The first indication that pro-Al Qaeda terrorist elements were planning a major terrorist strike in London came in August last year following the arrest in Lahore by the Pakistani authorities of one Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, a Pakistani computer expert, who used to live partly in London and partly in Pakistan.
During his interrogation, he admitted that he was working for the Al Qaeda as a communications expert and that he used to trasmit all messages from Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders in a coded form to the Al Qaeda cadres in different countries.He also reportedly told the Pakistani authorities that the Al Qaeda had planned a terrorist strike at Heathrow airport in London.
On the basis of the information given by Noor Khan, the British authorities arrested Dhiren Bharot alias Bilal, a Hindu convert to Islam, and 11 others, seven of them of Pakistani origin.
Noor Khan was reported to have told the Pakistani authorities that Dhiren, who was also known as al-Brittani, was the leader of an Al Qaeda cell in the UK and had in the past been sent by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad of the Al Qaeda, who had orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US, to the US to select suitable economic targets in New York for attack.
The British did not give details of what they had ascertained during the interrogation of the arrested persons, but gave out that their interrogation did not corroborate the Pakistani version of a planned terrorist strike in Heathrow.
Investigations made by the intelligence and security agencies of West Europe after the Madrid blasts of March 2004 revealed that the Al Qaeda had a large number of supporters in the Muslim diaspora of West Europe.
In its annual report on the action against terrorism in Europe, the EU had also drawn attention to this fact. Morrocans and Pakistanis constituted the largest number of terrorist suspects arrested and questioned in West Europe last year.
About 70 Muslims from the UK, many of them of Pakistani origin, were estimated to have gone to Iraq last year and joined the local Al Qaeda unit headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Following the reported participation of one of them in a suicide mission, the British Police had recently made some arrests
Thus, the British authorities were apparently aware of the presence of suspected Al Qaeda sleeper cells in the Muslim diaspora in the UK and had been closely monitoring their activities for nearly a year.
The fact that despite this, the perpetrators of the blasts managed to carry them out speak well of their motivation and ability to plan and execute terrorist strikes in total secrecy.
In June, in response to a request from a US security consultancy group asking for my comments on likely future scenarios in the US homeland, I had said: "A new anti-US hub, which is emerging, is the Muslim diaspora in West Europe, consisting of Muslims, who had migrated to different countries of West Europe from the countries of the Islamic world. Osama bin Laden and his ideology have a growing following in this diaspora---particularly among Muslims of Moroccan and Pakistani origin, who constitute the largest number of terrorist suspects detained for questioning in connection with the investigation of different terrorist incidents. The countries needing a special watch are the UK, Spain and France. It is my assessment that there is likely to be another attempt for a 9/11-like terrorist strike in the US homeland in retaliation for the alleged descecration of the Holy Koran. Saudi, Moroccan and Pakistani nationals or foreign nationals of Saudi,Moroccan and Pakistani origin are likely to play the leadership as well as the foot-jihadi roles in the efforts to plan, mount and execute another catastrophic terrorist strike in the US homeland. Saudis are in the forefront of the current terrorist wave in Iraq and Pakistanis in Afghanistan. Moroccans played a central role in the terrorist strikes in Madrid last year."
"While the devices used for triggering off an explosion are becoming more and more sophisticated, the explosives actually used are more and more commonplace.The use of sophisticated explosives such as the Semtex, the RDX etc has given place to more commonplace ones such as nitrogenous fertilisers, whose acquisition is unlikely to give rise to suspicion. It is only a question of time before the terrorists start using the fuel contained in the tank of any automobile as an explosive and incendiary device for causing casualties and material damage. All they need to do is to devise a mechanism by which a suicide terrorist can cause an explosion in his fuel tank while at the steering wheel of his vehicle. If they manage to do so, prevention can become an impossibility."
My assessment was that the next Al Qaeda strike would again be in the US. Instead, it has come in the UK. It is apparent that the terrorist strikes had been deliberately planned to coincide with the G-8 summit, to create the maximum impact and take advantage of the fact that the attention of the British agencies would have been focused on protecting the VVIPs attending the summit.