BBC journalist to sue US magazine over 'foiled FBI plan' story

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The Independent Online

The BBC journalist who broke the news that a British man had been arrested for trying to sell a missile to terrorists is to sue an American magazine which claimed his scoop had ruined FBI plans to infiltrate al-Qa'ida.

Tom Mangold - a friend of David Kelly who spoke on behalf of the weapons inspector's family after his death - has instructed the law firm Mishcon de Reya to begin legal action against Newsweek.

The magazine claimed on Wednesday that officials in the US Justice Department believed the report had scuppered their plans to persuade the arms dealer to work for them.

Hemant Lakhani, 68, from north London, was arrested in New Jersey by the FBI after an international operation. He allegedly tried to sell a sophisticated Russian surface-to-air missile to terrorists in the US who hoped to shoot down a passenger plane. But the buyers were undercover FBI agents.

The report led the BBC's News at Ten O'Clock on Tuesday, just hours after the arrest. Mr Lakhani has since been charged with "attempting to provide material support for terrorism".

Christopher Christie, the US attorney for New Jersey, said on American television that the report had not affected the outcome of the operation. "This investigation has gone on for 18 months and we executed the plan in almost exactly the way we laid it out," he said.

The sting began in Russia where an undercover FBI agent told the arms dealer they wanted to buy a missile to "shoot down a commercial plane". Mr Mangold said the man bought the missile for about £50,000 through "corrupt middle management" at a Russian factory.

It was also claimed the arms dealer said 50 Igla missiles could be obtained.

Mr Mangold said Mr Lakhani flew from Heathrow on Sunday and was followed on to the plane. Russian and British agents were involved. In New York a surveillance team was waiting for the "final act", the arrival of the weapon - which had been disarmed -by ship.

A BBC spokeswoman said: "Obviously ... for Christopher Christie ... to say the news media in Britain did not compromise the investigation gave Tom Mangold the confidence to go to Mishcon de Reya and ask them to start proceedings."