Britain and Pakistan join forces against terror traffic

Leaders of both countries are working together to prevent a repeat of the 7 July bombings
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Indy Politics

Britain and Pakistan have been involved in extensive operations to stem the "two-way traffic" of terrorists between the countries which has been uncovered since the 7 July bombings, it emerged yesterday.

Tony Blair said activities revealed in the recent improved intelligence reports were a "serious worry" to both countries and had prompted "very great" co-operation. Speaking after he met his Pakistani counterpart during the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Malta, Mr Blair hinted at the massive intelligence operation mounted since the London attacks.

"Obviously one of the things we are trying to do is to identify whether there are British people who have gone to Pakistan or Pakistanis who have come to Britain that have links to terrorist organisations," he said.

Fears over the size of what one No 10 aide described as a "two-way traffic" of terrorists have grown since it emerged that at least two of the 7 July suicide bombers had spent time in Pakistan just months before the attacks.

Foreign students were expelled from religious schools, known as madrassas, earlier this year after it emerged that the Circle Line bomber Shehzad Tanweer spent up to four months in a controversial madrassa near Lahore. The ringleader, Mohammad Sidique Khan, also visited the country shortly before he masterminded the attacks on London's transport network which left 56 people dead.

But Britain so far has had little idea of how many of the thousands who travelled to Pakistan in recent year may have received terror training. However, asked if British intelligence was gaining a more accurate picture of the terrorism ties, Mr Blair replied: "Yes, we are." The PM said that terrorism had formed a "major part" of his discussions with the Pakistani leader. He said: "What's interesting is the degree of co-operation we're getting from Pakistan is very great."

Shaukat Aziz, the Pakistani prime minister, told reporters after his meeting with Mr Blair that his country was "committed to rooting out terrorism". A senior Pakistani diplomat told The Independent on Sunday that both leaders saw "eye to eye" on the issue which had been discussed in terms of broad principle. "After 7/7 we have made it very clear that community leaders need to take a stand against anything that might help terrorists," said the official.

Co-operation between MI6 and ISI - the Pakistani intelligence agency - is said to have improved in recent months as both seek to assess how many terrorists may have travelled between the countries over recent years. The Pakistani authorities have previously been suspected of using the ISI to deliver covert support to jihadi groups such as Lashkar-i-Taiba and Jaish-i-Mohammad used as proxy fighters in the Kashmir conflict with India. The madrassa visited by Tanweer was run by Lashkar.

Initially, Pakistan rejected claims of a terrorist "traffic". Speaking weeks after the bombings in London their UN ambassador, Munir Akram, insisted that they were an internal problem, saying: "It is important not to pin blame on somebody else when the problem lies internally. Your policies in the Middle East, in the Islamic world, that is the problem with your society. That is where the problem lies as far as this incident is concerned.

"It would be a grave mistake to point fingers at Pakistan or anybody outside your country. They were born in Britain, bred there, lived there, were by all accounts British lads. What motivated British lads to do this? It is not because their blood was from Pakistan. Whatever angst they had was a result of living in Britain. You have to look at what you are doing to the Muslim community and why the Muslim community is not integrating in British society."

The conflict in Iraq has only served to strengthen the jihadi networks that may have radicalised thousands of Britons, counterterrorist officers admit.