7/7: The Accomplices that Weren’t

April 28, 2009

And those that are..

And those that are..

Another terrorism case brought by the British government has collapsed, leaving one man free of all charges and another two facing a lesser charge. The acquittal of Sadeer Saleem, Waheed Ali and Mohammed Shakil of assisting the 7/7 bombers comes soon after the release of twelve men, arrested under terrorism legislation in northern England around about the time of the G20 Summit, held earlier this month.

Waheed Ali and Mohammed Shakil will now face the far less serious charge of “conspiracy to attend a place used for terrorist training” – having been cleared of complicity in 7/7. Jurors decided that although the three men had travelled to London in 2004 with one of the 7/7 attackers (Hasib Hussain), and met another there (Jermaine Lindsay), they had not done so in order to plan a terrorist attack.

Any case that they had helped to plan 7/7 was dented by the fact that “there was no CCTV footage to show what they had been doing and no proof they had even been on the underground, where three of the four bombs would later explode,” as the Guardian reports.

Instead, prosecutors tried to use mobile phone evidence to trace their movements around London. In August, when the jury initially failed to reach a verdict, the BBC reported that “the men denied having entered the London Underground, saying they had driven around the city, and said the entire case rested on partial records of where their mobile phones had connected to the network.” The jury agreed (twice) that this was the case, and that the state had failed to prove any link between the accused and 7/7.

This was despite an aggressive prosecution effort, which used a variety of techniques to associate the defendants with the London bombers. The court was shown previously unknown CCTV footage from Aldgate on 7 July 2005, as well as footage of the bombers moving around London before the attacks, but not with the accused.

The court also heard the testimony of Mohammed Babar, all the way from the United States. Babar is an interesting character, and has played a key role in UK terrorist trials before. His testimony linked together those accused in the “fertiliser bomb plot” which allegedly targeted Bluewater Shopping Centre, a trial that resulted in the longest deliberation in British legal history, and similarly watered down sentences (or aquittals).

Babar told the court that the accused had travelled to Pakistan to undergo jihadist training, funded by a man named Ausman and trained by Babar himself. They were handled by a man named “Khalid” – whose work straddled the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan – and Khalid in turn reported to a shadowy figure based in Luton, UK, known only as “Q.” The fertiliser bomb trial revealed Q as Mohammed Quayyum Khan, and placed him at the very centre of an international jihadist conspiracy.

Yet Q was never questioned, let alone arrested in that earlier trial, and was again left alone. This is particularly shocking when, if Babar is right, Q was organizing recruits to train in Pakistan who then returned to play roles in 7/7, the failed attacks two weeks later and the fertiliser bomb plot, not to mention the recently acquitted trio.

But Babar himself is not necessarily reliable. The jury clearly questioned his integrity, and rightly so, as Babar has made a lucrative plea bargain with U.S. authorities to save himself from a lengthy prison sentence.

Relying on sources like him shows how desperate the authorities were for evidence to prove their case that the three defendants actively assisted the 7/7 attackers. Yet in 2007, when it was announced that they had been arrested, the authorities were fairly bullish.

Pleased with the outcome of one of Britain’s largest (and most expensive) ever policing operations, anti-terrorist Police Chief Peter Clarke told the press that “Our aim was quite simple – to find out not only who was responsible for setting off the bombs, but also who else was involved.” Clarke gave the impression that he’d cracked the mystery of 7/7, or at least one of them, explaining how, “In looking for the answers to those questions we have gone where the evidence has taken us, following every lead until it is exhausted.”

He also held out the prospect of more juicy morsels to be announced, saying that “now that legal proceedings are under way, I am strictly limited as to what I can say” but while “The public will no doubt find this frustrating, as do I…I only wish that I could share with you the extent of what we have discovered – but I cannot.”

The recent aquittal of the three men suggests a reason as to why Clarke could not share any of his hard earned information: neither he, nor any member of the police forces involved in the investigation had any.

The aquittals represent the collapse of the only trial of anyone associated with the 7/7 attacks – a massive embarassment for the British authorities. Other cases produced by the police investigation crumbled away, such as that of Hasina Patel, the widow of 7/7 “ringleader” Mohammed Sidique Khan. Patel was arrested in May 2007 and then promptly released, along with three other men, including her brother.

At the time, a friend decribed the arrests as “a totally stage-managed arrest of people whose only crime is to be associated with the people responsible for the July 7th bombings” – a description that aptly fits the case of the three men aquitted this week.

Despite the absence of evidence, cases like those of Patel, or Waheed, Shakil and Ali, have been a boon to right-wing commentators and bigots of all stripes. Stories of young muslim men travelling between England and Pakistan intent upon wreaking havoc have allowed Gordon Brown to label the Afghan-Pakistan border region a “crucible of terrorism” – and bolstered the devastating Afghan war effort. The drip of stories has also provided ammunition for those who wish to curtail civil liberties and deepen state surveillance capabilities.

It is therefore of the utmost importance to stress that the vast majority of terrorism cases fail, and that the muslim community is a victim of either state incompetence or repression, depending on how you view the motivations of those who bring such prosecutions in the first place.

Yet the media reports such cases extremely badly. Arrests almost always command more attention than releases or acquittals. This provides fodder for those who wish to exploit divisions between religions or ethnic communities. The BNP, for example, carried an article in January 2009 on the subject of the (now aquitted) 7/7 accomplices.

In its view, the “News that three “British” Muslims took part in a reconnaissance mission for the July 7 bombers has confirmed the accuracy of British National Party leader Nick Griffin’s 2004 prediction on home grown terrorism,” vindicating the BNP leader who “was prosecuted for the prediction, in which he said that it would only be a matter of time before home grown Islamist extremists would carry out terrorist acts in this country.”

Comments underneath the article rounded on muslims. “I wish they had let them go to Pakistan & closed the door behind them, all this is costing us a lot of money & we are still lumbered with paying for scum like this” read one. Another bellowed that “THE BIG LIE of our times is to deny that Islam is an intrinsically violent, aggressive and murderous ideology” while “Our lords and masters repeat their PC denial of this blindingly obvious fact in various forms.”

These kind of sentiments feed on misconceptions which derive from the systematic villanisation of muslim men (and sometimes women), in which the legal system plays a central role. It’s a repulsive fact about modern Britain, but then Britain is a state that has stooped to torturing suspected terrorists and brutally repressing protests.

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