LONDON – The British Al Qaeda leader linked to the London terrorist attacks was being questioned by police in Pakistan last night after the discovery of mobile phone records detailing his calls with the bombers.
Haroon Rashid Aswat (search) has emerged as the figure that Scotland Yard have been hunting since he flew out of Britain just hours before the attacks which killed 56 people.
Aswat, 30, who is believed to come from the same West Yorkshire (search) town as one of the bombers, arrived in Britain a fortnight before the attacks to orchestrate final planning for the atrocity. He spoke to the team of bombers on his mobile phone a few hours before the four men blew themselves up and killed fifty-two other people.
Intelligence sources told The Times that during his stay Aswat visited the home towns of all four bombers as well as selecting targets in London.
Aswat has been known to Western intelligence services for more than three years after the FBI accused him of trying to set up Al Qaeda (search) training camps in the United States. When he was arrested in a madrassa (religious school), Aswat is understood to have been posing as a businessmen and using a false name. He was picked up in a raid at a madrassa at Sargodha, 90 miles from Islamabad, by Pakistani intelligence officials and flown to a jail in the capital.
Security sources there told The Times that he was armed with a number of guns, wearing an explosive belt and carrying around £17,000 in cash. He had a British passport and was about to flee across the border to Afghanistan.
Aswat, who is thought to have stayed in the madrassa with two of the British bombers, is being questioned over claims that one — Mohammad Sidique Khan (search) — telephoned him on the morning of the July 7 attack.
Intelligence sources claim that there were up to twenty calls between Aswat and two of the bombers in the days leading up to the bombing of three Tube trains and a double-decker bus. A senior Pakistani security source said: “We believe this man had a crucial part to play in what happened in London.”
Tony Blair has telephoned President Musharraf about the crackdown on militants which has led to more than 200 arrests in Pakistan since the weekend.
Officials in Islamabad say that eight men are directly linked to the London investigation, and were in telephone contact with Shehzad Tanweer, 22, and Khan, 30, a former primary school assistant.
Aswat is believed to have had a ten-year association with militant groups and met Usama bin Laden while attending an Al Qaeda training camp at Khalden in Afghanistan.
FBI documents obtained by The Times reveal details of how a London-based cleric sent Aswat to America in 1999 to set up camps in Oregon for U.S.-born recruits.
The papers indicate that Aswat spent three months in America and engaged in firearms and poisons training but decided against using a remote ranch in Bly as an Al Qaeda camp. The CIA is keeping in close touch with Aswat’s interrogation and British detectives are seeking permission to speak to him.
The FBI is to question a number of figures held in the United States, including James Ujaama, an American convert to Islam who met Aswat, and a second Al Qaeda emissary in Seattle.
Ujaama has pleaded guilty to assisting the Taliban and is now a “co-operating witness” who has given details of Aswat’s activities in the United States.