Odd man out among Xmas terror accused

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  • Published 28.12.10

London, Dec. 27: Nine men appeared in court today charged with planning “a wave of pre-Christmas terror strikes” across Britain but among all the Muslims one suspect presumed to be a Gujarati Hindu stood out — Gurukanth Desai, 28, of Albert Street, Cardiff.

A “Mumbai-style massacre” is an expression that is used a little too loosely these days but in essence that is precisely what the suspects were accused of plotting when they appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.

The men, aged between 19 and 28, were arrested on December 20 in a series of dawn raids led by the West Midlands Police counter terrorism unit, supported by Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command, South Wales Police and Staffordshire Police.

In all, 12 were held during the raids in London, Cardiff, Stoke-on-Trent and Birmingham. But two from Cardiff and one from London were later released without charge, leaving the nine, among them five Bangladeshis apparently, to appear in court today in three separate groups.

The involvement of Bangladeshis sets a dangerous new trend.

Each spoke only to confirm his name, date of birth and address, before Senior District Judge Howard Riddle who remanded them to appear at the Old Bailey on January 14.

The nine suspects are charged with conspiring to cause by an explosive substance an explosion or explosions “of a nature likely to endanger life or cause serious injury to property in the UK” between November 6 and December 21 this year.

They are also accused of engaging in conduct in preparation for acts of terrorism between November 6 and December 21, including by downloading, researching, obtaining and discussing materials and methods; researching, discussing and carrying out reconnaissance on and agreeing potential targets; travelling to and attending meetings; and igniting and testing incendiary material.

Apart from Desai, the suspects from Cardiff are: Omar Sharif Latif, 26, of Neville Street; and Abdul Malik Miah, 24, of Ninian Park Road.

The suspects from London are Mohammed Moksudur Rahman Chowdhury, 20, of Stanliff House, Tower Hamlets; and Shah Mohammed Lutfar Rahman, 28, of St Bernard’s Road, Newham – Tower Hamlets and Newham in the East End of London are areas with large Bangladeshi populations.

The suspects from Stoke-on-Trent are Nazam Hussain, 25, of Grove Street; Usman Khan, 19, of Persia Walk; Mohibur Rahman, 26, of North Road; and Abul Bosher Mohammed Shahjahan, 26, of Burmarsh Walk.

For the sake of race relations, it is important for the police to ensure that the charges stick. Last week’s operation, which followed several months of surveillance and monitoring by police and MI5 officers, was the most high-profile anti-terror raid in Britain since April 2009. At that time, 12 men, mostly Pakistanis, were detained across northern England. All were released without charge but authorities still insisted they had thwarted an al Qaida bomb plot based in Manchester.

Sue Hemming, head of the Crown Prosecution Service Counter Terrorism Division, said today: “I have today advised the police that nine men should be charged…. I have reviewed the evidence provided to me by the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit and I am satisfied there is sufficient for a realistic prospect of conviction.” The country’s top counter-terrorism officer, Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates, has warned it is “absolutely vital” for the public to remain vigilant.

Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of UK counter-terrorism laws, observed part of the surveillance operation on the suspects. He claimed that a “significant” terror plot in four cities was stopped.

Giving evidence to the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, Carlile added: “The gestation period for the arrests has been long. I was aware of an operation some time ago, which led to these arrests. On one occasion I was able to observe, literally observe, some of it occurring.”

Before a meeting of the National Security Council, Security Minister Baroness Neville-Jones was asked about the involvement of Bangladeshi nationals.

She replied: “I can’t immediately think of a case that has involved a Bangladeshi previously, but sadly I think terrorism comes from all sorts of stripes.”

Since Mumbai, there has been closer intelligence collaboration between the UK and India.

Home secretary Theresa May, P. Chidambaram’s counterpart, said: “We know we face a real and serious threat from terrorism and I would like to thank the police and security service for working to keep our country safe.”

Western reports have speculated that the arrests have come amid growing concerns in Europe over terrorism following a suicide bombing in Sweden by a man from Luton in England and reported threats of a terror attack on a European city modelled on Mumbai.

Some of the details of a Mumbai-style plot directed at cities in Britain, France or Germany allegedly came from Ahmed Siddiqui, a German citizen of Afghan descent who was captured by U.S. troops in Afghanistan in July.

Dutch prosecutors said yesterday that five of 12 Somali men arrested on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activities were no longer considered suspects.