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Is the London bombing accused an American informer?

By Prasun Sonwalkar
February 14, 2011 16:24 IST
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An American national who trained the July 7 London bombers in Pakistan, has been quietly released before his jail term is over, raising questions whether he was a US informer, a media report said. The Guardian reported Mohammed Junaid Babar, described as an 'American jihadist', has been quietly released after serving only four and a half years of a possible 70-year sentence.

Babar was reportedly sentenced to "time served", because a New York judge described as "exceptional co-operation" that began even before his arrest. This, the newspaper reported, "raised questions over whether Babar was a US informer at the time he was helping to train the ringleader of the 7 July tube and bus bombings".

Babar was imprisoned in 2004 after pleading guilty in a New York court to five counts of terrorism. The report said that he set up the training camp in Pakistan where Mohammad Sidique Khan and several other British terrorists learned about bomb-making and how to use combat weapons. The newspaper reported: "Babar admitted to being a dangerous terrorist who consorted with some of the highest-ranking members of Al Qaeda, providing senior members with money and equipment, running weapons, and planning two attempts to assassinate the former president of Pakistan General Pervez Musharraf.

"But in a deal with prosecutors for the US attorney's office, Babar agreed to plead guilty and become a government supergrass in return for a drastically reduced sentence". The Guardian, the report said, had obtained a court document which shows that on 10 December last year six years after his initial arrest and subsequent guilty plea he was sentenced to "time served" and charged US $ 500 by the court in a "special assessment" fee. The document also reveals that Babar had by then spent just over four years in some form of prison and more than two years free on bail.

Graham Foulkes, a magistrate whose 22-year-old son David was killed by Khan at Edgware Road underground station in 2005, told the newspaper: "People get four and a half years for burglary. They can get more for some road traffic offences. So for an international terrorist who's directly linked to the death of my son and dozens and dozens of people to get that sentence is just outrageous." Fifty-two people were killed and 784 injured on 7 July 2005 when four suicide bombers detonated rucksacks filled with explosives and nails on London's transport system in the morning rush hour.

The lawyer representing the families of the dead and survivors, Clifford Tibber, said they would be devastated to learn that Babar had served only a small proportion of his possible sentence. Tibber said: "Babar admitted setting up and funding training camps attended by the 7/7 bombers. When the British government released Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber who received a life sentence, on compassionate grounds after eight years the Americans were furious. Imagine how the bereaved and the survivors will feel about (Babar's) paltry sentence."

A remark from the sentencing judge that Babar "began co-operating even before his arrest", has raised the possibility, supported by other circumstantial evidence obtained by the Guardian, that he may have been an informant for the US government before his detention by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in April 2004.

The report said that Babar facilitated the London bombers' knowledge of bomb-making when he invited around a dozen British jihadists to attend a camp that he had helped set up in north-west Pakistan in the summer of 2003. After his guilty plea in 2004, Babar spent a good proportion of his four and a half years outside the regular prison system, and flew to testify in trials in the UK and in Canada and met law enforcement officers from around the world, the report said.

It added that although a probation report dated July 9, 2010 recommended that Babar remain in jail for another 30 years, the US attorney's office submitted their own report to the New York court, known as a 5K1, which praised Babar's work. One extract read out in court stated: "Over the last six and a half years the level of assistance provided by Babar to both the United States government and foreign governments has been more than substantial. It has been extraordinary."

Babar's defence lawyer, Daniel Ollen, told the court that during the two years his client had been out on bail, he had "paid his debt to society" and had settled into a new life with his wife and daughter. Speaking for the first time about the case, Ollen told the Guardian that in court "the government went to bat for him. They used words like 'extraordinary' and 'unprecedented'. Babar's co-operation really was spectacular when you get down to it."

When sentencing Babar, the judge, Victor Marrero, praised his work, describing the sentence of four years and eight months as "reasonable and appropriate". "The court takes note that the government has evaluated Mr Babar's cooperation to be significant, truthful, complete, and liable," Marrero said. "(He) worked with the FBI and foreign governments to assist in investigations of terrorism organisations, including al-Qaida, and of terrorist activities such as the London bomb plot."

"Taking into account the nature and circumstances of the offence and the history and characteristics of the defendant... the court finds that a sentence of time served is reasonable and appropriate and that such a term is sufficient but not greater than necessary to promote the proper objectives of sentencing," Marrero said.

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Prasun Sonwalkar in London
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