Much of the media attention into the publication of Lord Carlile’s review of the dramatic arrests back on April 8th of this year in Liverpool and Manchester has focused on the criticisms he levelled at the police, security services and government in their conduct of the case, known as Operation Pathway. However, there has not been much analysis of the details of the alleged terrorist plot that the report uncovered, something that has been made even more interesting by the later revelations that the thread for the unravelling of the alleged plot around Najibullah Zazi came from a British source, “after an email address that was being monitored as part of the abortive Operation Pathway was suddenly reactivated.” Zazi, you may recall, was the young Afghan arrested in the U.S. in September of this year whoadmitted to having trained at an Al Qaeda camp and who was building some sort of hydrogen peroxide device.
The report by Lord Carlile highlights MI5’s belief that the central figure in the Pathway plot was one Abid Naseer – a Pakistani national registered as being a student at John Moores University in Liverpool where he was doing a BSc in Computer Sciences. It is unclear where Naseer is now, but a report from earlier this month in the Pakistani press seems to suggest he is still in British custody. Aside from assertions that he was connected to Al Qaeda overseas, the report indicates that Naseer was the author of a suspicious email which was at the centre of police concerns about how advanced the plot was (the email was found in his possession on a USB drive). The email, which can be found in full in the report with under the nickname “the ‘hi buddy’ email”, seems to indicate that Naseer has chosen a wife, has met the family, and has now chosen a date for their “Nikkah” (wedding). This final element was what pushed security services into action, as it seemed to indicate that an attempted attack was imminent.
Under interrogation (over 7 days, using 33 tapes), Naseer provided no explanation or comment on any of this. No-one else appears able to corroborate his story that he may have been about to marry a girl called Nadia, and there was little evidence he was preparing to get married. It is likely that the same could be said for the many other women referenced during the earlier email intercepts that were partially leaked in the Telegraph. The report highlights, “throughout the period of police etc interest in the group, no women had been seen, and there had been absolutely no signs of wedding preparations.”
In addition, it has now been revealed that a second man who was lived in the same house as Naseer in Cheetham Hill Manchester, a UK national named Hamza Khan Shenwari, was apparently working at a hair products company and had registered a hair care company at Companies House. Presumably the suspicion is that they intended to use this as a way of obtaining hydrogen peroxide – a common base for explosives. Under interview (over 6 days, on 21 tapes), he apparently also stayed mute, answering only one question “about the contents of a bag.” Possibly of greater significance, “he became very agitated when shown the ‘hi buddy’ email.”
None of this is of course conclusive in any way, but it, and the intelligence information he has seen, does appear to provide Lord Carlile with enough to assert “if the above [intelligence community information] was correct, the potential threat posed to national security was grave.” He certainly seems to agree that some of the men may have been up to something, but the links to some of the others appear tenuous.
Further speculation in the press has hinted that this plot may have been linked to the broader network around the ever elusive (and possibly dead) Rashid Rauf, but as with most things connected to the man, it appears hard to pin anything down. The initial information into the group is believed to have possibly come from interrogations of a young American Bryant Neal Vinas, who is currently facing charges of plotting to attack the Long Island Rail Road after having trained at an Al Qaeda camp. What remains clear is that the Security Services are convinced something nefarious was afoot (according to Greater Manchester Police, the case remains “live”), but it will likely be a while before anything definitive comes out.
Finally, somewhat off this central point of this post, I note in paragraph 114 of the report that Lord Carlile highlights that “it would be useful too if a government Minister were to have added to his/her responsibilities the coordination of the community consequences of any major counter-terrorism operation.” I am surprised that this does not already take place, as I would have assumed it might be a DCLG responsibility – can anyone out there cast a light on this?