August 18, 2004
British Charge 8 on Counts of Conspiring in Terrorism
By PATRICK E. TYLER
LONDON, Aug. 17 - The British police charged eight men on Tuesday with
conspiracy to murder and with violations of the Terrorism Act after
finding that two of them possessed surveillance information on financial
centers in Washington, New York and New Jersey that were the focus of
the terror alert earlier this month in the United States.
The eight men were arrested Aug. 3 and have been held at a high-security
police facility in West London. Under the two-week deadline set by the
Terrorism Act, the police had until Tuesday to bring charges against the
men or release them.
They were also charged with conspiring to use "radioactive materials,
toxic gases, chemicals and explosives" to cause fear, panic and
disruption against unspecified targets.
One of the men was charged with having a "terrorist's handbook" on
explosives. They will make a court appearance on Wednesday at Belmarsh
Prison in Southeast London.
A statement issued by Scotland Yard made no assertion that the police
had interrupted an active or specific plot against any of the financial
center targets in the United States, or that the suspects had access to
explosives, toxic gases or radioactive materials. A police official said
no such material had been seized.
But the fact that two of the suspects, arrested two days after the alert
was announced in Washington, were found in possession of surveillance
information on the same five American financial centers that had been
the object of that alert alarmed American and British officials, who are
still pressing the investigation.
"The British were very concerned," a senior European counterterrorism
official said. "They have apprehended what they feel is a live cell."
But it remains unclear what if any actions were taken by those arrested
in preparation for any specific terrorist act.
The two suspects who were found to possess surveillance information on
American targets were charged under a section of the Terrorism Act of
2000 that prohibits possession of data "useful to a person committing or
preparing an act of terrorism."
Among the eight men was an alleged ranking operative of Al Qaeda whom
American law enforcement officials had earlier identified by an alias,
Issa al-Hindi, which means Issa the Indian. British officials said one
of the men they were charging, Dhiren Barot, 32, was known as Issa
al-Hindi and was believed to be a senior Qaeda representative in
Mr. Barot is also believed to have conducted surveillance activities in
the United States in 2000 and early 2001 under the alias Issa al-Britani,
or Issa the Briton, according to the report of the Sept. 11 commission.
That surveillance, of targets other than the World Trade Center, was
ordered by Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the chief planner
of the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the commission report.
The terror alert in the United States was elevated on Aug. 1 after
Pakistani authorities made a series of arrests of Qaeda militants.
Among them was a 25-year-old computer technician, Mohammed Naeem Noor
Khan, in whose possession the police found a large and detailed
computerized archive of surveillance information on the International
Monetary Fund and World Bank in Washington, the Citigroup tower in
Manhattan, the New York Stock Exchange and the Prudential Building in
Police officials said that while there was an obvious connection between
the Pakistan surveillance data and information seized in Britain, they
declined to elaborate on how pieces of a suspected terror puzzle on
three continents might fit together.
The senior European counterterrorism official did say Mr. Khan's
computerized files had helped the British authorities identify some of
the suspects charged Tuesday.
The Scotland Yard statement said two of those suspects acquired
surveillance data on the American financial centers on Feb. 19, 2001,
which is in the period when Mr. Barot was said to have been sent to the
United States to conduct surveillance for senior Qaeda plotters.
That at least raises the question of whetherhe was an active
surveillance operative seeking to refine reconnaissance of targets that
might be attacked in the United States in the future, one Western
Officials in New York said the British authorities' time frame somewhat
preceded the time that New York officials suspected that the
surveillance had taken place.
"That squares with what we had understood earlier," said Paul J. Browne,
a deputy commissioner at the New York Police Department.
In Washington, Attorney General John Ashcroft praised the British
authorities for the arrests.
The eight men were identified as Mr. Barot; Omar Abdul Rehman, 20; Zia
Ul Haq, 25; Abdul Aziz Jalil, 31; Nadeem Tarmohammed, 26; Mohammed
Naveed Bhatti, 24; Quaisar Shaffi, 25; and Junade Feroze, 28.
A ninth man, Matthew Philip Monks, 32, was charged with firearms
In a statement, Mr. Ashcroft said the Justice Department "will explore
every aspect of this case and evaluate whether additional charges,
including potential charges in the United States, are appropriate."
In London, a police official said the investigation of the alleged
conspiracy "is still very much ongoing."
A police official said computers had been seized in searches that
coincided with the Aug. 3 arrests in London. Scotland Yard officials
charged Mr. Barot and Mr. Tarmohammed with possession of "a
reconnaissance plan" concerning the Prudential Building in New Jersey.
But Mr. Barot alone was charged with possession of a reconnaissance plan
for the Stock Exchange, the International Monetary Fund and the
Citigroup building. He was also charged with possessing two notebooks
"containing information on explosives, poisons, chemicals and related
matters" that would be helpful to anyone planning a terrorist attack.
The terrorist handbook was found in the possession of Mr. Shaffi. It
included information on "preparation of chemicals, explosive recipes and
other information about explosives."
Don Van Natta Jr. and Richard A. Oppel Jr. contributed reporting from
London for this article, and Eric Lipton from Washington.