No follow-up on leads before London blasts

Report says agencies' resources were spread too thin

May 12, 2006|By KIM MURPHY | KIM MURPHY,LOS ANGELES TIMES

LONDON -- Police knew of links between suspected extremists and two of the suicide bombers who launched London's deadly transport attacks, but they failed to follow up on the leads, in part because they were overwhelmed by a 300 percent increase in the number of terrorist suspects in Britain, a parliamentary report on the investigation revealed yesterday.

In the first official findings of what led to the July 7 bombings that left 52 people dead and more than 700 injured, Parliament's Security and Intelligence Committee concluded that intelligence agencies had tracked two of the bombers to contacts in 2003 and 2004 with unidentified figures who had been the subject of Security Service investigations.

In an agonizing example of one of several missed opportunities, more than one security detainee outside the country had identified a man later learned to be the suspected ringleader, Mohammed Siddeque Khan, as having traveled to Pakistan in 2003, seeking meetings with al-Qaida figures.

A photograph of Siddeque Khan was shown to one of the detainees, who didn't recognize him. But it was not shown, it turned out, to the captive who after the bombings identified him as the man who had been in Pakistan, the report revealed.

Authorities blamed a lack of resources for the failure to follow up on every lead, at a time when the number of "primary investigative targets" suspected of ties to international terrorism had risen from 250 in 2001 to about 800 at the time of the attacks. There was no sign then that the two men - in addition to two others who also helped carry out Britain's first successful Islamist terrorist attack - were engaged in plotting a violent attack in the United Kingdom, investigators said. Intelligence about those in attendance at the meetings attended by Siddeque Khan and fellow bomber Shazad Tanweer "suggested that their focus was training and insurgency operations in Pakistan, and schemes to defraud financial institutions," the report said.

With too few resources spread too thin, security agencies had elected to focus their efforts on "more pressing priorities," such as "the need to disrupt known plans to attack the UK," it said.

"That is not a comfortable message," Home Secretary John Reid told Parliament yesterday. "But it is important that we are honest about it, if we are to defend ourselves against the threat effectively."

Security analysts and families of the victims immediately criticized the report for its failure to answer some of the biggest questions about the attacks. For example, it failed to draw any conclusions about al-Qaida involvement in the attacks, though it documented trips by Siddeque Khan and Tanweer to Pakistan in 2003, 2004 and February 2005.

"It has not yet been established who they met in Pakistan, but it is assessed as likely that they had some contact with Al Qaida figures," the report said.

The report discounted earlier news reports of a purported mastermind who left the country at the time of the attacks, but it did not answer the question of who else might have been involved and did not specifically determine how the suspects were able to raise the estimated $15,000 it took to travel to Pakistan and build the relatively simple homemade bombs used in the attacks.

"What we really need to know more about is the content, the substance of the communications that both Tanweer and Khan had with Pakistani militants. What did they amount to? What information or advice was given to them? It seems unlikely that they weren't influenced or assisted by anybody," said Paul Wilkinson, head of the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at St. Andrews University.

The report emphasized that the investigation is still open.

Kim Murphy writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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