By Duncan Gardham
Police missed a string of opportunities to intercept four terrorists months before the botched suicide bomb attacks on July 21, 2005 it became clear last night.
Four men who were given sanctuary in Britain after leaving their war-torn countries were yesterday found guilty of a plot that would have killed hundreds of people on the London transport system two years ago.
Muktar Ibrahim, 29, the leader of the suicide gang, was seen by officers on at least four occasions before the bombings, Woolwich Crown Court had heard and was on bail after being arrested on suspicion of extremism.
Despite having a criminal record, he was given British citizenship even as he plotted the potentially murderous attacks.
Ibrahim had been in Pakistan at the same time as the leaders of the July 7 plot – Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shezhad Tanweer – and the devices his team employed were remarkably similar to those that killed 52 travellers and four bombers in the first attacks.
The later bombs were designed to cause an atrocity “bigger and better” and failed only because the devices had been put together wrongly.
Yesterday, as Ibrahim was found guilty of conspiracy to murder, alongside Yassin Omar, 26, Ramzi Mohammed, 25, and Hussain Osman, 28, questions were asked how he had been permitted to travel abroad.
David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said: “This trial has revealed that the ringleader in the 21/7 plot was allowed to leave the country to train at a camp in Pakistan and return to plan and attempt the attack.
“This was despite the fact that he was facing criminal charges for extremism.
“When will the Government answer our call to establish a dedicated UK border police force to secure our porous borders?”
All four of the terrorists were refugees from East Africa living in council dwellings across London.
They had been given leave to stay in the country because their own were too dangerous for them to go back.
The jury is still considering verdicts on two other defendants, Manfo Asiedu, accused of being the “fifth bomber” who lost his nerve, and Adel Yahya.
The four would-be bombers, who all came to Britain in the 1990s, stocked up on large quantities of hydrogen peroxide from hairdressing suppliers to act as the bomb accelerant.
Omar’s eighth-floor flat in New Southgate, north London, became a bomb factory.
Mohammed targeted a train at Oval station in south London, Omar was on board a train at Warren Street in central London and Osman travelled on a Hammersmith and City line service to Shepherds Bush in west London.
Ibrahim boarded a bus in Shoreditch, east London.
The men thought they were going to die and take dozens with them but they fled when the devices failed to go off.
Their escape triggered the country’s largest ever manhunt.
Their movements were captured on thousands of hours of CCTV film, with seven hours of it shown to the jury.
Mohammed and Ibrahim, who was believed to have undertaken jihadi training in Pakistan, were captured a week later after armed police surrounded a flat in west London. Omar was arrested in Birmingham after travelling there disguised as a woman in a burka.
Osman was detained in Rome and extradited to Britain, where he had been granted asylum in 2004.
The fact that they came so close to causing carnage when they had been known to the police will raise fresh questions over the value of the intelligence available to the security services and whether it was properly acted upon.
In January and August 2003 Ibrahim was seen with Mohammed on police surveillance video at Finsbury Park Mosque, where Omar and Osman also attended regularly.
In May 2004, police watched all four bombers on a camping trip at a farm in Langdale in the Lake District running up and down carrying rucksacks. In October the same year, Ibrahim was arrested by police for breach of the peace while handing out extremist literature in Oxford Street.
He jumped bail and a letter was sent to his flat saying: “Come to us before we come to you.”
In December, Ibrahim was stopped by Special Branch officers at Heathrow airport before boarding a flight to Pakistan. They found his luggage included cold weather clothing, a sleeping bag and a video camera along with £2,000 in cash. One of his companions had £2,200, a military first aid kit and a manual on how to deal with ballistic injuries.
A Port Stop Request form recording the incident was filled in but the three men were allowed to go on their way.
Ibrahim flew to Pakistan, where he is said to have learned his bomb-making skills alongside Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shezhad Tanweer.
The self-proclaimed “emir” of the group, Ibrahim confessed to making the bombs but claimed that he had learnt how to do so on the internet, rather than in Pakistan.
Osman was found guilty after Mr Justice Fulford offered the jury a majority verdict of 10-2.
As the guilty verdicts were read out, Ibrahim closed his eyes and looked down at his hands.