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Terror gang hit by Muslim 'supergrass'

Terror gang hit by Muslim 'supergrass'

Author: Nicholas Rufford
Publication: The Sunday Times, UK
Date: April 28, 2002

A Radical Muslim cleric based in London has been named as a key figure behind a suspected terrorist gang planning attacks on British and American targets overseas

Abu Qatada, who is suspected of having turned supergrass for M15, was identified by police as the former spiritual leader of eight suspected terrorists arrested last week in raids across Germany. The men were part of a "secret international network on the brink of attacks in Germany", according to the chief German prosecutor. Among potential targets was the British embassy in Berlin, source said.

Some were arrested hours before they planned to leave Germany. More than 20 addresses were raided in 10 cities; cash a handgun and equipment used to falsify documents were seized

The arrests fuelled speculation that Qatada is now helping British intelligence services. Some of the men being held had met him in London and had been shown extremist videos. Qatada had incited them to fight in Afghanistan and join the jihad, or holy war, according to the German authorities.

Qatada came to Britain from Jordan in 1993. He disappeared from his home in Action, west London, late last year just before he could have been interned under new anti-terrorism laws. He was facing an investigation for benefit fraud and possible action to evict him and his family after his housing benefit was stopped.

French anti-terrorist officers told Le Figaro newspaper earlier this year that British intelligence officers were refusing to give them information about Qatada and suggested they may have colluded in his disappearance. Whitehall source refused to comment.

Qatada has already been cited as "the master" of terror gangs that have been rounded up across the Continent. His name has been linked to suspects in France, Italy, Britain and Spain as well as Germany, and he has been described as Osama Bin Laden's European ambassador. Videos made by Qatada were found in a Hamburg flat used by three of the September 11 hijackers, including Mohammed Atta, their leader.

The threat of imprisonment or expulsion made Qatada an obvious candidate for M15 to turn. He moved out of his home in December, leaving his four children and his wife who was expecting a fifth child. Days later the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 gave police new powers to detain foreign nationals suspected of involvement in terrorism.

Had he been taken into custody, Qadata would have faced indefinite jail in Britain or the prospect of returning to Jordan. There in 2000 he was convicted in absentia by a military court of conspiring to attack American and Israeli targets and was implicated in a bomb attack that killed a 12-years-old girl.

Qatada is alleged to have met Bin Laden in Peshawar, a claim he denies, and to be a member of Bin Laden's fatwa committee which provides the blessing of Islamic law for Al-Qaeda's war on the West. A Spanish judge investigating terrorism linked to the September 11 hijacking described Qatada as the "spiritual head of the mujaheddin in Britain".

Mystery still surrounds a sum of about 180,000 in international currencies found in Qatada's home by police who arrested him in February last year under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. His housing benefit was stopped after it was discovered. He had been receiving income support, housing benefit and child benefit. He was also discovered to have two British bank accounts, which held almost 1,900. The accounts were frozen as part of the crackdown on terrorism.

Qatada, who went to court to challenge the decision to stop his benefit, has denied involvement in terrorism. His family were moved to an unknown address earlier this month.

Qatada, who was born in Bethlehem and who has nine different aliases, was granted leave to remain in Britain in 1994 after claiming asylum on grounds of religious persecution. Among those believed to have attendee prayer meetings held by Qatada in a room at a youth club off London's Baker Street was Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called "20th hijacker".

Qatada is the second radical Muslim cleric to have been linked to terror activities in recent weeks. Abu Hamza, who is based at Finsbury park mosque, north London, was named by a British captive in the Guantanamo Bay high security prison in Cuba as having inspired him to join Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

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