Security services have questions to answer over 7/7 links
As court papers reveal a link between the July 7 terrorists and the fertiliser bomb plotters, questions are being asked over whether MI5 could have prevented the London attacks
Britain's security services were criticised today for failing to prevent the July 7 attacks on London after it emerged that two of the four suicide bombers had come to the attention of MI5 more than a year earlier.
But for MI5 it was a question of resources. It was working against the backdrop of 30 suspect terrorist networks identified in Britain in 2003. In 2004, this figure had increased to 50.
The fertiliser bomb investigation started in March 2003 and became Britain's biggest ever counter-terrorism operation.
There were tens of thousands of hours of surveillance and the interception of 97 telephone lines. The probe uncovered 55 individuals known to have been associated with the plotters - all people MI5 says it would have liked to have pursued. Of these, 15 were considered "essential" targets on the basis of the evidence against them.
The remaining 40, including those later identified as Khan and Tanweer were "parked up", that is, not treated as urgent cases. MI5 insisted that the two had not been heard discussing terrorist acts in Britain. "Like many, they were talking about jihadi activity in Pakistan and support for the Taliban and about UK foreign policy," said one security official. But MI5 maintained that the intelligence collected on them had not indicated that they posed a terrorist threat.
In July 2004 operations against all 55 of the Crevice plotters' associates were suspended as intelligence warned of a new danger. A joint police /MI5 investigation, codenamed Operation Rhyme, revealed that new plots to cause mass casualties in the UK were being directly funded and controlled by al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
These involved dedicated and well-trained British terrorists.
This investigation led a series of arrests in August 2004, including that of Dhiren Barot, a Muslim convert sentenced last November for conspiracy to murder in a series of explosions, including a radioactive "dirty bomb."
Security officials suggested that if MI5 had then the new information technology and extra staff they had now, the two July suicide bombers might have been identified earlier. However, they also said that as their resources increased - MI5 staff numbers would have risen from just over 2,000 in 2004 to 3,500 next year - so had the scale of the problem.
Before she stepped down last week, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI5, said the agency was targeting more than 1,600 individuals actively engaged in promoting attacks here and abroad and that 200 "networks" involved in terrorism were based in Britain.
MI5's message is that there is always a danger that some of these individuals will slip through its net and there is no such thing as complete security.