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Suspected London Terrorists Linked to Pakistan

August 11, 2006 at 1:05 PM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: Now, the terror plot in Britain, new information from the authorities and words of caution from the community most directly affected. We start with a report from Simon Israel of Independent Television News.

SIMON ISRAEL, ITV News Correspondent: Today marked the start of stage two in this unprecedented investigation, the gathering and analysis of evidence from dozens of addresses like this one in Forest Road in East London.

Police will not reveal details. Questions on whether devices or suicide videos have been recovered are met with no comment. But many of those arrested live in this area, and more details have emerged today of the 24 now in custody, with the Bank of England publishing a list naming 19 of the suspects, whose assets have now been frozen.

They include: Oliver Savant, a 25-year-old convert who changed his name to Ibrahim. His family live in Walthamstow, and his wife is six months pregnant. Then there’s 22-year-old Waheed Zaman from the same area, who runs the Islamic Society at London’s Metropolitan University, where he studies biochemistry.

After Friday prayers at his local mosque, which was besieged today, there was an appeal not to judge him or others too quickly.

IMAM MOHAMMED NURGAT, Masjid-e-Umer Mosque: We urge all to be mindful of the fact that, despite what is being said in the media, those arrested are innocent until proven guilty. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families at this very difficult time.

SIMON ISRAEL: What also emerged today is the role of Pakistani intelligence. It was their arrests, they say, which triggered the raids in the U.K., and one of the seven in custody is a key British national named Rashid Rauf.

TASNIM ASLAM, Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Pakistan: In fact, Pakistan played a very important role in uncovering and breaking this international terrorist network. There were some arrests in Pakistan, as well, which were coordinated with arrests in the United Kingdom.

SIMON ISRAEL: The man the Pakistanis described as an al-Qaida operative with links to Afghanistan is thought to belong to the family who live here in Birmingham, where part of their home has been turned into a school. In fact, 22-year-old Tayib Rauf, another son, is one of the 24 under arrest here.

While there are reports that the group were divided into three cells, as yet there is no evidence to suggest that’s the case. But just what details will emerge of how the conspiracy was to have been divided up remains to be seen.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, the connections between second-generation Pakistani immigrants in Britain, the nation of Pakistan, and allegations of terrorism. Ray Suarez explores all that.

Pakistan and jihadist activity

RAY SUAREZ: Joining me now are Hussein Haqqani, a former adviser to three previous Pakistani prime ministers. He's now director of Boston University's Center for International Relations and a fellow at the Hudson Institute.

And Steve Coll, a staff writer for the New Yorker and author of "Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001." He also served in South Asia and London for the Washington Post.

Well, Hussein Haqqani, first we had the 2005 London transport bombings, now this latest plot broken by British authorities. Why in these cases are the roots of these plots in Pakistan?

HUSAIN HAQQANI, Director, Boston University's Center for International Relations: Well, the good news is there are more than a million Pakistanis or people of Pakistani origin living in Britain, and not all of them are involved in these plots.

The bad news is that, over the years, Pakistan has allowed itself to be a base for staging operations for various kinds of jihad. And as a result, there are still groups in Pakistan that facilitate contact between wannabe terrorists around the world and terrorist networks that are already operational, such as al-Qaida.

RAY SUAREZ: Steve Coll, why is Pakistan such a fruitful source of that kind of political movement?

STEVE COLL, The New Yorker: Well, for 20 years, Pakistan has, as Husain said, has been a base for violent Islamist movements, first in the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan, later in civil wars there, also in Kashmir.

So the infrastructure that radical Islamist groups have developed in Pakistan is considerable. It includes political parties, social networks, charities, and even businesses. It's not a matter of just a few terrorists hiding in the hills. I'm afraid this is a significant minority of the infrastructure of what Pakistan has become as a state and a society.

RAY SUAREZ: Now, in the case of this airline bomb plot, it's being heavily stressed in the British press that many of the suspects are what they call homegrown, not Pakistani nationals, not immigrants, but men who were born, and raised, and nurtured in the United Kingdom.

STEVE COLL: This is perhaps the most striking example of an emerging pattern in what al-Qaida itself or the movement and the organization both are becoming.

Prior to September 11th, most al-Qaida operatives went physically to Afghanistan, participated in war, and were radicalized at training camps on the ground in the middle of battle zones. Today, we see much more as we have here, young men being radicalized in their home communities, in cities and suburbs, at mosques and local Islamic societies, and universities, and then connecting to more robust terrorist organizations in places like Pakistan, sometimes through personal leadership, mentors, preachers, other times through the Internet.

So it's a combination of infrastructure in South Asia and radicalization in the West, and so it's a dangerous new pattern.

Radicalization in the West

RAY SUAREZ: Well, why that radicalization in the West? These are people who are reported to be cricket and football fans. They were schooled in the United Kingdom, watched television, read the papers. They carry British passports, but, Husain, they don't think of themselves as British?

HUSAIN HAQQANI: Well, they don't think of themselves as British in the first sense because they feel they probably are not treated as fully British, either. There's a long history of racism in England. You remember the whole issue of Paki-bashing at one time, and people -- the skinheads used to beat up Pakistanis just for being Pakistanis.

But that's not the only thing. They feel actually like fish out of water. They're not sufficiently British, because of their skin color, but they're not Pakistanis any more either, because they don't speak any of the languages of Pakistan. They haven't been born there; they haven't been raised there.

And then come radicals with issues which matter to these people, images of injustices in Chechnya, and Bosnia, and Kashmir, the whole question of Lebanon, and Iraq. And so some of these people think, "Maybe my calling is to turn to a more extreme version of my faith and do something about changing the injustice."

And the environment of freedom that is afforded by Western society enables radical groups to recruit, and operate, and propagandize more freely than certain countries of the Muslim world itself.

RAY SUAREZ: So they reach out of Pakistan and into these communities around London, for example?

HUSAIN HAQQANI: Well, in London, for example, there are many international networks of radical groups already operating. They operate Web sites in the English language, which focus on the whole culture of grievance. You know, it's a call to, "Let's do something about Palestine, let's do something about the war in Iraq, et cetera."

And then the young men who get radicalized say, "How do we get trained to become radicals?" And that's when the Pakistani connection becomes useful, because, as Steve pointed out, the infrastructure exists in Pakistan. So if you're a young man in East London who wants to act out his desire to do something in a terrorist way, then he finds somebody who has a contact in Pakistan who enables him to operationalize his desire.

General Musharraf

RAY SUAREZ: Steve Coll, as we saw in our report, the government wasn't hiding its light under a bushel basket. It took some pains to trumpet its role in breaking up this plot. Why?

STEVE COLL: Well, the Pakistan government is under a lot of pressure because of allegations by India, by the United States, and even by some of its own citizens that it hasn't acted quickly or fully enough to repress radical Islamist organizations in Pakistan, particularly those homegrown organizations that were developed by the Pakistan military to wage war in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

The government has cooperated with the United States most actively when the targets are Arabic-speaking foreigners who use Pakistan as a base to carry out terrorism, but it has been less active in cracking down on Pakistani organizations, because doing so, for one thing, is very complex politically for the army. Among other things, the generals fear a backlash if they move too aggressively against these groups. At the same time, they use these groups as instruments of their own foreign policy, particularly against India.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, is President Musharraf in a tough spot here? Crack down too hard and you lose what support you have at home; don't crack down at all, and you lose all the support you had abroad.

HUSAIN HAQQANI: Well, General Musharraf would like the world to believe that. My view is that he himself is not sufficiently convinced of the need to eliminate the Pakistani-based groups because, you must remember, before 9/11, he never felt the need of cracking down on the Taliban and their sympathizers or doing anything about the Kashmir-based groups. He hailed them as heroes.

So in a sense, he's doing what is necessary from an international perspective -- cooperating with the United States and the United Kingdom and preventing attacks of an international nature -- but he still has not done anything about the homegrown Pakistani groups that are now serving as intermediaries and facilitators for more international groups.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, what about the Pakistani rank-and-file, the average citizen? In the just about five years since the September 11th terrorist attacks, has there been a change in sentiment about what international terrorism means to the world community and what it might mean to Pakistan itself?

HUSAIN HAQQANI: Not really, actually. Polling data shows that hatred for the United States has increased over the last five years. It's waxed and waned. It changed a little bit after the earthquake in which the United States helped the Pakistanis, but generally there's an increasing hatred, which is sometimes cultivated by the state, partly because it enables the state to pursue its own agenda in the region.

And there is definitely a lot of hatred towards India, which also is cultivated by the state from a very early stage in textbooks at school.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Steve Coll, from what you're both saying, it sounds like that West can expect more of this before it can expect it to stop?

STEVE COLL: Well, I think in Pakistan in particular there's evidence that the country is going through a historical change, in which support for radical Islamist agendas appears to be rising among the public.

Traditionally, Pakistan has been a very secular and moderate society. And during elections, radical Islamist groups have never polled more than 5 percent. Last time around, they did much better than that. And other indicators suggest that, in the next round of elections, the Islamist groups can expect to find even more strength.

So this is a different time in Pakistan. The consequences of 20 years of warfare on both of its borders, the consequences of September 11th and its aftermath are changing attitudes among the public. And the military, which is clinging to power and not sort of creating space for public discourse that would let off some of this steam, I'm afraid, is making things worse.

RAY SUAREZ: Steve Coll, Hussein Haqqani, gentlemen, thank you both.

HUSAIN HAQQANI: Thank you, Ray.