Abu Qatada and Abu Hamza, two preachers who lived off state benefits after claiming asylum, are identified by the American authorities as the key recruiters responsible for sending dozens of extremists from throughout the world to Pakistan and Afghanistan via London mosques.
The leaked documents, written by senior US military commanders at Guantánamo Bay, illustrate how, for two decades, Britain effectively became a crucible of terrorism, with dozens of extremists, home-grown and from abroad, radicalised here.
Finsbury Park mosque, in north London, is described as a “haven” for extremists. United States intelligence officials concluded the mosque served as “an attack planning and propaganda production base”.
The files will raise questions over why the Government and security services failed to take action sooner to tackle the capital’s reputation as a staging post for terrorism, which became so established that the city was termed “Londonistan”.
The documents show that at least 35 detainees at Guantánamo had passed through Britain before being sent to fight against Allied forces in Afghanistan. This is thought to be more than from any other Western nation.
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Of those, 18 were originally from abroad. The other 17 were British nationals or citizens granted residency here after claiming asylum, who were indoctrinated before being sent to terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.
The Government has paid millions of pounds in compensation and benefits to people regarded as highly dangerous by the US authorities.
Qatada, who was paid compensation under human rights laws for being “unfairly detained”, is described as “the most successful recruiter in Europe” and a “focal point for extremist fundraising [and] recruitment”. Hamza is accused of encouraging “his followers to murder non-Muslims”.
Four mosques in London and an Islamic centre are highlighted as places where young Muslim men were radicalised and turned into potential terrorists. Finsbury Park mosque “served to facilitate and training of recruits,” note the files, adding that it was “a haven for Islamic extremists from Morocco and Algeria.”
The Daily Telegraph, along with other international newspapers, is publishing details of more than 700 files on the Guantánamo Bay detainees obtained by the WikiLeaks website.
Earlier, this newspaper disclosed that dozens of terrorists held at the prison had admitted plotting a wide array of attacks against targets in Britain and America. However, it also emerged that more than 150 innocent people had been sent to Guantánamo.
Now, the key role that Britain and British-based preachers played in the lives of many of the Guantánamo detainees can be disclosed.
British intelligence services also provided information, including lists of suspected extremists seized from raids on Islamic centres, to the US military as it interrogated detainees. The information was passed on despite the Government publicly condemning the use of torture at Guantánamo. The leaked documents also reveal that:
• Sixteen detainees sent back to Britain are regarded as “high risk” by the US authorities and are liable to plan attacks against the West. However, they have been paid a reported £1 million each in compensation by the Government. For the first time, details of their alleged extremist activities, including travelling to Afghanistan to fight against British troops, are disclosed;
• The US government suspected the BBC of being a “possible propaganda media network” for al-Qaeda after details of a phone number at the broadcaster was found in the possession of several suspected terrorists. The number, which now appears to be disconnected, was thought to be for an employee of the BBC World Service, which was then funded by the Foreign Office;
• Terrorist recruits from across Africa and the Middle East flocked to London to claim asylum, often after travelling through other European countries;
• British taxpayers’ money was used to bankroll an Afghan politician who was sent to Guantánamo Bay after being exposed as an al-Qaeda aide. Mullan Haji Rohullah received more than £300,000 to destroy his opium crop – but he sold the drugs and kept the money from the Department for International Development.
• Four of the Guantánamo detainees were “British intelligence sources” who betrayed their paymasters.
• The last remaining British national at the prison is an al-Qaeda commander who directed terrorist forces in Tora Bora during the Afghanistan conflict. His family, who were previously allegedly paid directly by Osama Bin Laden, is thought to have received compensation from the Government.
The files help to explain American anger towards the British authorities, who have been regularly accused of failing to tackle radicalisation in this country.
The top-secret documents show how Muslim men travelled to European countries such as France, from where they obtained fake EU passports. They then crossed the channel to take advantage of Britain’s generous asylum system.
Extremist preachers radicalised the men at London mosques, showing them videos of atrocities committed against Muslims in Bosnia and Chechnya.
According to one document, Finsbury Park mosque was “a key transit facility for the movement of North African and other extremists in London to and from al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan”.
They were flown to Pakistan and Afghanistan at the terrorist group’s expense, put up in special guesthouses and sent to the training camps. They were introduced to senior al-Qaeda figures including Bin Laden and taught to fight and make bombs. Wives were arranged for some terrorists and their families received generous payments.
The US government condemned the release of the Wikileaks documents. In a statement, the Pentagon said: “It is unfortunate that news organisations have made the decision to publish numerous documents obtained illegally by WikiLeaks concerning the Guantánamo detention facility. These documents contain classified information about current and former detainees, and we strongly condemn the leaking of this sensitive information.
“The WikiLeaks releases include Detainee Assessment Briefs (DABs) written by the Department of Defence between 2002 and early 2009. These DABs were written based on a range of information available then. Any given DAB illegally obtained and released by WikiLeaks may or may not represent the current view of a given detainee.
“The previous and current administrations have made every effort to act with the utmost care and diligence in transferring detainees from Guantánamo.”
Barack Obama, the US President, previously made a high-profile pledge to close the Guantánamo Bay facility and prosecute in the criminal courts those alleged to have broken the law.
However, the pledge has now been largely abandoned and the US authorities recently announced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the most senior terrorist at the prison and the alleged mastermind behind the September 11 attacks, will be tried at a controversial military tribunal.
Mohammed, who was tortured more than 100 times, has admitted his involvement in dozens of plots, including plans to hijack aircraft and crash them into Heathrow airport, Big Ben and Canary Wharf, and assassination attempts against Pope John Paul II and former President Bill Clinton. He is among 15 so-called kingpins at the prison who are unlikely to ever be freed.