Suspects in Manchester bomb plot wanted in US over subway attack

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The Independent Online

Two suspected al-Qa'ida terrorists who were arrested on suspicion of planning to blow up a Manchester shopping centre have been named as conspirators in the plot to bomb the New York subway.

Abid Naseer and Tariq Ur Rehman were two of 11 men arrested in April last year on suspicion of being involved in a plot blow up the Arndale centre, one of Manchester's busiest shopping centres. Police were unable to bring criminal charges against any of the men due to a lack of evidence. But yesterday – the fifth anniversary of the July 7 London Tube bombings – Mr Naseer and Mr Rehman were named on an indictment which alleges they planned to blow up underground trains in Manhattan.

Mr Naseer was arrested yesterday and was taken to a court in London for a preliminary extradition hearing. The US wants him and Mr Rehman to stand trial in the US.

Following the police investigation last year, Mr Rehman, 39, returned to Pakistan and later lost his appeal to return to Britain. But Mr Naseer, 24, managed to remain in the UK, despite a Home Office attempt to have him deported on the grounds that he was a risk to national security.

At a specially convened evening session of City of Westminster magistrates' court last night, Mr Naseer was said to be "deeply involved" in the plot to bomb the New York underground system and Manchester city centre. He spoke only to confirm his name and date of birth at the 20-minute hearing before being remanded in custody. A full extradition hearing is expected in September.

Melanie Cumberland, for the US government, said Mr Naseer was alleged to have been an al-Qa'ida operative motivated by "deeply held religious beliefs" to attack Western targets. She described him as a "significant threat" to the UK's national security and "a key part" of the Manchester plot. She claimed: "The conspiracy was co-ordinated by al-Qa'ida leaders in Pakistan. The targets were in the US and in the UK. Naseer's particular involvement in the conspiracy is alleged to be that he and a number of associates prepared to carry out attacks between 15 and 20 April in Manchester city centre."

She said he travelled to Pakistan in September 2008 and made contact with a UK-based associate who assisted him in preparations for the attack. After his return to Britain in November 2008 he continued to communicate, using coded e-mails, with a man known as "Ahmad" who was in contact with al-Qa'ida.

It is alleged Mr Naseer and his associate carried out reconnaissance at potential target locations and took photos to Pakistan while he told Ahmad to be "ready" for the "wedding" between 15 and 20 April. He is accused of supporting a foreign terrorist organisation and conspiracy to use a destructive device.

In May, the Special Immigration and Appeals Commission was satisfied that Mr Naseer, the alleged ring-leader of a Manchester al-Qa'ida cell, was behind an "imminent" al-Qa'ida plot but refused to deport him because judges said he risked being tortured if he was sent home to Pakistan. He remained in Britain and was living in the North-east of England when he was arrested yesterday by the Metropolitan Police's extradition unit. A judge will decide if Mr Naseer can be extradited before the Home Secretary Theresa May, who last year declared herself "disappointed" at the immigration court's decision, has the final say.

Mr Naseer and Mr Rehman have been added to the US indictment alongside several other suspected al-Qa'ida figures including Adnan Shukrijumah, one of the FBI's most-wanted terrorists, believed to be one of the organisation's most senior figures. US prosecutors said that the plot to blow up the New York subway was part of a wider conspiracy which included the planned Manchester attack. Senior US officials said the plot was one of the most dangerous since the 9/11 terror attacks. Two men have admitted planning to detonate home-made suicide bombs and a third is awaiting trial. Several suspects remain on the run, possibly near the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.