"The largest criminal inquiry in English history"
Three years of 7/7 investigation - 7 arrests, 3 charges
Part 1: March 2007 Arrests
On Thursday March 22nd 2007, breaking news announced that three men had been arrested in connection with the attacks in London on 7th July, 2005. Two men, aged 23 and 30, were arrested shortly before 1pm at Manchester Airport and a third man, aged 26, was arrested at a house in Leeds shortly after 4pm. There were contradictory reports in the media as to whether the men arrested at the airport were attempting to take a flight to Islamabad or Karachi. All three were arrested on suspicion of the commission, preparation, or instigation of acts of terrorism under the Terrorism Act 2000.
The arrested men were taken to Paddington Green police station while several properties were searched; five houses in Cardinal Road, Colwyn Road, Firth Mount, Tempest Road, and Rowland Place, all in the Beeston area of Leeds. A business premises in Bromley-by-Bow and a flat in Whitechapel, both in East London, were also searched. It was reported that the police seized computer equipment from the London College of Law and Business – although other reports stated that the computer equipment had actually been removed from Commonwealth Law College, both of these establishments being situated in Whitechapel Road. Police stated that they were not expecting to find bombs or bomb-making equipment in any of the properties, stressing that “what we're looking for at these addresses at this moment is not something that is going to threaten or put anybody at risk.” According to a Guardian report:
Last night, police sources indicated that the three men arrested were not "bomb makers", although they were suspected of providing financial support and accommodation to the bombers, and of having knowledge of the attacks on three London tube trains and a bus. "We are not talking about a fifth, sixth or seventh bomber," a security source said.
Chief Superintendent Mark Millsom, of West Yorkshire police, said the raids on the properties had not been a "high profile" operation. "We have not had to shut any roads. We are not looking for firearms or bomb-making equipment."
Source: The Guardian
The Financial Times reported that 'security officials' had said the arrests followed a surveillance operation that had been going on for months – and that according to 'investigators', the timing of the arrests was prompted by evidence that two of the suspects were about to leave the country for Pakistan. Interestingly, the report also mentioned that previous leads in the investigation had included “unidentified items found after the bombings in a house in the Leeds area”....leading to the inevitable question of how an 'item' can be considered vital in any investigation, if investigators are unable to identify exactly what the item is.
By March 24th, the men had been named as Mohammed Shakil, a 30 year old taxi driver from Firth Mount, Beeston; Shipon Ullah, 23, who had been arrested with Shakil at Manchester Airport and Sadeer Saleem, 26, who was arrested at his home in Beeston. By the time the men were charged on the 5th of April, the police referred in their statement to Shipon Ullah by an entirely different name:
Waheed Ali, age 23, recently living in Tower Hamlets, east London, but for most of his life has lived in Beeston, West Yorkshire. Until recently Ali was known as Shipon Ullah.
Source: BBC News
We are left to deduce from this statement that Waheed Ali was the suspect referred to in this article:
The swoops in on Thursday, March 22, are the first terrorist bombing links with the huge Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets.
A council flat raided at Bromley-by-Bow belonged to the sister of one of the three men arrested. The man is understood to be of Bangladeshi origin who recently stayed with his sister in the flat.
Police moved the woman and her young children to emergency accommodation while they searched the place.
Source: East London Advertiser
Mohammed Shakil, his wife and three children lived in the Firth Mount property, and according to neighbours, it was Mr. Shakil's mother who lived at the Tempest Road property which was also searched. Sadeer Saleem lived in the Rowland Place property with his wife and daughter. It is unclear what connection any of the three men had to 16 Cardinal Road, the fifth raided property.
The media descended on the area while the raids were being undertaken, interviewing locals to find out details of the people involved.
Last night a neighbour in Firth Mount said the taxi driver who lived there was "a lovely man".
She added: "He's a very nice bloke, plays cricket with the kids, and has even given taxi rides to people if they need to go places for free."
Aaron Stancliffe, 17, who lives opposite the raided house, said: "He liked to play cricket in the street. He wore normal western clothes except on mosque day. He was a sound bloke."
Source: The Mirror
Mohammed Shakil's former employer and colleague also gave their accounts to the media:
It emerged today that Shakil was a taxi driver who recently handed in his notice, saying that he was going to Pakistan. Shakil, a father-of-three, worked for Gee Gee Cars, according to the firm's owner Abdul Wahweed. A driver from the company took him to the airport yesterday.
According to Mr Wahweed, Shakil handed his notice in two weeks ago saying he was going to Pakistan for some time to deal with some family problems.
He ordered a taxi from an address in Leeds at 9.37am yesterday and was driven the 40 miles to the airport with another man.
Mr Wahweed said Shakil had worked for his firm since just before Christmas and was a model employee. Speaking at his firm's base in Beeston, Leeds, Mr Wahweed said: "Often, if drivers are going to Pakistan for three or four weeks they'll just keep all their stuff but he rang to say he was going for some months and wanted to hand in his radio and everything."
The taxi boss went on: "He was very nice, a great nice lad. He was so polite and caused us no problems whatsoever.
"I never ever had any complaints about him in the four months he worked for me and he seemed very popular with the customers, especially the elderly people."
Mr Wahweed said Shakil was not picked up from his home at Firth Mount in Beeston, but was taken by a Gee Gee driver from an address in Lodge Lane in the city.
Shakil's neighbours in Firth Mount said he lived with his wife and three children, who are understood to be about 11 years old, about five years old and a small baby.
The taxi driver who drove Shakil to the airport said he was a "normal guy". Paul Harrison said: "I just took him to the airport. We were just talking away. He just seemed like a normal guy.
"There was a young lad with him. He was sat in the front and Shakil was sat in the back. There didn't seem nothing untoward or anything, just talking as normal.
"He just said he was going on holiday for a break to see his dad because he was ill - maybe four weeks to eight weeks."
Speaking at his base at Gee Gee Cars in Beeston, Mr Harrison said they chatted about taxi driving and Shakil's father's illness. Mr Harrison said his colleague had said his father was a millionaire* who lived in the mountains of Kashmir.He said he asked the men about religion and things like whether they drank.
"He didn't seem that bothered really," he said. "I thought he was quite a confident person. They were quite well-spoken, well-dressed. He didn't seem nervous or intimidated or anything."
Asked about his arrest, he added: "I was surprised. I was absolutely shocked because he didn't seem that sort of bloke at all.
"He didn't seem twitchy or nervous and he was talking to the other guy in English as well as talking to me."
Source: This Is London
* At the time of publication a million Pakistani Rupees was equal to just over £8300
The Guardian reported on March 25th that the police and MI5 had been “alarmed” by the lack of intelligence about the bombers' backgrounds and networks and had “introduced a new strategy to gather intelligence from the streets at the same time as utilising listening devices and intercepts.”
Since it is now common knowledge that at least two of the July 7th bombing suspects were known to MI5 – although after the Crevice Trial, these connections were played down by the security service – it is surprising that the media and authorities would still try to claim a lack of knowledge. This point will be expanded on later.
The police were given an extra seven days to question the men by March 28th, and on April 5th, they were charged with 'conspiracy to cause explosions on London's transport Network, and/or tourist attractions in London of a nature likely to endanger life or cause serious injury.'
The three are accused of conspiring with the 7 July bombers between the 1 November 2004 and the 29 June 2005 to cause explosions on the London transport system or at tourist attractions in the city.
"The allegation is that they were involved in reconnaissance and planning for a plot with those ultimately responsible for the bombings on the 7 July before the plan was finalised," said Sue Hemming, head of the Counter Terrorism Division of the Crown Prosecution Service.
Source: BBC News
Note the specified dates between which the men are alleged to have conspired with the July 7th suspects. The accusation is that all seven were in contact from November 1st 2004 until June 29th 2005. June 29th is one day after three of the July 7th suspects; Mohammad Sidique Khan, Shehzad Tanweer and Germaine Lindsay are said to have visited London for a 'dry run' of the route they would take nine days later. Since the three did not travel to London on the same train at the same time as on 7 July 2005, nor did they visit the same London stations and nor did they split up on arrival at King's Cross, but are reported as visiting Baker Street together, it is not unreasonable to conclude that this was not a 'dry run' at all. Especially given that one of the 7 July suspects was not even present, leading to questions about whether the alleged bus bomber might have been a late recruit.
Why should the three arrested suspects have ceased 'conspiring' a day after this trip and nine days before the day on which they are being charged with conspiring to cause explosions?
Curiously, the dates appear to have changed in recent reports of the case. On August 10th 2007, The Metro reported the court appearance of the three suspects and gave the relevant dates that the men were being charged with conspiring between as January 1st 2004 – July 8th 2005. July 8th, of course, being one day after the attacks, suggesting now that the men may have been involved with the actual explosions, whereas the previous dates did not. Also on August 10th, BBC News amended the dates that it had previously reported, giving them slightly differently to the Metro, stating “The men are accused of plotting to target London tourist attractions and the transport network between 1st November, 2004 and 8th July, 2005. What could be the reason for this change of dates which now encompasses the actual event that the men were charged in connection with?
In response to an FOI request sent by J7 on 22nd May 2007, asking if the final report from the Forensic Explosives Laboratory had been completed, the Home Office stated:
This information will be put into the public domain following the upcoming trial of 3 defendants charged as a result of the continuing police investigation into 7/7 and it would therefore not be in the public interest to ask the Forensic Explosives Laboratory to disclose it before the conclusion of this.
J7 pointed out in the subsequent response that the 3 defendants were only charged with conspiracy up until 29/06/05 and not with the actual events in London on 07/07/05 – and a few weeks later the dates changed; now, of course, rendering this line of reasoning invalid and ensuring that the requested information could not be given.
The actual wording of the charge is as follows:
Wording of charge: On Thursday 5th April Waheed ALI, Sadeer SALEEM and Mohammed SHAKIL were charged:
between 1st November 2004 and 29th June 2005 unlawfully and maliciously conspired with Mohammed Siddique KHAN, Shezhad TANWEER, Jermaine LINDSAY, Hasib HUSSEIN and others to cause by explosive substance on the Transport for London system and/or tourist attractions in London of a nature likely to endanger life or cause serious injury to property in the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland.
Contrary to section 3(1)(a) of the Explosive Substances Act 1883.
It is not known why the three men have been charged under the Explosive Substances Act of 1883, as opposed to modern anti-terrorism legislation. Of additional curiosity is the use of the words “and/or” when referring to the tourist attractions. Exactly which 'tourist attractions' these were, has not been specified, but this didn't stop Rupert Murdoch's Sun newspaper from proclaiming, "7/7 plan to bomb Queen" and implying that, "London Eye, Big Ben and Trafalgar Square" were possible targets.
As stated at the outset of this article, the arrests were made under the Terrorism Act 2000. So why were the charges made under a completely different Act? A look at the Crown Prosecution Service guidance page on the charging practice of Explosives legislation reveals:
Charges under Sections 3 and 4 Explosive Substances Act 1883 should be restricted to instances where the public safety has been endangered by the act complained of to the extent that a substantial sentence of imprisonment would be appropriate. If the circumstances of the offence do not warrant such a sentence an alternative and lesser charge under Sections 4 or 5 of the Explosives Act should be considered.
Source: Crown Prosecution Service
On the same guidance page, under the heading of the Terrorism Act 2000, under which the men were arrested:
Note that the requirement within the 1883 Act that an offender must knowingly have an explosive substance in his possession is absent from the 2000 Act.
Source: Crown Prosecution Service
This implies that the men were charged under the Explosives Act rather than the Terrorism Act because there is proof that the men were in possession of explosives and "knowingly" so. Yet on the day of the arrests, as noted earlier in this article, the police were reported as stating that they were not expecting to find bombs or bomb-making equipment in any of the properties associated with the three men. Chief Superintendent Mark Millsom of West Yorkshire Police told reporters, "We're not looking for anything that would pose a danger to the public" and "We are not looking for firearms or bomb-making equipment."
It seems reasonably clear that in addition to not expecting to find explosives in the possession of the three men, the police, as a result of searching the properties, did not go on to find any. The police certainly never stated that they had found any explosives and no controlled explosions were carried out at the properties. So why have the accused been specifically charged under 19th century legislation which requires there to be actual explosives involved, rather than under the Terrorism legislation that they were arrested under?
News reporting, including the incredibly limited coverage of court hearings, remains mute as to the possibility of whether the three suspects, along with other suspects, were involved in any bomb-making process. Although connections are being made between the suspects and the sites where the bombs were allegedly concocted, evidence of any involvement in the manfucture of explosives appears unlikely to be forthcoming.
Far-right terrorism isn't terrorism?
In contrast, another notable case where charges under the 1883 Explosives Act were made, is the case of Robert Cottage, in whose home were discovered, among rocket launchers and crossbows, what police claimed was “the largest haul of chemicals of its kind discovered in someone's home in the country”. Clearly, explosives, or explosive components were present in this case, making the use of the Explosives Act somewhat more appropriate – although controversial modern anti-terrorism legislation is undoubtedly designed to supersede these laws, it is perhaps indicative that the old laws are sufficient when they are still made use of in recent post Terrorism Act times.
It was not known at the time why the three men had been charged under the Explosive Substances Act of 1883, as opposed to modern anti-terrorism legislation. However, the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith shed quite a bit of light on this in a letter dated 21 January 2008 to the Shadow Home Secretary David Davis, referring to events at Glasgow airport the previous summer. The letter was published in a Commons Joint Committee Report on the proposed Counter-Terrorism legislation where the Home Secretary is making a case for 'universal UK jurisdiction' over suspected terrorism incidents. This appears to take the form of having the Metropolitan Police control all terrorism investigations.
Lack of clarity on these issues threatened to cause problems in the Glasgow case. This was resolved because the suspects could be prosecuted for both the incidents in London and Glasgow under the Explosive Substances Act 1883. This facilitated the transfer of the investigation to the Metropolitan police because the 1883 Act allows for prosecution in any part of the UK for explosions that are carried out anywhere in the UK.
Crevice, Dhiren Barot, the "Luton cell" and Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan
It is worth bearing in mind that 2004, the year in which the three accused are alleged to have begun conspiring with the suspected July 7th bombers, was also the year which saw the arrest of Dhiren Barot and the so-called “Luton cell“, who were linked to Mohammad Sidique Khan by Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan, who was also arrested in 2004.
With reference to the case of Dhiren Barot, the words of DAC Peter Clarke of the Metropolitan Police should be carefully noted. Of particular interest is the way in which the police and prosecution managed to elicit a guilty plea from someone against whom at the time of his arrest there was, "not one shred of admissible evidence." In a speech on Tuesday 24 April 2007, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke spoke at the first Colin Cramphorn Memorial Lecture hosted by Policy Exchange.
"It is no exaggeration to say that at the time of the arrest there was not one shred of admissible evidence against Barot. The arrest was perfectly lawful - there were more than sufficient grounds, but in terms of evidence to put before a court, there was nothing. There then began the race against time to retrieve evidence from the mass of computers and other IT equipment that we seized. It was only at the very end of the permitted period of detention that sufficient evidence was found to justify charges. I know that some in the media were sharpening their pencils, and that if we had been unable to bring charges in that case, there would have been a wave of criticism about the arrests. Barot himself of course eventually pleaded guilty last year and received a 40-year sentence."
With Khan having also been on the radar of the security services through his alleged links to the Operation Crevice defendants – which are reported to go as far back as almost a year before they were arrested – once again, in 2004, Mohammad Sidique Khan must have been very confident that he was not under surveillance as a result of his alleged links to any of these groups, or considered the possibility that his name might have been mentioned during any of the interrogations that the suspects involved in either group would have been undergoing.
Sidique Khan seemed to have felt 'safe' enough to visit Pakistan in late 2004 and not worry that his activities were being recorded – a worry he was apparently justified in not suffering, since the Home Office claimed they had no prior knowledge of any of the July 7th suspects, despite the claimed links to other significant plots. This is aside from the links that were claimed in the media of Khan to just about every deviant plot going, including the 2003 bombing of a Tel Aviv bar, terrorist activity in Malaysia and the Philippines and even the USA. Yet he managed to evade capture, arrest or even notice by any authority at any time. Worth noting too is that the reason Khan gave in a letter to his employer for his Pakistan visit in 2004 was 'family commitments'; a very similar reason to that of Mohammed Shakil for his trip to Pakistan, which he was, of course, prevented from making by his arrest.
Mohammed Shakil, Sadeer Saleem and Waheed Ali appeared in Westminster Magistrates Court first on April 7th 2007 , where they spoke only to confirm their names and dates of birth. The only defendant to ask for bail was Saleem and this was refused. They were then remanded in custody until April 20th, where they appeared via video link at The Old Bailey and each denied the charge against them.
A further hearing was scheduled for July 27th 2007 but according to a CourtnewsUK report, technical problems prevented the three defendants from appearing via videolink from Belmarsh prison, resulting in the judge continuing the hearing without them and re-listing the case for August 10th. It was at this hearing that the dates between which the men were alleged to have conspired with the suspected July 7th bombers completely changed, as mentioned above.
The Times reported on August 11th that a date for the trial had been set for March 31st 2008, but this was somewhat contradicted by a Court News UK report, which stated that the trial was likely to take place in April of the same year, and indeed by February 8th 2008 it was reported that the trial was to start on April 2nd 2008.
On the same day that Shakil, Ali and Saleem were arrested, Lord Carlile QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said: "Anybody who imagined that this had simply been treated as four lone wolves, or a pack of wolves on 7 July 2005 was very wrong." This comment was also echoed in an ITV News report, which claimed “An official account of the 2005 attacks last year concluded the terrorist plotters who inspired and prepared the July 7 bombers were still at large.”
In fact the Official Report into the London bombings did not draw this conclusion at all, stating in Paragraph 75:
e) the extent of Al Qaida involvement is unclear. Khan and Tanweer may have met Al Qaida figures during visits to Pakistan or Afghanistan. There was contact with someone in Pakistan in the run up to the bombings. Al Qaida’s deputy leader has also claimed responsibility;
f) it remains unclear whether others in the UK were involved in radicalising or inciting the group, or in helping them to plan and execute it. But there is no evidence of a fifth bomber;
In addition, shortly before the release of the Official Report, The Observer claimed:
The Home Office account, compiled by a senior civil servant at the behest of Home Secretary Charles Clarke, also discounts the existence of a fifth bomber. After the bombings, police found an unused rucksack of explosives in the bombers' abandoned car at Luton station, which led to a manhunt for a missing suspect.
Similarly, it found nothing to support the theory that an al-Qaeda fixer, presumed to be from Pakistan, was instrumental in planning the attacks.
A Whitehall source said: 'The London attacks were a modest, simple affair by four seemingly normal men using the internet.'
Source: The Observer
Lord Carlile's remark was clearly in sharp contrast to these reports. Similarly, a report in the New York Times quoted a 'security analyst':
M. J. Gohal, a security analyst in London who is executive director of the Asia-Pacific Foundation and who has been following the case closely, said that the issue of who masterminded the July 2005 attack probably still remained a puzzle for the British authorities.
He said that the ages of the three men arrested on Thursday indicated that they were probably not the major planners, but instead “co-conspirators,” perhaps on the periphery of the plot.
He said he concluded from following the case that “the security services have always believed there were more involved than the four suicide bombers,” and added: “But they’ve never caught the mystery men, the men who recruited them, provided the money, the technical assistance. They’ve always hit a brick wall on that.”
Source: New York Times
Again, this contradicts the Official Report into the London bombings:
Current indications are that the group was self-financed. There is no evidence of external sources of income. Our best estimate is that the overall cost is less than £8,000. The overseas trips, bomb making equipment, rent, car hire and UK travel being the main cost elements.
The group appears to have raised the necessary cash by methods that would be extremely difficult to identify as related to terrorism or other serious criminality. Khan appears to have provided most of the funding. Having been in full-time employment for 3 years since University, he had a reasonable credit rating, multiple bank accounts (each with just a small sum deposited for a protracted period), credit cards and a £10,000 personal loan. He had 2 periods of intensive activity – firstly in October 2004 and then from March 2005 onwards. He defaulted on his personal loan repayments and was overdrawn on his accounts. Jermaine Lindsay made a number of purchases with cheques (which subsequently bounced) in the weeks before 7 July. Bank investigators visited his house on the day after the bombings.
However, in a press conference on the day that Mohammed Shakil, Sadeer Saleem and Waheed Ali were charged, DAC Peter Clarke said:
"We now have enough of the pieces in the right place for us to see the picture but it is far from complete. Because of that, the search is not over.
"I firmly believe that there are other people who have knowledge of what lay behind the attacks in July 2005, knowledge that they have not shared with us. In fact I don't only believe it, I know it for a fact. For that reason the investigation continues."
Source: BBC News
Peter Clarke's hint that others had knowledge of the attacks, that he claimed to know for a fact, was to be borne out only a little over a month later.
Part 2 of the J7 article, The 7/7 Arrests is here.