Friday, April 15, 2005

Was ricin the last act of terror cell?

By Sean O’Neill
London Times
THE failed al-Qaeda plot to carry out a chemical attack in Britain may have been the final act of an extensive terrorist network established by a leading Algerian Islamist.
Kamel Bourgass, who is expected to spend at least 30 years in prison for the ricin conspiracy and the murder of Detective Constable Stephen Oake, was part of a worldwide cell headed by the notorious Abu Doha.

Bourgass was just one of the fanatics recruited, inspired and guided by Doha, 39, who is also known as Dr Haider, the Doctor, Rachid, Amar Makhlulif and Didier Ajuelos.

Others included Ahmed Ressam, jailed in the United States over a planned millennium bomb attack on Los Angeles airport, and Nizar Trabelsi, in prison in Belgium for plotting to blow up a Nato airbase.

Those in the front line against terrorism are reluctant to claim that the Abu Doha network has been wound up.

“It would be foolhardy to say it was finished,” a senior anti-terrorist officer said. “The Abu Doha network is very resilient and our experience shows that these networks do change and can mutate very quickly.”

But the thwarting of the ricin plot was a major success and since then the bulk of terror threats in Britain have come from different cells, often of Asian or domestic origin.

Doha was a member of the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC), a terrorist group which has carried out widespread atrocities in Algeria. In 1998, according to a US indictment, he won permission from Osama bin Laden to set up the Khalden training camp in Afghanistan for Algerians and other North Africans.

Hundreds trained at Khalden and some who have since been arrested have testified that bin Laden visited regularly. Many left to fight alongside Islamists in Chechnya, but others were encouraged to base themselves in the West and carry out attacks there.

With his camp established, Doha stationed himself in North London amid the growing Algerian population fleeing the bitter conflict in their homeland. The Finsbury Park mosque was a focal point for the community.

Authorising the detention of one of his associates, a judge described Doha as “a senior terrorist”.

Mr Justice Ouseley said: “In Afghanistan, he had held a senior position in training camps organising the passage of Mujahidin volunteers to and from those camps.

“He had a wide range of extremist Islamic contacts inside and outside the United Kingdom, including links to individuals involved in terrorist operations,” he said. “He was involved in a number of extremist agendas.

“By being in the United Kingdom, he had brought cohesion to Algerian extremists based here and he had strengthened the existing links with individuals associated with the terrorist training facilities in Afghanistan and in Pakistan.”

Doha was in regular phone contact with Ressam, whose plan to attack Los Angeles airport was foiled when he was arrested near Seattle with explosives and detonators in his car.

Ressam had been refused refugee status in Montreal and was the subject of an immigration arrest warrant. Facing a 130-year jail term in the US he agreed to co-operate with the FBI and provided invaluable intelligence.

In December 2000 German police raided a flat in Frankfurt and found bomb-making equipment. Four men were arrested. They also discovered a recent video of the Christmas market in Strasbourg, France, with a commentary describing the crowds as “enemies of God”.

The German authorities had acted after a tip-off from British Intelligence which had intercepted a phone call between one of the men and Doha.

Four men, three of whom had lived in Britain, were jailed by a German court for the plot in March 2003.

Doha himself was arrested at Heathrow airport in February 2001 attempting to board a flight to Saudi Arabia with a false passport. A search of his London home recovered false passports and diagrams for bombs similar to those found in Ressam’s possession.

Doha remains in Belmarsh prison, southeast London, fighting extradition to the US.

Such is the nature of the al-Qaeda phenomenon — with its activists trained to be freelance, self-sufficient operators — that his network continued without him. Rabah Kadre, known as Toufiq, took command.

In July 2001 Djamel Beghal, who had lived in Leicester, was arrested in Dubai and allegedly admitted a plot to attack the US Embassy in Paris. He is in prison in France.

Days after the September 11 attacks Nizar Trabelsi, a Tunisian former professional footballer, was detained in Brussels in possession of bomb-making materials. He had trained in Afghanistan, volunteered to be a suicide bomber and is in jail for plotting to attack the Kleine Brogel Nato airbase.

In December 2001 emergency powers were introduced to detain foreign terror suspects without trial.

Many of those rounded up were associates of Doha. They are now free under the terms of terrorist control orders. Almost a year later the network suffered another blow when its new head, Kadre, was arrested in London. Police believe that he had come to activate the ricin plot. Two months later the poisons conspiracy was smashed and Bourgass was arrested.

The authorities dare not say it out loud, but their very real hope is that the Doha cell is finally defunct
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