Archive for Friday, May 12, 2006

Britain missed chances to thwart attacks

May 12, 2006

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— Britain's intelligence agencies missed chances to thwart last year's transit attacks by failing to follow up leads on two of the men who became the country's first suicide bombers, major reports said Thursday.

The government blamed a lack of funds, a too-slow buildup of intelligence staff in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, and spies' failure to anticipate that British citizens would contemplate suicide attacks on their homeland.

But the reports found "no culpable failures" by agencies, including the MI5 and MI6 intelligence services, saying the bombings of three London subways and a double-decker bus July 7 came without warning.

Britain's Home Office said in one of the reports that there is "as yet no firm evidence" of al-Qaida's role, if any, in organizing the attacks, which killed 52 commuters and the four bombers.

However, suspected ringleader Mohammed Sidique Khan and accomplice Shezad Tanweer traveled to Pakistan and it is "likely that they had some contact with al-Qaida figures," said a second report, by the Intelligence and Security Committee, a panel of nine British lawmakers.

In September, Khan made a posthumous farewell in a videotape aired on Al-Jazeera television. Khan said he was inspired by al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri and by the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi.

The association of the al-Qaida leader and the 30-year-old suicide bomber was considered at the time to be the strongest link yet of a role by the terror organization in the attacks. The Home Office report Thursday said the inquiry was continuing.

No links have been found between the July 7 bombers and the group that mounted failed bombing attempts against the transport system two weeks later, one of the reports said.

Survivor groups were unsatisfied with the probes, demanding that the government conduct a public inquiry such as the one in the United States after 9-11.

There was at least one "missed opportunity" to investigate Khan in two intelligence operations in 2003 and 2004, the committee report said.

It said Khan and Tanweer were "on the peripheries" of an "important and substantial," inquiry into another plot in 2004. But authorities believed they were trying to raise money for radicals rather than training for an attack.

"As there were more pressing priorities at the time, including the need to disrupt known plans to attack the U.K., it was decided not to investigate them further or seek to identify them," the report said.

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