Police 'should have discussed' anti-terror raids

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A solitary email referring to a wedding led police to believe a terror attack was imminent and prompted the arrests of 11 suspects, it was revealed today.

An independent report laid bare details of the arrests in the North-West of England, including on a university campus, which ended with no charges being brought against any of the men suspected of forming an al-Qa’ida cell in Britain. As well as thinking the reference to a wedding was a code word for a terror attack, detectives arrested another suspect simply because he worked for a hair products company and had access to peroxide that could be used in bomb-making.

The basis for the arrests of the seven other men appears to be only that they knew each other.

The report by Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, concerns Operation Pathway, a series of terror-related raids which took place in April.

It criticises Greater Manchester Police for failing properly to consult with the Crown Prosecution Service before the operation, which had to be brought forward after Britain’s most senior anti-terrorist officer, Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick of the Metropolitan Police, was photographed walking into Downing Street carrying papers that showed details of the police plans.

Lord Carlile’s report does not criticise Mr Quick specifically and says the fact that the raids in Lancashire, Manchester and Merseyside were brought forward made no difference to their outcome. However, the peer does suggest that “in future, all persons attending meetings concerned with national security, wherever they occur, should seek to avoid places where it is suspected cameras may be present, in the absence of a clear decision that publicity would in no way harm national security”.

The document spells out how officers focussed their investigation on Abid Naseer, a Pakistani national and computer studies student at John Moores University in Liverpool, believing he was the “central figure” in the cell with links to al-Qa’ida.

They watched him meet with some of the other men at an internet cafe and discovered an email which spoke about a “Nikkah” – an Islamic ceremony comparable with a wedding. Officers interpreted the email to mean that a terrorist attack was imminent, but the report said: “The authorities had no specific information as to where the suspected terrorist event was to occur, nor any precise knowledge as to its nature.”

Nonetheless the decision was taken to arrest 12 men believed to be involved in the unknown plot. One of the men was immediately released but the other 11 were held and questioned. The arrests, because of the security breach by Bob Quick, took place in broad daylight and, in many cases, in public rather than at night at each suspect’s home as was initially the plan.

The reasons for arresting many of the men was that they knew each other or had some tenuous link to Naseer. In one case, that of Mohammed Rizwan Sharif, the report says that, in terms of evidence against him, the police had “no particular material in addition to being part of the group”.

In interviews some of the men made no comment, but others answered questions about their associations with the group. Of those who spoke, none of them knew anything about a supposed wedding or had heard of Nadia – the girl the email suggested was the bride.

In terms of evidence, the report reveals that the police found no explosives or chemicals at any address they searched. In fact they had essentially nothing save for the email and pictures of “potentially iconic buildings” which officers considered to be “evidence of attack reconnaissance”.

But when questioned, one of the suspects, Ahmad Faraz Khan, admitted taking the photographs, saying that he had done so because of his interest in architecture. He said that the Trafford Centre in Manchester reminded him of Dubai.

Finally the report makes reference to the fact that some of the men complained about the amount of time they were held for without being told why. All were held for nearly two weeks without charge. The report explained that because the men were arrested under terror legislation they were not allowed bail. Lord Carlile suggested the act be amended to allow terror suspects to be bailed while the investigation continued.