'No threat' ... then three weeks later bombers struck
• Leaked report from three weeks prior to London attacks claimed 'no threat'
• Assessment prompted lowering of national threat level
• Report also cited UK action in Iraq as a motivation for potential attack
"Events in Iraq are continuing to act as motivation and a focus of a range of terrorist related activity in the UK" - JTAC REPORT
Story in full JUST three weeks before the London bombings, British intelligence officials concluded that there was no group with the intent or capacity to attack the UK.
The assessment by the Joint Terrorist Analysis Centre (JTAC) - revealed in a leaked report - prompted the government to lower the national threat level from "severe defined" to "substantial" before the 7 July attacks that killed 56 people.
Last night the mangled carriage in which seven people died in the bombing near the Edgware Road Tube station was hoisted above ground and removed for further forensic examination.
The JTAC's confidential dossier was sent to government agencies, foreign governments and corporations in mid-June.
"At present there is not a group with both the current intent and the capability to attack the UK," it read.
The report also directly linked terrorist-related activity in Britain with the ongoing violence in Iraq - something that the government insisted is incorrect.
Although the report said there was no sign of an imminent attack, it outlined a two-pronged threat facing the country.
One came from the international al-Qaeda network and the other from indigenous radicals that either draw inspiration from al-Qaeda or act independently, the report said.
It concluded with a warning that lone extremists or small groups could attempt lower-level attacks, according to the New York Times newspaper.
The report said: "Many of our current concerns focus on the wide range of extremist networks and individuals in the UK and individuals and groups that are inspired by but only loosely affiliated to AQ [al-Qaeda] are entirely autonomous."
It concluded: "Some of these have the potential to plan UK attacks, and it is also possible that lone extremists or small groups could attempt lower-level attacks."
The government refused to comment on the report yesterday, but it and the intelligence services are now facing intense scrutiny for a series of failures which appear to have allowed the terrorists to plot their attack unhindered by Britain's extensive security apparatus.
Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, and the Metropolitan Police insisted in the immediate aftermath of the atrocities that the lowering of the threat level had no practical effect on security precautions taken.
But the awareness of the existence of al-Qaeda-inspired extremist groups with the potential to plan UK attacks raises fresh questions about the reason for lowering the assessment of the likelihood of an attack from "severe defined" to "substantial".
The report also throws into doubt the vigorous denials by Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, and Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, that the Iraq war had increased the risk of terrorist attacks in Britain.
Both men flatly rejected just such an allegation in an independent think-tank report published on Monday.
But the JTAC report reached a conclusion, starkly at odds with the government's position: "Events in Iraq are continuing to act as motivation and a focus of a range of terrorist related activity in the UK," it said.
The government and the intelligence services have also failed to explain why it was that Mohammad Sidique Khan - now thought to be the suicide gang's ringleader - was not considered to pose a threat despite being known to the security services in connection with a previous bomb plot.
It has emerged that three of the bombers - Khan, Shehzad Tanweer and Hasib Hussain - spent extended periods in Pakistan before the attacks, apparently receiving training from terrorist groups associated with al-Qaeda.
And the assessment in the JTAC report that Britain was not at risk of an attack - coupled with Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair's assertion in a radio interview 90 minutes before the first bombs that his force was regarded as the "envy of the policing world in relation to counter-terrorism" - will be a source of fresh embarrassment for those involved.
The report, which was compiled three weeks before the bombings and was apparently leaked by a foreign intelligence service, was the basis for the downgrading of the national threat level.
The New York Times newspaper, which published the leaked report, quoted one senior British official as saying there was a sharp disagreement among officials about whether the intelligence justified lowering the threat level. "There was not an easy consensus," he said.
The lowering of the assessment meant the threat from Islamic terrorists was considered to be only one level higher than the one from the IRA, which was ranked as "moderate".
The dossier also revealed that threat from the IRA in the run- up to the general election was raised to "substantial" - the same level as an attack by an Islamic group before 7 July, although the last IRA attack in London was at Canary Wharf in 1996.
The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We do not comment on leaked documents." A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We do not comment on alleged leaks."
In other developments a group which claimed responsibility for the London bombings yesterday threatened to launch "a bloody war" on the capitals of European countries that did not remove their troops from Iraq within a month.
"This is the last message we send to the European countries. We are giving you one month for your soldiers to leave the Land Of The Two Rivers [the Euphrates and Tigris]. Then there will be no other messages, but actions, and the words will be engraved in the heart of Europe," the group, the Abu Hafs al Masri Brigades, said.
The statement surfaced on an Islamic website known as a clearing house for extremist groups' material, but the group has no proven track record of attacks and experts view its claims of responsibility with doubt, since it has said it was responsible for events in which it was unlikely to have played any role, such as the 2003 blackouts in the US and London that arose from technical problems.
Meanwhile, it was reported yesterday the UK security services had barred more than 200 foreign scientists from studying at British universities over the past few years, amid fears they could pose a terrorist threat.
However, a Leeds-educated biochemist Magdy el-Nashar - arrested last week in Cairo - was not involved in the attacks, according to a report in a state-owned Egyptian newspaper. El-Nashar continues to be questioned.
Police are also still trying to determine the type of explosives used in the London bombings. Leading experts are working to identify traces of a substance found at the four blast sites and to see whether there is any link to the as-yet-unidentified explosives found in a bath at a so-called "bomb factory" at a property in Leeds.
Tests are also being conducted on the "hazardous material" found in a car one of the bombers left parked at Luton railway station, and police in London have been given until Saturday to continue questioning a man arrested in West Yorkshire last week in connection with the bombings.
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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