Terrorism & Security

London attacker was cheerful on eve of rampage

March 24, 2017

By Paisley Dodds

BIRMINGHAM, England — Long before his short stints in jail turned into years behind bars, Khalid Masood was known as Adrian Elms, with a reputation for drinking and an unpredictable temper.

At least twice he was convicted of violent crimes, well before he stabbed a police officer to death Wednesday with a motion one horrified witness described as like “playing a drum on your back with two knives.”

But as he checked out of his hotel to head toward London for his deadly rampage, the manager said he was struck by his guest’s friendly and outgoing manner.

Within hours, Masood drove his rented SUV across the crowded Westminster Bridge, leaving a trail of dead and wounded. Then he jumped out and attacked the officer at Parliament with a blade in each hand, before being shot to death by police. Read More>>

Iraq suicide bomber was a former Guantanamo detainee who won massive payout from British government

Feb. 22, 2017

By Paisley Dodds

LONDON (AP) — A suicide bomber who attacked a military base in Iraq this week was a former Guantanamo Bay detainee freed in 2004 after Britain lobbied for his release, raising questions about the ability of security services to track the whereabouts of potential terrorists.

The Islamic State group identified the bomber as Abu Zakariya al-Britani, and two British security officials also confirmed the man was a 50-year-old Briton formerly known as Ronald Fiddler and as Jamal al-Harith.

He was one of 16 men paid a total of 10 million pounds (now worth $12.4 million) in compensation in 2010, when the British government settled a lawsuit alleging its intelligence agencies were complicit in the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, according to the officials.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. Read More>>

Rights advocates warn of backlash if Trump pursues torture

Jan. 26, 2017

By Paisley Dodds

LONDON (AP) — It took more than a year’s worth of beatings, sleep deprivation, psychological abuse and threats to his family before former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg said he cracked and confessed to being a member of the al-Qaida terror network. The only problem, he said, was that it was a lie.

It was only a matter of weeks for Mourad Benchellali, a Frenchman detained first at Kandahar in Afghanistan. “Because I was afraid, because I hurt, and because I told myself, when this is all worked out, I’ll tell the truth. But for now, better to tell them what they want to hear,” he said.

Chris Arendt, a former guard at the U.S. detention facility in Cuba, said he routinely saw what could be defined as torture, including prisoners being unnecessarily pepper-sprayed or taken for interrogations that never happened. Instead, they were left shackled for hours as a means of punishment.

During the year he spent at the U.S. detention facility in 2004, Arendt said it was clear that most of the detainees had relatively little valuable intelligence.

“I thought that if I confessed I would at least get access to the courts and my interrogations would stop being so adversarial,” said the 48-year-old Begg, who confessed in 2003 but wasn’t released until 2005, along with three other British detainees. Like most Guantanamo detainees, he was never charged. Read More>>

UK soldier slaying suspects had been investigated

May 23, 2013
LONDON (AP) — Two men accused of butchering a British soldier had been investigated previously by security services, a British official said Thursday, as investigators searched several locations and tried to determine whether the men were part of a wider plot to instill terror on the streets of London.

The men, suspected of hacking the off-duty soldier to death while horrified bystanders watched, boasted of their exploits and warned of more violence in images recorded on witnesses’ mobile phones. Holding bloody knives and a meat cleaver, they waited for the arrival of police, who shot them in the legs, according to a passerby who tried to save the dying soldier.

Prime Minister David Cameron vowed that Britain would not be cowed by the horrific violence, and that it would reject “the poisonous narrative of extremism on which this violence feeds.” Indeed, there were few signs of alarm in the British capital, which has been hit by terrorist attacks during a long confrontation with the Irish Republican Army and more recently by al-Qaida-inspired attacks   Read more >>

Boston Marathon blasts put world’s cities on alert

April 16, 2013
LONDON — With more than 30 marathons this weekend and big events on the horizon, officials around the world are looking at security efforts in the wake of the fatal bomb blasts that shook Boston’s race.

Britain was making last-minute efforts to tighten measures for former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s funeral on Wednesday at St. Paul’s Cathedral, which is to be attended by hundreds of diplomats and dignitaries, including Queen Elizabeth II.

Police with bomb-sniffing dogs were seen Tuesday afternoon around such landmarks as Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Trafalgar Square ahead of the Thatcher funeral, but officials said the searches were routine and unrelated to the Boston attacks.

Near the Pentagon’s subway station in Washington, D.C., meanwhile, two military personnel toting guns and a security official in a bullet-proof vest were spotted by one of the station’s entrances.

Bomb-sniffing dogs and security officers were also deployed Tuesday to Chicago’s Union Station.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said security had been beefed up at all its railway stations.

“No matter how many days, months or years pass without a major terrorist attack, it only takes one such attack to bring us back to the cruel reality,” Interpol chief Ron Noble told The Associated Press early Tuesday, saying police around the globe would be on high alert. Read more >>

Mysterious ‘white widow’: Samantha Lewthwaite spins tangled web, eludes capture

December 12, 2013
AYLESBURY, England – She is called the most wanted woman in the world, a suspected terrorist charged with plotting to blow up resort hotels in Kenya packed with Christmas tourists, a westerner who wrote an ode praising Osama bin Laden, a jihadist who has eluded the law even as she has traveled through Africa with four young children in tow.

The saga of Samantha Lewthwaite is one of betrayal and revenge in a murky world where, somehow, a white woman born to a British soldier becomes a Muslim convert and then an international fugitive accused of conspiracy.

Her first husband blew himself up as part of Britain’s worst ever terrorist attack in 2005, an act she first condemned — and her second partner adhered to the same militant brand of Islam and also apparently met an early death. Her notebooks, seized in 2011, are filled with lavish praise for extremists who slaughter civilians and hopes that her children will do the same.

And yet, since she disappeared some months after the London bombing, no one can say how the “white widow” became radicalized, moving from mainstream Islam to a “holy war” against the West — or why she would embrace a movement that denies a woman’s right to education and other basic liberties.  Read more >>

British soldier’s slaying prompts UK security review

May 25, 2013
LONDON (AP) — Both of the suspects accused of butchering a British soldier during broad daylight on a London street had long been on the radar of Britain’s domestic spy agency, though investigators say it would have been nearly impossible to predict that the men were on the verge of a brutal killing.

Still, counter-terrorism officials said they are reviewing what — if any — lessons can be gleaned from the information they had leading up to the slaying Wednesday.

Authorities in the US have similarly pledged to review their procedures in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, with the Boston police commissioner saying that cities should consider deploying more undercover officers and installing more surveillance cameras.

The British review comes amid an outpouring of grief over Wednesday’s slaughter of 25-year-old Lee Rigby of the 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. Rigby, who had a two-year-old son, had served in Afghanistan. Detectives say they do not believe the attackers knew him or that he was specifically targeted, but they are still investigating. Read more >>

U.K. Spies Will Face Criminal Inquiry Over Libya

January 12, 2012
LONDON — Britain’s spy agencies will face a criminal investigation into claims that intelligence shared with Moammar Gadhafi’s regime led to the torture or rendition of two Libyan men and their families, authorities announced Thursday.

A criminal inquiry was launched in 2008 when a former Guantanamo Bay detainee alleged that intelligence agencies were complicit in his torture. The inquiry later expanded to include claims by two Libyans who accused intelligence agents of sharing sensitive information with Gadhafi’s regime.

“We want to get to the bottom of this – not just on grounds of justice or ethical considerations, but because this whole saga has threatened to make Britain less safe,” said Conservative lawmaker Andrew Tyrie who chairs a special committee on the practice of extraordinary rendition. Read more >>

Olympic security review after France attacks

March 28, 2012
Britain has planned for a dizzying array of security nightmares surrounding the Olympics, including a coordinated attack like the London transit bombings, a dirty bomb or a cyberattack.

In the wake of France’s deadly shootings, one scenario weighing heavily on the minds of security officials is the self-starter operating with little or no help from others.

And, they admit, there are limits to what security personnel can do.

“You cannot exclude something similar,” said Denis Oswald, head of the International Olympic Committee’s coordination commission for the London Games.

“Every Olympic venue will be specially protected, but of course, when you are in the street, people waiting for the bus waiting to go to an Olympic venue could be a target.”

Mohamed Merah – a 23-year-old Muslim extremist who says he trained in Afghanistan – claimed responsibility for killing paratroopers, Jewish children and a rabbi in a weeklong shooting rampage in the French city of Toulouse. Police shot him dead last week after a 32-hour standoff. Read more >>

Europol chief warns of new jihad threat day after France gunman killed

March 23, 2012
BERLIN – European security officials are warning of a new, decentralized jihadist threat that is hard to track, a day after French police shot a homegrown extremist who killed seven people on a hate-fueled rampage.

Europol chief Rob Wainwright says intelligence officials believe “we have a different kind of jihadist threat emerging and it’s getting stronger. It is much more decentralized and harder to track.”

Wainwright spoke to The Associated Press in an exclusive telephone interview Friday from The Hague. He said combating attacks from individuals working outside of networks will take smarter measures in monitoring the Internet, better intelligence and international co-operation.

Mohamed Merah, a 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent, was killed Thursday in a shootout after police raided the Toulouse apartment where he had been holed up for 32 hours in a standoff with authorities.  Read more >>

Britain’s MI5 chief talks threats before Olympics

June 26, 2012
LONDON (AP) — Britain has seen a credible terrorist attack plot about once a year since the Sept. 11 attacks — a worrying pattern as security officials brace for an array of threats ahead of next month’s Summer Olympics, the head of the country’s domestic spy agency says.

Although Britain’s threat level is a notch below what it has been for much of the past decade, it is still at substantial. The level means an attack is a strong possibility,

“Our assessment is that Britain has experienced a credible terrorist attack plot about once a year since 9/11,” MI5 Director General Jonathan Evans said in a rare public speech Monday to the lord mayor’s annual defense and security lecture in London.

“The (Olympic) games present an attractive target for our enemies, and they will be at the center of the world’s attention in a month or so,” he said. “But the games are not an easy target, and the fact that we have disrupted multiple terrorist plots here and abroad in recent years demonstrates that the U.K. as a whole is not an easy target for terrorism.”

Not so long ago, 75 percent of the terror threats prioritized by MI5 had links to Afghanistan or Pakistan. But Britain’s efforts, along with those of its international partners, has brought that percentage down to below 50 percent, Mr. Evans said. Read more >>

Mistaken ID in FBI most-wanted profile?

June 29, 2011
LONDON — The FBI’s most-wanted list features a dated black-and-white photograph for the man wanted in connection with the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya. Saif al-Adel, reads the glaring red banner, alias Muhammad Ibrahim Makkawi.

But intelligence officials and people who say they know al-Adel and Makkawi tell The Associated Press that they are two different men.

In the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, AP reporters around the globe began hunting for fresh details on al-Adel — al-Qaida’s so-called third man because of his strategic military experience. Traversing a reporting trail that spanned from Europe to Egypt and from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, a new picture started to emerge about the al-Adel investigation: that the FBI’s manhunt dragged in the name of a one-time jihadist turned vocal al-Qaida critic who now can’t get himself off the wanted list. Read more >>

British targets found near body of al-Qaida leader

June 16, 2011
The Ritz Hotel in London and the elite private school Eton were among a handful of possible British terror targets that a senior al-Qaida leader was considering before he was killed in Somalia last week, a British security official said Thursday.

Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of attacks on two U.S. embassies in Africa that killed 224 people, was killed when he failed to stop at a routine checkpoint outside of Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has called the 38-year-old’s death a “significant blow to al-Qaida, its extremist allies, and its operations in East Africa.”

British officials have said they see al-Qaida affiliates in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as being a significant threat to British interests.

“He was a fairly big player, but there is nothing to suggest that any reconnaissance had been done or that any of the attacks were imminent,” a British security official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in order to discuss intelligence matters. Read more >>

Norway ripped by Oslo bomb, youth camp shootings

July 22, 2011
Police said they did not know the motive or whether the attacks were the work of one person or a terrorist group, but Justice Minister Knut Storberget said the man who opened fire at the youth camp is Norwegian.
In Oslo, the capital and the city where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded, the bombing left a square covered in twisted metal, shattered glass, documents expelled from surrounding buildings and a dust-fogged scene that reminded one visitor from New York of Sept. 11.

Ian Dutton, who was in a nearby hotel, people “just covered in rubble” were walking through “a fog of debris.”

“It wasn’t any sort of a panic,” he said, “It was really just people in disbelief and shock.”

Later at Utoya island, some 60 miles northwest, hundreds of youths at a camp where the prime minister had been scheduled to speak Saturday ran in terror and even tried swimming to safety as the gunman fired. Emilie Bersaas, identified by Sky News television as one of the youths on the island, said she ran inside a school building and hid under a bed. Read more >>

Irish dissident convicted in MI5 weapons sting

October 21, 2011
A Lithuanian judge found an Irish man guilty Friday of trying to buy weapons and explosives in a six-year sting orchestrated by Britain’s domestic spy agency MI5 – a case that drew attention to a hardcore Irish Republican Army splinter group’s plans to spread terror to London.

Judge Arunas Kisielus of the Vilnius Regional Court sentenced Michael Campbell – a 39-year-old with alleged links to the Real IRA group – to 12 years in prison for weapons offenses and supporting a terrorist group.

Video footage and intercepted communications showed that Campbell paid some euro6,000 (about $8,300) for high-grade explosives, grenade launchers, detonators, AK-47s and a special assassin’s rifle to Lithuanian agents posing as arms dealers.

In an audio recording, he is heard discussing how easy it would be with the type of equipment on offer to plant a bomb in London and escape. Read more >>

AP Interview: Interpol head warns of Somali threat

September 30, 2010
BRUSSELS — Somalia and other African nations could soon pose more of a terrorist threat than Afghanistan, Interpol’s secretary general warned Thursday.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Ronald K. Noble said many Somali militants had received training in Afghanistan and Pakistan and were using their homeland now as a base to seed terror. Somalia has been without a functioning government for about two decades, allowing Islamic militants to flourish.

Al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-linked movement which claimed responsibility for attacks in Uganda’s capital that killed 76 people during the World Cup final, has been at the heart of the Islamist insurgency in Somalia.

“For us, we believe that ‘the Afghanistan’ in the next five to 10 years will be Somalia and those parts of Africa (countries in the north and west),” the New Jersey native told the AP at a security conference in Brussels. Read more >>

U.K. terror raids lead to 12 arrests

December 21, 2010
LONDON – In the biggest anti-terrorist sweep in Britain in nearly two years, police Monday arrested a dozen men accused of plotting a large-scale terror attack on targets inside the United Kingdom.

The suspects, who ranged in age from 17 to 28, had been under surveillance for weeks and were believed to have links to Pakistan and Bangladesh, security officials said.

The arrests come amid growing concerns in Europe over terrorism following a suicide bombing in Sweden and reported threats of a terror attack on a European city modeled on the deadly shooting spree in Mumbai, India.

Police swooped in before dawn Monday in coordinated raids on houses in four cities – London, the Welsh city of Cardiff and the English cities of Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent. The officers were unarmed, suggesting any planned attack was not imminent. Read more >>

Guantanamo detainee freed after 7 years

February 23, 2009
LONDON–A former British resident who claims he was tortured at a covert CIA site in Morocco was freed from the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison camp after nearly seven years in American detention without facing trial.

Binyam Mohamed, the first Guantanamo prisoner released since President Barack Obama took office, returned Monday to a British military base and was expected to be out of custody within hours.

The Ethiopian’s case has raised questions about torture and secrecy for the British and U.S. governments, which face related lawsuits on both sides of the Atlantic.

“I hope you will understand that after everything I’ve been through, I am neither physically nor mentally capable of facing the media on the moment on my arrival back to Britain,” Mohamed said in a statement released through his lawyers before his plane landed. He was expected to have brief interviews with police and immigration officials before his release. Read more >>

British recruiters seek female, minority spies

July 14, 2008
Applicants are required to be British citizens and at least 21. Salaries start at about US$52,000 but senior officers can earn triple-digit sums. Applicants are told to keep the monthslong vetting process secret, but it can involve a battery of personal questions about family relationships, drug use, finances and religion.

The work’s importance — not the pay — is the main selling point, says MI6’s chief recruiter, a former field officer who also spoke on condition of anonymity. But it’s still a tough sell for women.

“The perception is still that (the work) is for single men,” said the recruiter. “But not all jobs are on the front line. This said, many of the women who join want to be on the front line.”

MI6 hires between 250 and 350 recruits a year through the open recruitment process. The organization won’t give a total number of personnel but said out of last year’s recruits, 40 percent were women and 11 percent were from ethnic minorities. Positions include linguists, operational agents, technology officers, security guards, drivers and receptionists.  Read more >>

 London Police Foil Major Terror Plot

June 29, 2007
LONDON — Police thwarted a devastating terrorist plot on Friday, discovering two Mercedes loaded with nails packed around canisters of propane and gasoline set to detonate and kill possibly hundreds in London’s crowded theater and nightclub district.

The plot, coming only two days after Gordon Brown took over as prime minister, raised the specter of the attacks in July 2005 when the London Underground and an iconic double-decker bus were targeted by a group of homegrown terrorists who killed 52 people.

As police searched for car bombs and terrorists in the city of 7.5 million, roads were closed and police sirens echoed. Authorities stepped up security across Britain, from central London streets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament.

But Londoners _ with long experience in dealing with bombs and terrorism _ were not in hiding and the West End was bustling again by nightfall Friday. Read more >>

World Skeptical Over Guantanamo Bay Ruling

June 30, 2006
LONDON — Some saw the beginning of the end for Guantanamo Bay, others a vindication for Europeans who have condemned the U.S. prison camp. Still others saw a toothless ruling that will ultimately make no difference in a climate where they believe Washington is determined to have its way.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday that President Bush overstepped his authority in ordering military trials for a handful of Guantanamo Bay detainees provoked a range of reactions, from jubilation to deep skepticism.

In immediate terms, the decision will simply force the United States to look for other ways to try some 10 men charged with crimes. But some people saw wider implications _ predicting it could force the Bush administration to address the continued detention of about 430 others, many held for more than four years without charge.

“A lot of us remain skeptical of what this decision will actually accomplish because it only applies to the handful of men who have been charged and Bush has not respected past court decisions,” said Moazamm Begg, 37, who was held at Guantanamo for more than two years. “That said, I’m very glad to hear the news and hope it will be the beginning of the end for many of these men.”

The camp has been a delicate diplomatic issue between the United States and Europe, where Britain’s Attorney General Lord Peter Goldsmith said America had betrayed its own principles of freedom, liberty and justice. Read more >>

Latest London blasts wake-up call for government and police

July 22, 2005
LONDON — Were the bombers in the latest attack on London copycats trying to increase fear — or was the al-Qaida terrorist network trying to send a message that they can attack at will?

The small explosions that again sent shudders of terror through the city Thursday — exactly two weeks after suicide bombers killed 52 — caused widespread disruption and dashed hopes that the first deadly bombings were a one-time event, as they so far have been in the United States and Spain.

In trying to determine the source behind the latest bombings, analysts considered the style and relative lack of success of the attacks.

“These attacks don’t look like they were a hallmark of any one group,” Paul Beaver, an independent security and defense expert, told The Associated Press. “They don’t fit into any clear patterns.”

Two devices detonated — one at the Oval subway station, the other on the No. 26 bus — but the other two apparently did not, Beaver said, citing security officials close to the investigation. Read more >>