Page last updated at 15:39 GMT, Tuesday, 19 May 2009 16:39 UK

MI5 'too stretched' before 7 July

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Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer captured on film by MI5 surveillance operatives in 2004

The security service MI5 did not have the manpower to do extra checks on the 7 July ringleader before he carried out the attacks in 2005, a report has said.

But the Intelligence and Security Committee declined to criticise MI5, which it said had had other priorities.

It stressed that while officers knew of Mohammad Sidique Khan's terrorist links, there was no evidence to suggest he was a threat to national security.

But 7/7 survivors rejected the findings and demanded a public inquiry.

Rachel North, who was injured in the Russell Square blast, said survivors and victims' families were now considering seeking a judicial review to try to force the government to allow an independent investigation into what happened.

"This report does not come to any real conclusions at all," she told the BBC.

"Why was it that one man was investigated, but another, Sidique Khan, was not? Even though they were hanging around with the same people, raising money for the same extremist causes?

Dominic Casciani, home affairs correspondent
Dominic Casciani,
Home affairs correspondent

This very detailed report clears MI5 of failing to anticipate the 7/7 attacks because it had so much on its plate in 2004.

Quite simply, Mohammad Siddique Khan was not listed as an essential target. Why? Because he had not been identified.

That's not to say the security service and police were completely ignorant. Police filmed him in 2001 when he went camping with known extremists. They didn't know his name. Later, MI5 had information about an "S Khan" - but did not pursue it because he was not classed as a threat.

For MI5, knowing what someone is up to is more important than exactly who they are.

They say they never knew what Khan was up to - and what he would turn out to be. It's this critical difference between the importance of who and what that the security service relies upon amid accusations that it failed to join the dots.

"Mohammad Sidique Khan was on the ladder in 2004 - are they telling us that someone is only of interest when they reach the top rung?"

Fifty-two people were killed in the suicide bombings in London in 2005.

'Essential targets'

The long-awaited report by a group of MPs describes in unprecedented detail what officers knew of Khan before the attacks.

It reveals that a police surveillance team filmed him in 2001 as part of an operation against suspected extremists.

However, he was not identified from the picture - and his significance was only realised after the bombings.

The report reveals that MI5 teams were stretched almost to breaking point in 2004 - the year before the attacks - attempting to trace terror suspects around the UK.

The committee said Khan and fellow 7/7 bomber Shehzad Tanweer were defined as "desirable" targets by MI5 after they were overheard discussing fraud and travel to Pakistan.

But resources were so stretched that officers could not even assess whether such "desirable" targets should be examined more closely unless they were known to be actively plotting an attack.

The committee's chairman, Kim Howells MP, said: "Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Those judgements were made at the time and, having gone in detail through all of the details, we cannot find any reason to criticise the actions that were taken at the time."

'Reasonable'

Mr Howells said his committee did have some criticisms of the police and MI5, in particular the fact that communication between the two appeared to have been done only on a "need to know" basis.

There should have been a "more complete dialogue", he said, but added that the situation had improved "immeasurably" since the 7 July attacks.

Gordon Brown said he agreed there was no evidence that warnings were ignored.

The prime minister said he accepted the committee's findings and felt that the decisions made by MI5 ahead of the bombings were "understandable and reasonable".

They want us to shut up and go away, but we are not going to
Jacqui Putnam, 7/7 survivor

But the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats repeated their call for a judicial inquiry into MI5's actions.

Former shadow home secretary David Davis said he was not "setting out to scapegoat or attack" the policy or security service.

"But that's not the same as recognising that there were errors which, if avoided, would have led to a prevention of this attack," he said.

Jacqui Putnam, who also survived the bombings, said the committee had not "really looked at what went wrong".

"They are very charming about it, they are very accommodating when we ask to see them, but behind that, they want us to shut up and go away and stop making waves, but we are not going to," she said.

Fertiliser bomb plot

MI5 currently employs 3,500 officers. The committee said it would need an unachievable "several hundred thousand" to provide comprehensive intelligence coverage.

In that context, it said the decision not to follow Khan after he had initially appeared on radar was understandable, taking into account operational pressures.

But the MPs said that given the amount of information held on Khan, it was "surprising" that they did not identify definitively him prior to 7 July.

There were six contacts recorded by MI5 and police with Khan between 1993, when he was arrested for assault, and January 2005, when a hire car was linked to a terror investigation.

Surveillance teams also witnessed several meetings between Khan and Tanweer and Omar Khyam, the man later discovered to be the leader of a plot to detonate fertiliser bombs.

Analysts decided the three men were not planning an attack and were instead involved in financial fraud.

Despite the increased efforts of the agencies, the odds are stacked against them
Intelligence and Security Committee

The report also pointed out the overwhelming number of leads relating to Khyam - more than 4,000 telephone contacts and 1,154 links to vehicles - that MI5 were faced with.

The report concluded that there would "always be gaps in intelligence coverage" and the country must be "realistic" about what the security services could achieve.

The committee also revealed that MI5 and MI6 told MPs there may have been a fifth person - "a facilitator" - involved in the 7 July bombings.

Many of the passages in the report related to such an individual were censored, but the committee insisted there was no actual evidence against anyone.



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