Intelligence tracked suspect for a year

Men being questioned in UK, Germany, Italy and Turkey as British victim of Istanbul bombing is buried

By Sophie Goodchild,Andrew Johnson
Sunday 30 November 2003 01:00

Police were continuing to question a 24-year-old man yesterday who is suspected of having connections with al-Qa'ida. The man was arrested on Thursday in Gloucester as part of country-wide anti-terrorism raids.

There has been intense speculation that Sajit Badat was planning a suicide-bomb attack on a significant British target. But police have denied reports that he was planning to blow up a football stadium and that detectives had recovered a shoe bomb from his house. Under the Terrorism Act, police can keep him in custody for seven days before bringing charges.

Bomb squad officers said they had found a small quantity of explosives in the terraced house where Mr Badat lives with his family, who have now been moved to a safe house. A forensic examination of the house in Gloucester was continuing yesterday after police said that "nothing significant" had been found at three other properties in the city.

The security services are understood to have been monitoring Mr Badat for more than a year, according to senior intelligence sources who also said that this intelligence gathering was linked to inquiries following the arrest of Richard Reid, the man jailed for trying to bring down an American Airlines plane carrying 197 passengers in December 2001 using explosives hidden in his shoe.

When he was 18, Mr Badat left Britain to travel around Pakistan and Afghanistan, where, it is claimed, he came to the attention of the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's secret police, who could find no family or social links to the places he visited.

Their covert investigation was stepped up when they discovered Mr Badat had worshipped at the Finsbury Park mosque and a mosque in Brixton where Reid and a hijacker involved in the 11 September 2001 terror attacks on the United States had both worshipped.

Complaints about comments made by Mr Blunkett concerning the suspect have been referred to the Attorney General. Lord Goldsmith has been asked to examine whether Mr Blunkett is in contempt of court over his comments surrounding the arrest of Mr Badat. The Home Secretary has been widely criticised for saying, prior to any possible trial, that Mr Badat posed "a very real threat to the life and liberty of our country" and for linking him with Osama Bin Laden's al-Qa'ida terrorist group.

Matthias Kelly QC, chairman of the Bar Council, said that these remarks could prejudice any future trial.

And the Muslim Association of Britain said, in a statement, that it was "truly bewildering" that Mr Blunkett thought it "right and proper to issue a swift judgement and reach a serious conclusion such as this before any due legal or judicial process had even begun".

A spokeswoman for the Attorney General said that Mr Blunkett's comments would be "considered" as part of a general review by the Attorney General of the reporting of the arrest of Mr Badat.

A second man arrested in Birmingham on the same day was released yesterday without charge. He was detained during dawn raids by armed police on six addresses in the West Midlands. A 39-year-old man who had been detained in Manchester last week on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activities was set free on Friday.

Police investigating a "large-scale" cheque and credit card fraud are questioning six men under the Terrorism Act, it also emerged yesterday. The men, all in their mid-20s and of North African origin, are being held by Sussex police after they were arrested in Eastbourne earlier in the week.

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