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UK spooks forced to hand Gitmo files to suspect's lawyers

Dirty bombs, dirty hands for MI5

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The High Court has told British intelligence services to hand over relevant files to lawyers representing Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian and one-time UK resident, facing a US military tribunal at Guantánamo Bay. Mohamed is accused of plotting to trigger a radioactive "dirty bomb" on US soil, and could face the death penalty if found guilty.

The British judges set out their findings in a lengthy ruling, which offers a rare insight into the way British and American spooks have co-operated and, sometimes argued with one another, in the post-9/11 era. It sets out Mohamed's progress through the parts of the US overseas prisoner system which are visible to the UK intelligence services - and highlights his two-year disappearance into the invisible, "dark" detention sector.

Some things in the case were agreed by all hands: that Mohamed is an Ethiopian national, and that having been refused asylum in the UK he was granted leave to remain for four years from 2000. However, in early 2001 he went to Pakistan, and in June that year - a few months before 9/11 - he went on to Afghanistan. In April 2002 he was seized by Pakistani authorities attempting to fly from Karachi to London using a faked British passport. But he never entered the Pakistani criminal justice system, instead passing into US hands.

The British spooks say they were notified that Mohamed had been grabbed by their American opposite numbers, he having revealed his true identity to them after initially claiming to be from Nigeria. The Americans believed that Mohamed had been an active fighter in Afghanistan for the Taliban, and following their defeat in late 2001 had returned to Pakistan. There, according to the US spooks, he was trained in remotely-activated explosives and in "dirty bombs". Able to speak English and with residency permission in the UK, he was considered to be a likely prospect for terrorist operations in the UK or US. The American intelligence operators contended that he was heading for the US when seized.

A British spook from the Security Service (aka MI5, or SyS* as they seem nowadays to prefer to be known) went to Pakistan and interviewed Mohamed in Karachi a little over a month after he had vanished into US custody. The spook, identified only as "Witness B", said that at that point Mohamed looked thin but in good shape. According to B, Mohamed didn't try to deny that he'd fought against the Northern Alliance. He also admitted being trained in remote-activated explosives, but said this was merely so that he could blow up US armoured vehicles in combat.

Regarding the supposed "dirty bomb" plot, he said it was true he had seen information about such things on a computer, but hadn't taken it seriously. As for a second 9/11 on US soil, it was his opinion that such a thing would soon happen, but he wasn't part of such a plan and hadn't got any concrete information. B said all this in his subsequent report, seen by the court:

That report records BM telling Witness B about his time in the United Kingdom, how he obtained his United Kingdom passport from a criminal and the mosques he attended in London. He was recruited to travel to Afghanistan. He was trained in Afghanistan on weapons and explosives and thereafter, after the [2001] collapse of the Taliban, on remote devices, including landmines to be used against United States forces... The report records that BM had been asked to return to the United Kingdom to help in the provision of passports. BM said the report of a dirty bomb was "the FBI perception". The real story was that he had seen a file on a computer in Lahore and decided it was a joke - part of the instructions included adding bleach to uranium 238 in a bucket and rotating it around one's head for 45 minutes. He thought another major attack would happen - this was his assessment, but he did not know although the FBI thought he did.

B admitted to the high court beaks that he believed Mohamed was holding back on people and operations he knew of in the UK and possibly southwest Asia, and that he leant on Mohamed to some degree, telling him that the UK couldn't help him unless he fully cooperated. Mohamed refused to cough anything more and B departed.

Mohamed's position is that he went to Afghanistan to kick a drugs habit he had acquired in London, and to see if the Taliban were a good Islamic nation. He never fought against the Northern Alliance (which subsequently became the basis of the internationally-recognised Afghan government). He admits trying to leave Pakistan on a false passport.

After being handed over by the Pakistanis, Mohamed says he was interrogated by US operatives, whom he believed to be from the FBI, who had already decided that he was involved in a dirty-bomb plot against America. At this point he stuck to his fake identity and refused to talk without a lawyer. However, after being starved and put in stress positions for some days, the US agents threatened that he would be taken to another nation and tortured if he kept silent. At this point he admitted his real identity, and that he had been to Afghanistan, which he had previously denied.

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