British Army expert casts doubt on ‘liquid explosives’ threat, Al Qaeda network in UK Identified
Filed by Nafeez Ahmed
Lieutenant-Colonel (ret.) Nigel Wylde, a former senior British Army Intelligence Officer, has suggested that the police and government story about the “terror plot” revealed on 10th August was part of a “pattern of lies and deceit.”
British and American government officials have described the operation which resulting in the arrest of 24 mostly British Muslim suspects, as a resounding success. Thirteen of the suspects have been charged, and two released without charges.
According to security sources, the terror suspects were planning to board up to ten civilian airliners and detonate highly volatile liquid explosives on the planes in a spectacular terrorist operation. The liquid explosives — either TATP (Triacetone Triperoxide), DADP (diacetone diperoxide) or the less sensitive HMTD (hexamethylene triperoxide diamine) — were reportedly to be made on board the planes by mixing sports drinks with a peroxide-based household gel and then be detonated using an MP3 player or mobile phone.
But Lt. Col. Wylde, who was awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal for his command of the Belfast Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit in 1974, described this scenario as a “fiction.” Creating liquid explosives is a “highly dangerous and sophisticated task,” he states, one that requires not only significant chemical expertise but also appropriate equipment.
Terror plot scenario “untenable”
“The idea that these people could sit in the plane toilet and simply mix together these normal household fluids to create a high explosive capable of blowing up the entire aircraft is untenable,” said Lt. Col. Wylde, who was trained as an ammunition technical officer responsible for terrorist bomb disposal at the Royal Army Ordnance Corps in Sandhurst.
After working as a bomb defuser in Northern Ireland, Lt. Col. Wylde became a senior officer in British Army Intelligence in 1977. During the Cold War, he collected intelligence as part of an undercover East German “liaison unit,” then went on to work in the Ministry of Defense to review its communications systems.
“So who came up with the idea that a bomb could be made on board? Not Al Qaeda for sure. It would not work. Bin Laden is interested in success not deterrence by failure,” Wylde stated.
“This story has been blown out of all proportion. The liquids would need to be carefully distilled at freezing temperatures to extract the required chemicals, which are very difficult to obtain in the purities needed.”
Once the fluids have been extracted, the process of mixing them produces significant amounts of heat and vile fumes. “The resulting liquid then needs some hours at room temperature for the white crystals that are the explosive to develop.” The whole process, which can take between 12 and 36 hours, is “very dangerous, even in a lab, and can lead to premature detonation,” said Lt. Col. Wylde.
If there was a conspiracy, he added, “it did not involve manufacturing the explosives in the loo,” as this simply “could not have worked.” The process would be quickly and easily detected. The fumes of the chemicals in the toilet “would be smelt by anybody in the area.” They would also inevitably “cause the alarms in the toilet and in the air change system in the aircraft to be triggered. The pilot has the ability to dump all the air from an aircraft as a fire-fighting measure, leaving people to use oxygen masks. All this means the planned attack would be detected long before the queues outside the loo had grown to enormous lengths.”
Government silent on detonators
Even if it was possible for the explosive to have been made on the aircraft, a detonator, probably made from TATP, would be needed to set it off. “It is very dangerous and risky to the individual,” Wylde said. “As the quantity involved would be small this would injure the would-be suicide bomber but not endanger the aircraft, thus defeating the object of bringing down an aircraft.”
Despite the implausibility of this scenario, it has been used to justify wide-ranging new security measures that threaten to permanently curtail civil liberties and to suspend sections of the United Kingdom’s Human Rights Act of 1998. “Why were the public delicately informed of an alleged conspiracy which the authorities knew, or should have known, could not have worked?” asked Lt. Col. Wylde.
“This is not a new problem,” he added, noting that ‘shoe-bomber’ Richard Reid had attempted to use this type of explosive on a plane in December 2001. “If this threat is real, what has been done to develop explosive test kits capable of detecting peroxide based explosives?” asked Wylde. “These are the real issues about protecting the public that have not been publicised. Instead we are going to get demands for more internment without trial.”
Lt. Col. Wylde also raised questions about the criminal investigation into the 7th July terrorist attacks in London last year. He noted that police and government sources have maintained “total silence” about the detonation devices used in the bombs on the London Underground and the bus at Tavistock Square. “Whatever the nature of the primary explosive materials, even if it was home-made TATP, the detonator that must be used to trigger an explosion is an extremely dangerous device to make, requiring a high level of expertise that cannot be simply self-taught or picked-up over the internet,” Wylde stated.
The government’s silence on the detonation device used in the attacks is “disturbing,” he said, as the creation of the devices requires the involvement of trained explosives experts. Wylde speculated that such individuals would have to be present either inside the country or outside, perhaps in Eastern Europe, where they would be active participants in an international supply-chain to UK operatives. “In either case, we are talking about something far more dangerous than home-grown radicals here.”
Spy slams police inaction against terrorists
Wylde’s concerns are echoed by others familiar with British terrorism-related intelligence operations, such as Glen Jenvey, who is profiled in the bestselling book, The Terror Tracker, by terrorism investigator Neil Doyle. Jenvey worked for several military attaches monitoring terrorist groups in London and obtained crucial video and surveillance evidence used by British police to arrest radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, who was convicted last February.
“I’ve been closely monitoring the internet communications of extremist Muslim groups inside the UK both before and after 7/7, and they are intimately interconnected,” said Jenvey, who is affiliated with the London-based terror watch group VIGIL. “We’ve identified a coordinated leadership of at least 20 and up to 60 people, extremist preachers with blatant international al-Qaeda terrorist connections.”
Jenvey noted that even though they are known to the authorities and are monitored while breaking the law with impunity, particularly in their private sermons, the police have failed to take appropriate action against them. “The police don’t need to round up and detain thousands of British Muslims. If they only arrested, charged and prosecuted these 20 key terrorist leaders, they will have a struck a fatal blow against the epicentres of al-Qaeda extremism in the UK. But they’re sitting on this.”
Jenvey points to Omar Bakri Mohammed, a colleague of convicted terrorist Abu Hamza who headed the now-banned Islamist group al-Muhajiroun in the United Kingdom. Despite being exiled to Lebanon, Omar Bakri continues to communicate with UK-based extremist groups which are believed to be successors of al-Muhajiroun operating under new names, including the Saved Sect and al-Ghurabaa. British security sources have confirmed that the 7/7 bombers were associates of Omar Bakri’s network, and Bakri himself publicly boasted a year before the London bombings that an al-Qaeda cell in London was planning a terrorist strike.
An investigation by the counterterrorism unit in the New York Police Department found that Bakri’s al-Muhajiroun had formed 81 front groups and support networks in six countries, most of them based in London, the home counties bordering London, the Midlands, Lancashire and West Yorkshire. By the time Home Secretary Dr. John Reid moved in July to proscribe the latest incarnation of al-Muhajiroun, al-Ghurabaa, this sprawling interconnected network was fully functioning and continues to operate namelessly, despite proscription. Bakri’s network has recently adopted the name “Al Sabiqoon Al-Awwaloon”.
Jenvey complains that, despite the arrest in early September of radical cleric Abu Abdullah, convicted terrorist Abu Hamza’s successor at the Finsbury Park Mosque, a “hardcore group of 20 or more extremists operating around Omar Bakri” remains at large. “The police have every reason to act, and they know who these people are. Their failure to do so has only exacerbated unjustified demonization of Muslims. These extremists are not Muslims in any meaningful sense, they are simply terrorists obsessed with violence.”
MI5, MI6 recruiting extremists?
Even the arrest of Abu Abdullah only occurred after his support for terrorism was widely reported in the British and American media in late August. On 23rd August, he justified the killing of Westerners and told CNN correspondent Dan Rivers that Tony Blair is a “legitimate target” of jihad. The Sunday Times remarked that he “is apparently being allowed to operate unchecked by the authorities five months after a law was passed making it a criminal offence to glorify terrorism.”
Torture may have been used to extract evidence for the weekend police raids which resulted in the arrest of 14 British Muslims, including Abdullah. Sources confirm that information came from detainees at Camp X-Ray in Guantánamo, where interrogation techniques classified as torture under international law are routinely used.
The reluctance to take decisive action against the leadership of the extremist network in the UK has a long history. According to John Loftus, a former Justice Department prosecutor, Omar Bakri and Abu Hamza, as well as the suspected mastermind of the London bombings Haroon Aswat, were all recruited by MI6 in the mid-1990s to draft up British Muslims to fight in Kosovo. American and French security sources corroborate the revelation. The MI6 connection raises questions about Bakri’s relationship with British authorities today. Exiled to Lebanon and outside British jurisdiction, he is effectively immune to prosecution.
Other London-based radical clerics with terrorist connections also had a relationship to the security services. Abu Qatada, described as al-Qaeda’s European ambassador, was, according to French sources a long-time MI5 informant. Pakistani government insiders similarly believe that Ahmed Omar Sheikh Saeed, the British al-Qaeda finance chief from Forest Gate, not only worked with the ISI, Pakistani’s military intelligence service, but was also recruited by the CIA as an informant. Saeed, who reportedly wired several hundred thousand dollars to alleged chief 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, is currently in Pakistani custody for the murder of Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl.
Omar Bakri regularly uses the internet to communicate from Lebanon with his followers in Britain. On Sunday evening, 3rd September, Omar Bakri told participants in an online chat forum that he had been pulled in by the Lebanese authorities at the request of the US and British governments and questioned in relation to the “terror plot”. Although he denied involvement in the plot, he claimed that some of the 24 British Muslim suspects were known to him. When asked to confirm or deny whether Bakri had indeed been arrested at the request of the British, the Foreign Office had no comment. Bakri said that he was regularly questioned by Lebanese officials on behalf of the British government.
The official reluctance to act against Bakri and his active associates in the UK does not match the government’s willingness to act pre-emptively to foil a plot of doubtful reality. Official reluctance to acknowledge the significance of the detonators used in the 7/7 terrorist operation suggests that the threat is far more sophisticated than authorities have admitted, and that emphasis on home-grown amateurs is mistaken. Lt. Col. Wylde’s observations would seem to indicate that the terror-threat narrative is being manipulated for reasons of political expediency.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Graham Ennis, Nigel Wylde and Glen Jenvey for their research assistance and contribution to this story. They bear no responsibility for any errors therein. An abridged version of this story will be printed in The Muslim News, UK on 29th September 2006.
Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed is the author of The London Bombings: An Independent Inquiry (Duckworth, ?9:99) and The War on Truth: 9/11, Disinformation and the Anatomy of Terrorism (Arris, ?12:99). He testified in the US Congress about his research on international terrorism in July 2005. He teaches International Relations at the University of Sussex, Brighton.
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