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Profile: Omar Khyam
Omar Khyam was a participant or observer in the following events:
Ronson’s footage of Omar Bakri Mohammed, left, leading followers in prayer inside the Scout hut. [Source: Jon Ronson]Reporter Jon Ronson is making a documentary about Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, a radical London imam and leader of the militant group Al-Muhajiroun, and is allowed to attend a training camp meeting led by Bakri. Ronson is taken to a well-stocked gym in a Scout hut in a forestry center near Crawley, Britain. There are punchbags, treadmills, and a TV that is showing videos promoting militant action. Ronson watches as Bakri gives a lecture in front of about 30 young men. Bakri tells his audience: “There is a time when a military struggle must take place in [Britain]. Jihad. It’s called conquering. One day, without question, [Britain] is going to be governed by Islam.… You must be ready to defend yourselves militarily.” Ronson, who has a humorous edge to his reporting, calls the place Bakri’s “secret jihad training camp,” not believing that “Bakri’s people were violent or motivated enough to actually initiate a jihad or commit acts of terrorism.” But he will later find he is incorrect. For instance, Omar Khyam will get interested in radical Islam in late 1998, and soon join Al-Muhajiroun. He and other members of the group will be sentenced to life in prison after attempting to build a large fertilizer bomb in 2004 (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). [Guardian, 4/30/2007] In late 2000, Bakri will say he has recruited 600 to 700 volunteers for jihad in the last few years (see December 10, 2000).
Six alleged members of the fertilizer bomb plot: Salahuddin Amin, Anthony Garcia, Waheed Mahmood, Momin Khawaja, Jawad Akbar, and Omar Khyam. [Source: Metropolitan Police/ CP Jonathan Hayward]In early 2003, the British intelligence agency MI5 is tracking a suspected al-Qaeda leader living in Britain known as Mohammed Quayyum Khan (a.k.a. “Q”) (see March 2003 and After), and they see him repeatedly meeting with a Pakistani-Briton named Omar Khyam. Quayyum is believed to be an aide to al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi. [BBC, 5/1/2007] By around March or April 2003, investigators begin monitoring Khyam, and soon discover he is a ringleader in a fertilizer bomb plot on unknown targets in Britain. [BBC, 4/30/2007]
Surveillance Intensifies - By the beginning of February 2004, surveillance intensifies. Thousands of hours of audio are recorded on dozens of suspects. The investigation soon focuses on a smaller group of Khyam’s close associates who are originally from Pakistan and had attended training camps in mountainous regions of Pakistan in recent years. Most of these men have links to Al-Muhajiroun, a banned Islamist group formed by radical London imam Omar Bakri Mohammed. The plotters are monitored discussing various targets, including nightclubs, pubs, and a network of underground high-pressure gas pipelines. In February 2004, MI5 intercepts a phone conversation between Khyam talking to his associate Salahuddin Amin, in Pakistan, about the quantities of different ingredients needed to construct a fertilizer bomb. An al-Qaeda operative in Pakistan had encouraged Amin to bomb targets in Britain.
Fertilizer Found and Replaced - Later in February, employees at a self storage depot in London call police after discovering a large amount of ammonium nitrate fertilizer being stored and suspecting it might be used for a bomb. Investigators discover the fertilizer belongs to Khyam and his group, and has been stored there since November 2003. The fertilizer is covertly replaced with an inert substance so a bomb cannot be successfully made from it.
Arrests Made - Investigators discover that Khyam is planning to fly to Pakistan on April 6, and the decision is made to arrest the suspects before he leaves the country. On March 29, a bomb plotter named Momin Khawaja is arrested where he is living in Canada. Weapons and a half-built detonator are found in his house. The next day, Khyam and seventeen others are arrested in England (see March 29, 2004 and After). Aluminum powder, a key bomb ingredient, is found in a shed owned by Khyam. Amin, still living in Pakistan, turns himself in to authorities there a few days later. Another key member of the group, Mohammed Junaid Babar, is not arrested and flies to the US on April 6. But he is arrested there four days later and quickly agrees to reveal all he knows and testify against the others (see April 10, 2004).
Five Convicted in Trial - The suspects will be put on trial in 2006 and Babar will be the star prosecution witness. Five people, including Khyam, will be sentenced to life in prison in 2007. Trials against Khawaja in Canada and Amin in Pakistan have yet to be decided. Curiously, Quayyum, who has been alleged to the mastermind of the plot and the key al-Qaeda link, is never arrested or even questioned, and continues to live openly in Britain (see March 2003 and After). [Guardian, 5/1/2007]
Omar Khyam in Pakistan in 2003. [Source: Public domain]In early 2003, the British domestic intelligence agency MI5 begins investigating a man named Mohammed Quayyum Khan (a.k.a. “Q”), who is a taxi driver living in Luton, England. MI5 believes he is an important al-Qaeda operative. Mohammad Sidique Khan is the head suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings, and at some point before he goes to a training camp in Pakistan in July 2003 (see July-September 2003), MI5 traces his cell phone number from a phone call or calls between him and Quayyum. It will later be revealed in court that Quayyum arranged for Sidique Khan to attend the training camp, so it seems probable the monitored communication relates to these arrangements. MI5 discovers the prepaid phone belongs to a “Siddique Khan,” but they find no reference to him in their own records or on the Police National Computer, so they do not pursue the lead any further. In early 2004, MI5 will repeatedly monitor Khan meeting with Omar Khyam (see February 2-March 23, 2004), the head bomber in a plot to bomb a target in Britain with a large fertilizer bomb (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). They allegedly do not know Khan’s name, but they learn in June 2004 that the car he has been driving Khyam around in is registered to the name “Siddeque Khan.” But, as the London Times will later note, “For reasons that remain unexplained, no one at MI5 made the connection to the Siddique Khan whose mobile phone number had already cropped up.” Strangely, despite his links such as this to both the fertilizer bomb plot and the 7/7 bombers, Quayyum will never be arrested or even questioned by officials, and continues to live openly in Britain (see March 2003 and After). [London Times, 5/1/2007; BBC, 5/25/2007]
Anthony Garcia (left) and Omar Khyam (right) facing the camera, in Pakistan in 2003. Both will be sentenced to life in prison for the fertilizer bomb plot. [Source: Corbis]In the summer of 2003, a group of young Pakistani-Briton men rent a room in a hostel in Lahore, Pakistan. The group is very noisy at night, talking and playing music, which draws complaints from neighbors. One neighbor will later tell the Times of London that it was obvious they were violent militants: “We knew what they were doing and we were afraid at those boys being here, but we couldn’t do anything about it.” The neighbors finally call the police after hearing a series of late night explosions coming from their room. The group tells police that a propane gas cylinder had exploded. But the police do not believe it and begin a surveillance operation.
Investigation - Investigators learn the group recently traveled to Malakand, a very mountainous region of Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan. It is known that al-Qaeda maintains training camps there. Members of the group are also seen making regular visits to an office complex in Lahore where Al-Muhajiroun and other militant groups rent space. Most of the group members are linked to Al-Muhajiroun back in Britain. One member of the group is Omar Khyam, who is a key figure in a fertilizer bomb plot in Britain that will be foiled by British intelligence in March 2004 (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). Another member is Mohammad Sidique Khan, the head suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005). Yet another member is Mohammed Junaid Babar, an al-Qaeda operative living in Britain who is important enough to attend a key al-Qaeda summit in 2004 (see March 2004).
Return Home - Khan returns to Britain in August 2003 and Khyam returns one month later (Khyam is already under surveillance in Britain). It is unknown when Babar returns exactly, but in early April 2004 he flies from Britain to the US, is arrested, and begins telling all he knows about his associates in return for a reduced sentence (see April 10, 2004). He only knows Khyam by his alias “Ausman” and Khan by his alias “Ibrahim,” and it is unknown just how much he reveals about their training together in Pakistan.
Warnings - But the Pakistani ISI will later claim that they twice gave warnings to British intelligence about the monitored group in Lahore. Apparently the ISI decided the group was not a threat in Pakistan but was planning a bombing in Britain. A high-ranking ISI official will later claim: “There is no question that 7/7 could have and should have been stopped. British agencies did not follow some of the information we gave to them.” [London Times, 5/1/2007]
Surveillance - If the ISI does not in fact warn British intelligence, then it is likely the British have at least some awareness of this group in Lahore attending training camps through another source. British intelligence has been closely monitoring Mohammed Quayyum Khan, who is believed to be a key al-Qaeda operative living in Britain and sending funds and militant recruits to Pakistan (see March 2003 and After). Quayyum remains in phone contact with Khayam in Pakistan. He also is monitored as he talks on the phone with Salahuddin Amin, a member of the fertilizer bomb plot who lives in Pakistan. [BBC, 5/25/2007]
A surveillance photo of Shehzad Tanweer (second to the left), Mohammad Sidique Khan (far right), and Omar Khyam (center), taken in the parking lot of a McDonald’s restaurant on February 28, 2004. [Source: Metropolitan Police]By the beginning of February 2003, the British intelligence agency MI5 has learned about an al-Qaeda linked fertilizer bomb plot meant for an unknown target or targets in Britain, and has begun closely monitoring all of the main suspects. The head bomber in the plot, Omar Khyam, is seen on several occasions with two of the 7/7 London suicide bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer:
On February 2, Khyam is seen in a car with Khan and Tanweer. Khyam is dropped off at his residence in the town of Crawley. The other two are still monitored as Khan drives away. They are covertly photographed when they stop at a gas station in Toddington. Khan is also photographed at a Burger King. They arrive at West Yorkshire and the car is parked outside Khan’s family house. His precise address is written down. A check reveals the car is registered to Khan’s wife. In June 2004, MI5 will check the car’s registration again and find out it has been re-registered in the name of “Siddeque Khan.” [BBC, 4/30/2007]
On February 21, Khan is not seen directly, but his same car that was trailed on February 2 is seen parked outside a house in Crawley where a key four-and-a-half hour meeting is held preparing the fertilizer bomb plot. Khan and Tanweer probably attend the meeting, but there are technical problems with the surveillance so the meeting is not recorded.
At some point also on February 21, Khan and Khyam are recorded while Khyam is driving his car. Khan asks Khyam, “Are you really a terrorist?” Khyam replies, “They are working with us.” Khan then asks, “You are serious, you are basically…?” And Khyam replies, “I am not a terrorist, they are working through us.” Finally, Khan tells Khyam: “Who are? There is no one higher than you.” Later in the conversation, Khan says he is debating whether or not to say goodbye to his baby before going to Pakistan again. Khyam tells him: “I do not even live in Crawley any more. I moved out because in the next month they are going to be raiding big time all over the UK.” This is curious, because the next month there will be police raids, which result in the arrest of the group of bomb plotters based in the town of Crawley, including Khyam (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). [Independent, 4/30/2007; Daily Telegraph, 5/1/2007; London Times, 5/1/2007] Khan and Khyam discuss attending training camps in Pakistan. Khan asks, “How long to the training camp?” Khyam replies, “You’ll be going to the tribal areas, stay with families, you’ll be with Arab brothers, Chechen brothers, you’ll be told our operation later.” [Channel 4 News (London), 5/1/2007]
On February 28, 2004, Khyam, Khan, and Tanweer are monitored as Khan drives them around builders’ merchants as part of a fraud scheme the three of them are working on together. At one point, Khan says, “I’m going to tap HSBC [the British bank], if not I’ll just go with a balaclava and a shotgun.” Khan then drives them to another secret meeting, this one held at a shop in Wellingborough. The meeting is attended by the three of them and about seven others; it is unknown if it is recorded. As the three drive back from the meeting, Khan appears to be trying to lose a tail since he doubles back and takes other evasive maneuvers.
On March 21, Khan and Khyam are seen driving together. This time they are in a different car loaned to Khan by an auto shop, since the one used earlier was wrecked in a crash.
On March 23, 2004, Khyam, Khan, and Tanweer meet again. They drive to an Islamic bookshop and spend the afternoon there. They also go to the the apartment of another key suspect in the fertilizer bomb plot. Returning to Khyam’s residence, they discuss passports and raising funds from banks using fraudulent methods. Khan again discusses going to Pakistan with Tanweer. Khyam by this time has plans to flee Britain in early April. Although they do not say so explicitly, an informant named Mohammed Junaid Babar will later reveal that Khyam was planning to attend training camps in Pakistan with Khan and others. Several times, Khyam, Khan, and Tanweer are seen talking outside, which would suggest discussions about particularly sensitive matters. But only the inside of Khyam’s house is bugged and these outside talks are not recorded. Khan and Tanweer leave shortly before midnight.
Khyam’s phone is also being monitored, and Khan is in regular phone contact with him. But is it unknown how many calls are made or what is said. British intelligence will claim that that no overt references about bombings are made. [Independent, 4/30/2007; Daily Telegraph, 5/1/2007; London Times, 5/1/2007] But the Sunday Times will claim this is untrue, and that Khan was recorded discussing the building of a bomb and then his desire to leave Britain because there would be a lot of police activity after the bomb went off. He also is involved in “late-stage discussions” of the fertilizer bomb plot (see May 13-14, 2006). [Sunday Times (London), 5/14/2006] Furthermore, he is heard to pledge to carry out violence against non-Muslims. A tracking device is also placed on Khan’s car, although what becomes of this is unclear. [Associated Press, 4/30/2007] Photographs are sometimes taken of Khan and/or Tanweer. For instance, at some point Khan is photographed coming out of an Internet cafe. But despite all this evidence, investigators apparently conclude that Khan and Tanweer are “concerned with the fraudulent raising of funds rather than acts of terrorism.” They are not properly monitored (see March 29, 2004 and After). Khan and Tanweer apparently attend militant training camps in Pakistan later that year before blowing themselves up in 2005. Khyam is arrested on March 30, and is later sentenced to life in prison (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). [Independent, 4/30/2007; Daily Telegraph, 5/1/2007; London Times, 5/1/2007] In early 2005, investigators will finally look into details about the car Khan drove and the loaner car given to him by the auto shop, and they will learn his full name and address (if they don’t know it already). But apparently this will not result in any more surveillance of him (see January 27-February 3, 2005).
Shehzad Tanweer (left) and Mohammad Sidique Khan (right) monitored at the Toddington Services gas station on February 2, 2004. [Source: Metropolitan Police]On March 29, 2004, 18 men suspected of involvement in an al-Qaeda linked fertilizer bomb plot are arrested in raids across Britain. Five of them, including head bomber Omar Khyam, will later be convicted and sentenced to life in prison for roles in the plot (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). Dozens more have been monitored in recent months as part of Operation Crevice, the effort by the British intelligence agency MI5 to foil the plot. Of those not arrested, 15 are classified as “essential targets” deserving heavy surveillance. An additional 40 are classified as “desirables,” with a lower level of surveillance. Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, future suicide bombers in the 7/7 London bombings, are both placed in the “desirables” group. Khan and Tanweer had been monitored repeatedly meeting and talking on the phone with head bomber Khyam. Khan was overheard saying incriminating things, like how he might hold up a British bank with a shotgun (see February 2-March 23, 2004). Incredibly, he was even recorded discussing how to build a bomb, his desire to leave Britain after the bomb went off, plans to wage jihad (holy war), and plans to attend al-Qaeda training camps in Pakistan (see May 13-14, 2006). But within weeks of the arrests of Khyam and the others, MI5 is distracted by another big surveillance operation focusing on Dhiren Barot, who is considered an important al-Qaeda leader living in Britain. As a result, the remaining Operation Crevice suspects are given lower priority and in fact Khan and Tanweer allegedly are not monitored at all. Additionally, even though MI5 knows the exact address where Khan lives, local police forces (which are not distracted by the Barot case) are not told that there are potential terrorism suspects who should be monitored. [London Times, 5/1/2007] Investigators will gather information about Khan’s car registration briefly in early 2005 and will learn his full name if they do not know it already, but it seems this will not lead to any more surveillance (see January 27-February 3, 2005). Apparently, Khan is also linked to Barot in some way, yet he is not arrested at the same time Barot and others are in August 2004, and he and the other 7/7 bombers still are not monitored after that (see August 3, 2004). As of 2007, only one of the 15 “essential targets” will be jailed for terrorism-related activity. [Associated Press, 4/30/2007]
Omar Khyam somewhere in the mountains of Pakistan, date unknown. [Source: Public domain]A man on trial in Britain for participation in a fertilizer bomb plot halts his testimony, claiming that Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency has threatened his family in Pakistan if he continues to talk. Omar Khyam, a Pakistani-Briton, is accused of leading an al-Qaeda linked plot to blow up an unknown target in Britain (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). Six others are on trial. In testimony on previous days, Khyam confessed to attending a militant training camp in 2000 in the mountains above Rawalpindi, Pakistan. He says that the camp was run by the ISI, and he trained with AK-47 rifles, machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenades. But on the third day of testimony, when asked if he had bought the fertilizer to make a bomb in Britain, he responds: “Before we go on to that topic, I just want to say the ISI in Pakistan has had words with my family relating to what I have been saying about them. I think they are worried I might reveal more about them, so right now, as much as I want to clarify matters, the priority for me has to be the safety of my family so I am going to stop.” He adds, “I am not going to discuss anything related to the ISI any more or my evidence.” [Guardian, 9/19/2006; BBC, 4/30/2007] The ISI has a reputation of arresting family members and threatening them to accomplish their goals. For instance, when Saeed Sheikh was wanted for the murder of reporter Daniel Pearl, the ISI reportedly rounded up 10 members of his family and threatened to harm them, forcing him to turn himself in to the ISI. He later refused to discuss his connection to the ISI, only saying: “I will not discuss this subject. I do not want my family to be killed” (see February 5, 2002). [Vanity Fair, 8/2002] Khyam will be found guilty and sentenced to life in prison (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004).
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