AL QAIDA IN BRITAIN
Date: 23 Oct 2006
Al Qaeda ‘building cells in Britain’
IAN BRUCE, Defence Correspondent October 20 2006
A resurgent al Qaeda has made the UK its priority target and is building active service units among disaffected young British Muslims, according to senior intelligence officials.
MI5 also fears the July 7 Tube and bus bombings were "just the beginning" of a rolling campaign aimed at inflicting mass civilian casualties and damaging the economy.
The terror network has also taken a lead from the Provisional IRA, organising followers into self-contained cells to make infiltration by the security services almost impossible.
They believe each cell has a leader, a quartermaster responsible for obtaining bomb-making materials and weapons, and a small number of volunteers drawn mainly from ethnic Pakistani communities concentrated in London, the West Midlands and even Glasgow.
The fact that British citizens make 400,000 trips to and from Pakistan each year to visit family is being used by a radicalised minority to connect with al Qaeda contacts.
Many other high-level fugitives have set up headquarters in cities such as Karachi, Quetta, Lahore and Peshawar.
Intelligence sources say that while almost two-thirds of the original al Qaeda leadership has been killed or captured since 2001, the organisation has regrouped and taken stock of its earlier mistakes. They also say their fears are based on evidence of plots already disrupted, intelligence from suspects in custody and feedback from allied intelligence agencies.
In March 2004, British police arrested eight British-born ethnic Pakistanis and a naturalised Briton born in Algeria whom they said had obtained 1300 pounds of fertiliser that they planned to use to blow up pubs, trains and restaurants in Britain.
Pakistani officials said Zeeshan Siddique, a Briton of Pakistani descent who was arrested in Pakistan last year, told interrogators he had spent time in Pakistan with two of the seven men involved in the 2004 plot, and discussed ideas for attacking Britain's electricity and communications systems.
According to a British parliamentary report, two of the four suicide bombers who carried out the London attacks last year underwent terrorist training in Pakistan.
Marvin Weinbaum, a long-time South Asia worker in the US State Department, said: "Most of the substantial al Qaeda figures went to the teeming cities of Pakistan, particularly Karachi. They formed cells and those cells have links to mosques in Britain."
The security services also believe at least 20 universities and polytechnics across the UK play unwitting host to radical Islamic groups dedicated to radicalising Muslim students.
"They start out innocently, targeting those interested in learning more about Islam, and then sifting out the most promising candidates for indoctrination in anti-Western politics," one source said.
MI5 has already positioned its own intelligence-gathering cells in Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield and Glasgow.
A Home Office spokeswoman said yesterday home-grown terrorism was a threat "expected to last a generation".