Monday, June 26, 2006

Islamists will set off dirty bomb, spy bosses believe

Sean Rayment, The Telegraph:
Spy chiefs fear that it is a case of "when, not if" Islamist terrorists launch a "dirty bomb" attack against London or another western capital, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt.

Security sources have disclosed that the belief amongst most intelligence agencies is that a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) attack, using a so-called dirty bomb, is now inevitable. READ MORE

The warning comes three weeks after 250 police officers stormed the home of two Muslim brothers in Forest Gate, east London, in the mistaken belief that they were attempting to develop a chemical bomb. It follows growing concern among members of Britain's intelligence and security hierarchy that if a CBRN attack took place in the City of London it would devastate Britain's economy and severely damage the economies of Europe and America.

It has also emerged that the police were warned about the activities in West Yorkshire of the July 7 bombers, almost two years before last year's suicide attacks.

Whitehall officials say that the attacks on September 11, 2001, "freed the mind" of intelligence agencies analysing the capabilities of Islamist terrorists, and it would be "reckless" to underestimate the "capability and intent" of terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda.

Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the director general of MI5, said in 2003 that al-Qaeda already had the technical capability to make an "unconventional weapon", a description widely seen as referring to a dirty bomb or a CBRN attack.

The threat is also underlined by claims made by Osama bin Laden, who has referred to the existence of such devices on several occasions. In November 2001, he said that "if America used chemical or nuclear weapons against us, then we may retort with chemical and nuclear weapons. We have the weapons as a deterrent".

In a June 2002 article, Sulaiman Abu Gaith, an al-Qaeda spokesman, said "it is our right to fight [the Americans] with chemical and biological weapons".

In April 2005, Kamel Bourgass, an Algerian with known links to al-Qaeda, was convicted of plotting to manufacture and spread poisons in Britain.

This newspaper has learnt that the claim by John Reid, the Home Secretary, that there are currently 20 active terrorist conspiracies under way in Britain, is now regarded as a "modest" assessment, and that the actual number, according to Whitehall sources, is significantly more.

It is also understood that the number of terrorist suspects believed to be operating in Britain is now in excess of 1,200, almost 400 more than the figure in the intelligence and security committee report into the July 7 attacks, which was published last month.

Security sources admit that they do not yet know the full scale of the Islamist terrorism problem which is facing Britain.

One source said: "We are still operating with the realm of unknown unknowns. Without wishing to sound too much like Donald Rumsfeld [the US defence secretary], we still do not know how much we don't know."

The warnings emerged as Martin Gilbertson, 45, a computer expert, claimed that he produced anti-Western propaganda videos, secured websites and encrypted e-mails for Muslims who were involved in an Islamic book shop and a youth centre attended by Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, two of the July 7 bombers.

Mr Gilbertson said he was so alarmed by what he was producing in Beeston, West Yorks, that he went to the local Holbeck police station in October 2003, saying that he had material and names that he wanted to deliver to anti-terrorist officers.

He was told to post his material, and did so, to West Yorkshire Police headquarters in Wakefield. The package contained DVD material that he had compiled for circulation by the bookshop, a list of names, including Khan and Tanweer, and a covering letter giving a contact telephone number.

He claims that he heard nothing until he was identified by the police as having contacted them, almost two years later, after the bomb attacks.