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Context of 'July 10, 2005: Britain Has Arrested 800 with Terrorism Act since 9/11, but Only 21 Have Been Convicted'

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Heightened security on the London Underground.Heightened security on the London Underground. [Source: BBC]Three men are arrested in London and charged under the Terrorism Act 2000 for the possession of articles for the preparation, instigation, and commission of terrorism acts. The Sunday Times breaks the story and claims that MI5 and police have foiled a major plot to release cyanide gas on the London Underground (the Tube), which is used by three million commuters each day. The men, all of North African origin, are also alleged to have links with al-Qaeda. They are Rabah Chekat-Bais, 21, Rabah Kadris, in his mid-30s, and Karim Kadouri, 33, all unemployed and of no fixed address. Kadris is the librarian at Finsbury Park Mosque, which is perceived by many officials to be a hotbed of radicalism. [BBC, 11/17/2002] Magnus Ranstorp, an expert in international terrorism at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland says “cyanide has surfaced a number of times surrounding al-Qaeda’s chemical program.” Video obtained by CNN in August shows tests of a chemical agent, presumed to be cyanide, on dogs at a camp in Afghanistan. Documentation recovered in Afghanistan also reveals al-Qaeda’s interest in chemical weapons. The Ministry of Defense simulated biological attacks on the underground in the early 1960s, during the Cold War. Scientists mixed harmless spores of the anthrax analogue Bacillus globigii with talcum powder and released them on the Northern Line. They found that the spores dispersed to every one of the several dozen stations on that line. The Defense scientists projected disastrous consequences in the event of a genuine attack. A London Underground spokeswoman, addressing the alleged cyanide threat, refused to comment on the counter measures currently in place but says, “we are always speaking to police and reviewing what we can do,” adding, “all our staff are well trained to look out for the unusual.” Governments around the world warn their citizens of possible terrorist attacks, and Prime Minister Tony Blair urges the public to be vigilant. [New Scientist, 11/18/2002] In fact, no such plot has been discovered. The government moves quickly to play down connections between the arrest of the three men and a threat to the Tube. It is disclosed to the press that the men had been in contact with British residents in London and that the charges related to false passports and credit cards, but not explosives or chemicals. A police source says there was “no bomb-making paraphernalia” in their possession. Three other men arrested at the same time are released later in the week. [Guardian, 11/18/2002] Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, commenting on the Times story, says the arrests had “excited the press.” He adds “as the Prime Minister reminds us, we get an awful lot of intelligence which we have to make judgments about. In this case it does not appear there is any evidence whatsoever there was going to be a gas attack or use of bombs regarding the three people who have been arrested.” A Home Office spokesman says, “The Prime Minister has made it clear that there are threat reports every day and these are assessed. If the government or police thought it was necessary to give the public a specific warning about any venue, including the Underground, it would do it without hesitation.” [BBC, 11/17/2002] Security sources indicate that separate intelligence from abroad points to Islamist extremists planning such an attack. Sources say that there is “a clear intention” to attack the underground and other targets in Britain and Western Europe. Whitehall sources say the arrests of the three men reflect a determination among the security services to disrupt suspect terrorists and networks “at an early stage.” [Guardian, 11/18/2002] The three arrested men make a 15-minute appearance in court on November 18. The court hears that the three have never been questioned by police about the alleged plot. According to lawyers for the three men, the details of the alleged plot had not been disclosed to them and had only emerged in the press over the last few days. The three suspects are remanded in custody for four weeks by district judge Timothy Workman and appear again on December 16. Two of the suspects subsequently plead guilty, under ordinary criminal laws, to passport offenses. [Independent, 11/18/2002]

Entity Tags: Tony Blair, Rabah Chekat-Bais, Karim Kadouri, John Prescott, Al-Qaeda, Magnus Ranstorp, Rabah Kadris

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The vast majority of the more than 900 people the federal government acknowledges detaining after the 9/11 attacks have been deported, released or convicted of minor crimes unrelated to terrorism. The Justice Department announces that of the 765 people detained on immigration charges after 9/11, only six are still in US custody (see November 5, 2001; July 3, 2002). Almost 500 of them were released to their home countries; the remainder are still in the US. 134 others were arrested on criminal charges and 99 were convicted. Another group of more than 300 were taken into custody by state and local law enforcement and so statistics are unknown about them. Additionally, more were arrested on material witness warrants, but the government won’t say how many. The Washington Post has determined there are at least 44 in this category (see November 24, 2002). [Washington Post, 12/12/2002; Associated Press, 12/12/2002] Newsweek reports that of the “more than 800 people” rounded up since 9/11, “only 10 have been linked in any way to the hijackings” and “probably will turn out to be innocent.” [Newsweek, 10/29/2001] The names of all those secretly arrested still have not been released (see August 2, 2002). None in any of the categories have been charged with any terrorist acts.

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, United States

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

The New York Times reports that since 9/11, Britain has arrested nearly 800 people under the Terrorism Act of 2000. But only 121 of them were charged with terrorism related crimes, and only 21 have been convicted. The Times comments, “critics have charged that [Britain’s] deep tradition of civil liberties and protection of political activists have made the country a haven for terrorists.” [New York Times, 7/10/2005]

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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