Bush Administration outing of Khan Enabled 5 al-Qaeda Cell Members to Escape Capture
Neville Dean of PA News reports that a magistrate has given British police only until Tuesday to finish questioning 9 of 13 men arrested August 3 on suspicion of being part of an al-Qaeda cell. The men had been in email correspondence with Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, who since mid-July has been functioning as a double agent for the Pakistani government. He was arrested in Lahore on July 13 and “flipped.”
The Bush administration revealed Khan’s name to US journalists on Sunday August 1 on background, and it appeared in the US press on Monday. The Bush administration thus effectively outed Khan as a double agent (he sent emails to his London contacts as late as Monday).
The British MI5 was forced to have the London cell of 13 arrested immediately on Tuesday, fearing that they would flee now that they knew Khan had been arrested two weeks earlier. The British do not, however, appear to have finished gathering enough evidence to prosecute the 13 in the courts successfully.
It now turns out, according to Neville, that “Reports last week also claimed that five al Qaida militants were on the run in the UK after escaping capture in last Tuesday’s raids.” If this is true, it is likely that the 5 went underground on hearing that Khan was in custody. That is, the loose lips of the Bush administration enabled them to flee arrest.
Of the 13 taken into custody on Aug. 3, two were released for lack of evidence and two others were “no longer being questioned on suspicion of terrorism offences.
Two of the men let go on Sunday are being charged or questioned with regard to irregularities in their identity papers or lapsed visas.
By Tuesday, British police must charge the remaining 9, release them, or ask the magistrate for yet more time for questioning. Terror suspects may be held in the UK for up to two weeks without being charged, in accordance with the Terrorism Act.
One of the 9, Abu Eisa al-Hindi, is a high al-Qaeda official also wanted by the US. Because Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan’s identity was prematurely released, however, the British may not have enough evidence to extradite him.
CNN.com noted Monday morning:
” The effort by U.S. officials to justify raising the terror alert level last week may have shut down an important source of information that has already led to a series of al Qaeda arrests, Pakistani intelligence sources have said.
Until U.S. officials leaked the arrest of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan to reporters, Pakistan had been using him in a sting operation to track down al Qaeda operatives around the world, the sources said.
In background briefings with journalists last week, unnamed U.S. government officials said it was the capture of Khan that provided the information that led Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to announce a higher terror alert level . . .
The unnamed U.S. officials leaked Khan’s name along with confirmation that most of the surveillance data was three or four years old, arguing that its age was irrelevant because al Qaeda planned attacks so far in advance . . .
Then on Friday, after Khan’s name was revealed, government sources told CNN that counterterrorism officials had seen a drop in intercepted communications among suspected terrorists.”
Read between the lines, and CNN is suggesting that the outing of Khan has led to greater caution in al-Qaeda and similar groups about using electronic communications, which may make it more difficult to monitor them.