The lack of surveillance made it possible for Ibrahim to recruit three other would-be suicide bombers to make unobserved bulk purchases of hydrogen peroxide, used to manufacture the bombs.

Security sources have confirmed that they were alerted to Ibrahim's return to the country. But they said he was not then classified by MI5 as a priority target.

One source said: “He was regarded as a low-key follower. He wasn't forgotten. But the intelligence on him was not as worrying as it was on a whole host of others who were being watched at full tilt.”

The decision, according to sources, was based on an assessment by the Pakistanis – who had been asked to track Ibrahim – that he did not pose a terrorist threat.

David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said yesterday: “It is simply extraordinary that the security service did not either prevent Ibrahim travelling abroad or put him under close surveillance when he returned. This is the third occasion in which the security services have failed to identify terrorists before they carried out their attacks.”

Speaking of al-Ghabra's alleged role, Davis added: “It is also extraordinary, if true, that a prime facilitator of terrorist activity has neither been arrested or charged and is still at large.”

Al-Ghabra said last week: “I am not going to say anything. I say no comment.

My battle is through the courts and I refuse to be tried by the media.”

He was referring to allegations made against him last December when the British Treasury wrote to him saying it had “reasonable grounds for suspecting that you are, or may be, a person who facilitates the commission of acts of terrorism”.

In a statement issued at the time, it said: “Al-Ghabra has organised travel to Pakistan for individuals seeking to meet with senior Al-Qaeda individuals and to undertake jihad training. Several of these individuals have returned to the UK to engage in covert activity on behalf of Al-Qaeda.

“Additionally, al-Ghabra has provided material support and facilitated the travel

of UK-based individuals to Iraq to support the insurgents' fight against coalition forces.”

The Treasury claimed it had information showing he had undertaken jihadi training at a terrorist camp in Kashmir.

The US Treasury froze his bank accounts, saying it was “designating” al-Ghabra as someone “who provides material and logistical support to Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organisations”.

Al-Ghabra said when these allegations were made: “If I am a money-maker and this is why they have decided to put the sanctions against me, how could I have so many financial problems myself?”

He denied that he played any role in the so-called pipeline of young Muslim men that were travelling to fight with the insurgents in Iraq.

He said MI5 had repeatedly accused him in interviews with his friends of being a terrorist money man.

“I don't have the capability of supporting anyone financially, barely myself. If anyone has the evidence, please show it to me. I am not the banker.”

Four years ago, al-Ghabra was charged with fraud and possession of a document or record that could be useful to terrorism. He spent nine months on remand before being acquitted in July 2004.

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