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Last Updated: Friday, 23 September 2005, 12:21 GMT 13:21 UK
Rowe 'bore al-Qaeda hallmarks'
By Jeremy Britton
BBC News

Channel Tunnel entrance
Mr Rowe said explosive traces on his socks related to work in Bosnia

Andrew Rowe is described by police as an "international warrior" who for 10 years travelled the world waging a "Jihad" against the West.

The countries he visited - Bosnia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan - the people he met and the methods he used to avoid detection all bear the hallmarks of an al-Qaeda operative, police believe.

And it was the prosecution case in Rowe's trial at the Old Bailey that he was planning an act of terror in the summer of 2003.

Rowe's story closely mirrors that of shoe bomber Richard Reid, although there is no evidence that the two met.

Born in West London, Rowe's parents had originally come from Jamaica. By the age of 19 Rowe had drifted into a life of crime, taking and dealing in drugs and fencing stolen property.

The jury in Rowe's trial was faced with a difficult choice

It was then he converted to Islam - an experience he described as "intense".

He often visited what he called the "Moroccan" mosque at Ladbroke Grove in west London, where new converts were offered a place to sleep and given their own room in which to study books and videos.

After hearing speakers at the mosque talk about the situation in Bosnia, where Muslims were engaged in a bitter civil war against the Serbian army, Rowe volunteered to travel there - although his aim, he claimed, was humanitarian.

However, Rowe longed to see action and in a short time joined up with a group of foreign Mujahideen fighters who had travelled from countries in the Middle East to Bosnia to fight the Serbs.

Shrapnel wounds

In July 1995 Rowe was injured when a convoy he was travelling in was attacked and he suffered shrapnel wounds to his legs. He needed hospital treatment and returned to England where he told his GP he had been injured as a volunteer driver.

His experiences, as a young man, in Bosnia were to play an important part in his subsequent trial.

Rowe claimed a notebook found by police in his London flat containing instructions on how to fire a mortar came from Bosnia, but he had only kept it as a souvenir of his time there so he could impress his friends.

Police started taking an interest in Rowe's activities in 2003

Rowe also claimed that a pair of socks discovered in his luggage when he was arrested trying to enter the United Kingdom were used by him as gloves in Bosnia to handle stores and weaponry - that is why police had discovered traces of high explosives on them.

After returning to England Rowe married another Muslim convert called Shabia Tafla in 1997. By this time he had turned his back on his family and did not invite his mother to the wedding at Southall mosque.

Airport find

But Rowe's taste for travel did not leave him. In 1999 he applied for a visa to Georgia, but was stopped at Gatwick airport carrying $12,000 in cash he had volunteered to take as "humanitarian assistance".

Visits to Thailand, Malaysia and Morocco followed - Rowe claimed in court he funded them by letting out his London flat, although he himself was unemployed.

Police started taking an interest in Rowe's activities in 2003. On 12 August they searched his flat in Westbourne Park Road, London, and discovered the notebook containing 20 pages in Rowe's handwriting detailing how to aim a Russian 82mm mortar.

They also found documents on international radio frequencies and on night-vision devices. Rowe told the court these reflected his interests at the time.

Shoe bomber Richard Reid
Richard Reid also asked for a new passport in Amsterdam
The police search had an immediate effect. The next day Rowe turned up at the British consulate in Amsterdam and applied for a new passport to replace one he had "damaged by washing". Within a week he was granted a new passport.

It seems more than a coincidence that the shoe bomber Richard Reid had previously gone to the same consulate in Amsterdam 2001 claiming his passport too had been damaged in the washing and requesting a new one.

On examination Rowe's old passport was found to contain a missing Visa form, which Rowe admitted in court was for Islamabad. He claimed he travelled there for studies, but the prosecution suggested Islamabad was close to Kashmir - another trouble spot.

Once Rowe had received his new passport he immediately travelled to Frankfurt to meet a man he refused to identify in court.

British police are investigating Rowe's links with a Frenchman called Lionel Dumont who was arrested in Munich last year. Dumont is known to have been in Bosnia and to have travelled throughout the Far East and is alleged to have been behind bank robberies and plans for terrorist attacks in France.

Coded words

On Rowe's account he was given a coded list to copy out so that they could communicate in the future in secret.

The terrorism code - pic courtesy of Met Police
Rowe had a 'shopping list for terrorism', the prosecution said

The list uses mobile phone models as a substitute code for words such as "weapon", "airlines" and "explosives, man made". It also substitutes countries in Eastern Europe with counties in England - "Bosnia", for example, is next to "Kent".

In court Rowe explained he was approached to act as a courier, picking up these "weapons" and "explosives" in Eastern Europe and taking them to countries on the border of Chechnya so they could be used by Muslim armed separatists there.

He said he was alarmed at being asked to transport explosives but he did not believe they would be used for terrorist activity.

The prosecution alleged this explanation made no sense and that the code was part of a project to secure terrorist items from Eastern Europe where security was less strict, but that the target was not Chechnya at all.

In October 2003 Rowe made a final visit to Frankfurt. He says he was having second thoughts about being a courier, mainly because he had family difficulties.

Difficult choice

On his return to the United Kingdom Rowe was stopped in Coquelles in France attempting to board a Eurotunnel train. Because the arrest was made in a British territorial area he was taken to Kent for questioning.

The next day his wife's house was raided in Birmingham and police found a martial arts video cassette which contained the so-called substitution code.

The jury in Rowe's trial was faced with a difficult choice. Was Rowe, as the defence claimed, simply a courier engaged in carrying weapons and explosives to fellow Muslims fighting to liberate their countries?

Or, as the prosecution say, was he a dangerous international terrorist who supported a global Jihad?


SEE ALSO:
Man denies tunnel terror charges
07 May 04 |  England
'Shoe bomber' jailed for life
30 Jan 03 |  Americas


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