Several months of high-level surveillance on the key suspects in the airline bomb plot was almost foiled by the nervousness of US authorities who “lost their nerve”, according to Scotland Yard’s then head of counter-terrorism operations.
Andy Hayman, who was assistant commissioner specialist operations in the Metropolitan police in 2006, today outlined how the suspects were being filmed, their purchases and rubbish monitored and cars bugged in the lead-up to their arrests in August 2006, but said the police operation in the UK came close to being undermined by anxiousness from the US that the plotters be arrested as soon as possible.
“At the very highest level, the Americans wanted to be reassured that this was not going to slip through our hands. I was briefing the home secretary, who was briefing Tony Blair, who was briefing George Bush…” he wrote in the Times today. [continued…]
For several months in 2006 the key suspects in the airline plot — some of whom were convicted yesterday — were under intensive surveillance.
We logged every item they bought, we sifted every piece of rubbish they threw away (at their homes or in litterbins). We filmed and listened to them; we broke into their homes and cars to plant bugs and searched their luggage when they passed through airports.
We had been concerned about this group since early 2006. They were linked to a suspicious bookshop in Forest Gate, East London, and knew one of the July 21 bombers. The inquiry was labelled Operation Overt.
When a key figure, Abdulla Ahmed Ali, returned from Pakistan in June 2006, we searched his luggage and resealed it without him noticing. Inside was a soft drink powder, Tang, and a large number of batteries; they were bombmaking components and their discovery led to a step change in the operation. Another man, Assad Sarwar, seemed to be taking on the role of quartermaster — buying clamps, drills, syringes, glue and latex gloves. We watched him dispose of empty hydrogen peroxide containers; the substance could be used to dye hair or, as in July 2005, as an essential explosives component.
We were on their tail when Ali bought a flat in Walthamstow for £138,000 cash and we “burgled” the property to wire it up for covert sound and cameras. We watched as they experimented with turning soft-drinks containers into bottle bombs, listened as they recorded martyrdom videos and heard them discuss “18 or 19”. Were they talking about numbers of targets, bombs or bombers? [continued…]