Mumbai attacks: How young Britons are radicalised in Pakistan

Reports that some of the terrorists who attacked Mumbai were British has focused attention on the UK Muslims who receive military training at extremist madrassas in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In this report, filed three years ago, Telegraph correspondents expose how young Britons travel to al-Qaeda camps to learn how to destroy the West: Deep inside an anonymous office building at the heart of the Pakistani Army’s sprawling Rawalpindi headquarters last week, a metal door swung open and two smartly dressed British officials stepped into a spartan, windowless room. Sitting before them at a bare table, clad in traditional attire of shalwar kamis, loose trousers and shirt, was a slight, bearded figure who was handcuffed and flanked by stern-faced armed guards. The visitors were members of MI5, Britain’s security service. Officers of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) assumed that their business suits, worn despite the sweltering heat, concealed pistols and recording devices.

One spoke fluent Urdu, the other was a veteran anti-terrorism specialist. They had flown into Pakistan’s main airport outside the capital, Islamabad, to interview two terror suspects who they believed could hold the key to preventing further deadly al-Qaeda attacks on London. The handcuffed man in front of them was Zeeshan Hyder Siddiqui, 25, who had been captured two months earlier in Peshawar, in the war-torn north-west Frontier Province. When interrogated by the ISI, he revealed that he had been involved in a failed plot to bomb pubs, restaurants and railway stations in London while he was living in Hounslow. Awaiting the MI5 officers in an adjoining questioning room was Naeem Noor Khan, alias Abu Talha, 26, who was arrested in Lahore a year ago. He had confessed to interrogators that his al-Qaeda cell had been planning to attack Heathrow and paralyse London by carrying out explosions across the Tube network. Although not a British citizen, he had visited the country several times, renting a flat in Reading in late 2003 beneath a main Heathrow flight path.

A note found in Siddiqui’s possession stated that one of his accomplices had been unwilling to proceed with the attack, which the terrorists had called Operation Wagon, and it had been called off. Now the MI5 officers were hoping Siddiqui might provide valuable information about the mission that probably replaced it: the dispatching of suicide bombers on to the streets of London that left 56 people dead on the morning of July 7, Almost all roads in the inquiry to track down the extended al-Qaeda network behind the 7/7 atrocities lead to Pakistan. The country has become, as one senior Pakistani intelligence official told The Sunday Telegraph last week, an “incubator where al-Qaeda and Taliban remnants continue to flourish and regroup”. Many of the young British-born Muslims who return to the land of their parents and grandparents come simply to visit relatives or to discover their roots. But some come to learn how to destroy the West. Toby Harnden and Massoud Ansari report.

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