The concept of terrorism is one of the most disputed terms in the social sciences. The problem of defining the term ‘terrorism’ is well known and has been examined extensively. Apart from the problem of distinguishing it from guerrilla warfare, crime or mad serial killers, the well-known phrase ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’, is often used to highlight the problem of implying a moral judgement when classifying the term ‘terrorism’. If one identifies with the victim of the attack, then it is considered terrorism, but if one can identify with the perpetrator it is not.
A definition that is widely accepted is still lacking. There are at least 212 different definitions of terrorism in use throughout the world, with 90 of them used by governments and other institutions. There are 22 elements in these definitions that the sum amount to the following:
Terrorism is an anxiety-inspired method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi) clandestine individuals, groups, or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal, or political reasons, whereby – in contrast to assassination – the direct targets of violence are not the main targets. The immediate human victims of violence are generally chosen randomly (targets of opportunity) or selectively (representative or symbolic targets) from a target population, and serve as massage generators. Threat-and violence-based communication processes between terrorist (organization), (imperilled) victims, and the main targets are used to manipulate the main target (audience(s)), turning it into a target of terror, a target of demands, or a target of attention, depending on whether intimidation, coercion, or propaganda is primarily sought.
Whatever definition of terrorism one might adopt, since the mid-1990s ‘terrorism’ has changed into an inherently new form with new characteristics. They have articulated a ‘new’ concept, which involves different actors, motivations, aims, tactics and actions, compared to the ‘old’ concept of terrorism used in the mid twentieth century.
Since September the 11th (hereafter 9/11), this ‘new’ type of terrorism has greatly gained in prominence and without doubt has become a central issue throughout the world. Many argue that this ‘new terrorism’ clearly requires a set of ‘new’ counter-terrorism policies to deal with it effectively.
However, the distinction between old and new terrorism is artificial and some extent dangerous, as it can be used to justify a whole new set of rushed restrictive governmental counter-measures without these being democratically debated, publicly discussed, independently monitored or even necessary.
Enter Osama Bin Laden, the son of a Saudi billionaire, whom the American and British governments designated as the most dangerous religious extremist in the history of contemporary terrorism.
In the 1980s he travelled to Afghanistan to take part in what is certainly deemed a victorious ‘Jihad’ against Russian occupying forces.
He gave an interview with Time magazine and was applauded by the American government and heavily supported by the British government to the extent of paying for armaments the former Yugoslavia that was ready to supply his every need. He told Time magazine “in our religion there is a special place in the hereafter for those who participate in the Jihad. One day in Afghanistan was like one thousand days of praying in an ordinary mosque.”
The United States and the United Kingdom applauded him.
The problem was that after Afghanistan he established what the security services quickly labelled “Al Qaida” (the’ base’ or ‘headquarters’) to pursue his form of Jihad well outside Afghanistan.
Bin Laden first came back to the attention of MI6 on 13 January 1993 in connection with an attempted assassination in December 1992 of a member of the Yemeni Parliament. Bin Laden loathed socialists and communists by far more than any of the US Presidents.
There was also covert intelligence on supposed bomb attacks that he carried out at US servicemen in two Aden hotels. MI6 files tell a story of an amateur job that resulted only in the killing of an Australian tourist and a Yemeni hotel worker, but his targets - supposedly Americans or Yemeni communists - were left unharmed. Those responsible were supposedly caught and a confession was extracted from them by the Yemeni Security Services with an MI6 lead operative present. The perpetrators confessed that the attacks were organised in Egypt by a group called Islamic Jihad, led by Ayman al Zawahiri and, amazingly, financed by Bin Laden.
MI6 was present during the interrogation and made a note in the Security Services’ file. It is interesting to note that the 9-11 Commission in the United States reported that the Yemen attacks remained “unknown” to the US Intelligence Community until 1996/7. It was a specific policy of MI6 in keeping its report secret in the event that Bin Laden would subsequently be used by the British Security Services for whatever purpose was necessary.
The file on Bin Laden, although opened in January 1993, contained entries for the previous year and was always in the care and custody of the Director General. An ‘official’ file was opened only on 1 July 1995.
The British Security Services, up until 1994, saw no serious threat from Islamic terrorism because the Services considered that religion was only an important force when it was allied to national interests.
MI6 was by far more concerned with state sponsored terrorism in Britain emanating from the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS). The majority of targets within Europe of MOIS were Iranian Kurdish dissidents. Between 1989 and 1997, 17 were assassinated in a spectacular fashion.
In 1991, in Paris, the Shah of Persia’s last Prime Minister, Shahpur Bakhtiar, was gunned down.
Because of the intensive covert surveillance carried out by MI6 and MI5, some of which undoubtedly violated diplomatic protocol, none of the assassinations occurred in the United Kingdom.
Bin Laden became a target for MI6 but not for assassination – instead he was to be courted and helped to resolve the Iranian problem.
The matter became more urgent when Indian born Salman Rushdie, the author of the novel the ‘Satanic Verses’, whose title referred to the medieval legend deeply insulting to most Muslims, was subject to a Fatwa by Ayatollah Khomeini. Rushdie was forced to go into hiding and was protected by Special Branch.
British Muslims heeded the call, and on 27 May 1989 more than 20,000 protestors demonstrated in London against Rushdie.
MI6 were aware at all times and advised the British Government that the main threat to Rushdie’s life was certainly not from any British Muslim but probably more from operatives of MOIS.
If ever there was any doubt as to the seriousness of the threat, the first example was demonstrated by the stabbing in 1991 of both the Japanese translator of the Satanic Verses, who was killed, and the Italian translator, who miraculously survived a knife through his heart.
The Italian Security Services, SISDE, attended a conference in London with an Italian speaking MI6 operative to ensure that counter-terrorism operations would be shared, but MI6 deliberately would not share their ace card with anyone.
In 1993, the Norwegian publisher of the Satanic Verses was shot but again, miraculously, survived.
The MI6 lead agent discovered on 17 May 1992 that Mehdi Seyed Sadighi of the MOIS London station, based at the Iranian Embassy, was collecting operational intelligence on Salman Rushdie. Sadighi was expelled forthwith, as was a second MOIS officer who operated under a student cover, living in Whitstable and studying in Canterbury.
Throughout this time, MI6 was in conversation with Bin Laden.
When MI6 learnt that Hezbollah were planning an attack, vital intelligence received made sure that was soon foiled. The perpetrators were sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. Bin Laden was more than useful and knew how to return favours.
MI6 files show that the appeals by the two convicted Palestinians, Jawad Botmeh, who was an electronics expert, and Samar Alami, were dismissed by the Court of Appeal in November 2001 on the direct instructions of the Security Services. Their later application to the European Court of Human Rights was also dismissed in June 2007.
MI6 thought Osama Bin Laden as a potential solution and labelled him as a “terrorist financier” rather than as a leader of a terrorist organisation. The source of his wealth MI6 labelled a “mystery”. His file carries the following note: “He owns construction companies etc. but these do not appear to be sufficiently large to provide the scale of income needed to fund his organisation.”
Although there were reports that he received money from the rest of his family, despite intrusive surveillance in different jurisdictions on 16 members of his immediate family, no evidence was forthcoming in more than one year of covert surveillance. There was also a report that MOIS were planning to assassinate him and this made him a suitable, what the Director General of MI6 called “active partner”.
On 11 September 1995, a note in the Security Services’ files carried the following annotation: “No matter where you look in studying Islamic Extremism from Kashmir to Algeria, the name Bin Laden seems to crop up. He is clearly an important figure and we are intensifying our efforts to discover what influence he has over individuals and groups in this country.”
In 1995, a new section was created within MI6 to investigate the Islamist threat, but Bin Laden was specifically excluded for investigation. Instead, the main priority was the Algerian Armed Islamic Group, which, according to the MI6 file, was identified as being responsible for bomb attacks in France, which killed 7 and wounded 180 people.
A request from the French DST (Security Services) was received and the Anti-Terrorist Branch of the Metropolitan Police arrested six Algerian militants in London in December 1995 who was supposedly financing a terrorist campaign in France. This unusual close cooperation with the French was to ensure that Bin Laden would be reserved solely for the use of MI6 if/ as or when needed.
In yet another operation, again with the French as well as the Italian Security Services, led to the arrest of a UK based coordinator of the Algerian Armed Islamic Group who procured arms from England and exported to Europe.
Records and documents found at his house show that he had received funding from Bin Laden’s then headquarters in Khartoum, but those documents were seized and suppressed by MI6. Intelligence reports that Bin Laden was also financing Mujahedin groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as Zawahiri’s Islamic Jihad were also, on the orders of the Director General, not relayed to other agencies.
A note in the MI6 file states as follows: “As yet the Service has no intelligence that Bin Laden is personally involved in planning or carrying out terrorist attacks. Should Bin Laden come to the UK we do not believe he would instigate acts of terrorism here or use Britain as a base for organising terrorism. However, there is little doubt he would take the opportunity to encourage Islamic extremist groups in the UK to continue their activities.”
By the middle of 1995, Bin Laden had not only been to Britain, but had been hosted by MI6.
When it was clear that the Metropolitan Police and other Security Service agencies active in London became aware of a relationship between Bin Laden and MI6, an entry was made in the Security Services’ file as follows: “Bin Laden is involved in a plot to mount a suicide bomb attack in the UK.”
That, of course, was in direct contrast to the earlier annotation that Bin Laden was no threat at all but, for anyone inspecting the Security Services’ file, all those involved in nurturing Bin Laden for use by MI6 would be absolved of any wrongdoing.
In the meantime British intelligence paid large sums of money to an al-Qaeda cell in Libya in a doomed attempt to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi in 1996, and it was discovered that they had thwarted early attempts to bring Osama bin Laden to justice.
It was Gaddafi that issued the arrest warrant against Bin Laden in connection with the murder in March 1994 of two German anti-terrorism agents, Silvan and Vera Becker, who were in charge of missions in Africa.
But MI6 continued not only to thwart any attempt by Libya to arrest him they continued to harbour and house him in London in return for Bin Laden’s undertaking to kill Gaddafi. It was State sponsored assassination at its highest.
Bin Laden sought and obtained a good price for his cooperation with MI6 and the plot to kill Gaddafi. Bin Laden took with him Anas al-Liby, who was wanted for his involvement in the African embassy bombings. Al-Liby was with bin Laden in Sudan before the al-Qaeda leader returned to Afghanistan in 1996.
Despite suspicions that he was a high-level al-Qaeda operative, al-Liby was given political asylum in Britain and lived in Manchester until May of 2000 when he eluded a police raid on his house and fled abroad. The raid discovered a 180-page al-Qaeda 'Manual for Jihad' containing instructions for terrorist attacks.
The MI6 officers involved in the alleged plot were Richard Bartlett, who has previously only been known under the codename PT16 and had overall responsibility for the operation; and David Watson, codename PT16B.
Watson was responsible for running a Libyan agent, 'Tunworth', who was providing information, and MI6 passed £100,000 to the al-Qaeda plotters. Both Bartlett and Watson have been given new identities and moved to posts out of the UK for many years, but earlier this year Bartlett re-appeared in London.
The assassination attempt on Gaddafi was planned for early 1996 in the Libyan coastal city of Sirte. An operation by the Islamic Fighting Group in the city was foiled in March 1996. In the gun battle that followed, several militants were killed. In 1998, the Libyans released TV footage of a 1996 grenade attack on Gaddafi that they claimed had been carried out by a British agent. He was an MI6 agent.
The failure to eliminate Gaddafi in 1996 would be adjourned, but was not entirely off the menu. Bin Laden, though, now became almost a liability to MI6 since the CIA, the SVR and other agencies were all deeply suspicious of the growing relationship between the Saudi millionaire terrorist and MI6.
On 11 January 1996, on the recommendation of the MI6 lead agent, the Home Secretary signed an exclusion order prohibiting Osama Bin Laden from entering the UK in the interests of national security. By this time, the media were aware of the situation, and on 17 January 1997, the London Evening Standard carried the following headline: “Britain accused of harbouring bomber”. The article was accurate and stated that Bin Laden flew into London on many occasions and regularly in a private jet, landing at Hatfield Airport, Southend Airport, Marsden Airport and Cambridge.
The CIA even discovered that Bin Laden had settled in the “London suburb of Wembley” where he had purchased a house in Dollis Hill. That house was paid for by a special fund operated by MI6.
In order to maintain the masquerade, the Security Services’ intelligence reports referred to Bin Laden as simply “Bin”. In March 1996, when the Director of MI5, Stella Rimington, went to Washington, she was surprised that the name Bin Laden was mentioned. It was a specific policy of MI6 to keep its secure agents or those that they could or would use subsequently hidden even from the Prime Minister, and certainly Rimington was never aware that Bin Laden was being moulded by MI6.
On 4 March 1996, a voice track recording of Bin Laden and the lead MI6 officer in Wembley was made. Previous to this, the Security Services had simply overlooked to make a recording of his voice. The recording was not shared with the Americans until 1997. By July 1998, it was evidently clear that Bin Laden would be of little use to MI6 and that his beliefs had changed from being Anti-Communist to Anti-West.
On 7 August 1998, a huge bomb in trucks driven by suicide bombers demolished the US Embassy and surrounding buildings in Nairobi, and badly damaged the Embassy in Dar-es- Salam.
In Nairobi, 213 were killed, only 12 of which were Americans, and several thousand were injured, of whom 150 were blinded by flying glass.
In Dar-es-Salam, the death toll was 11, 85 wounded.
On 20 August, having notified MI6 in advance, a Tomahawk cruise missile was fired from a US Navy vessel in the Arabian Ocean at two of supposedly Bin Laden’s base targets: the Khost training camp in Afghanistan, and a chemical plant in Khartoum which, according to the CIA, was manufacturing a chemical nerve gas, financed by Bin Laden.
Bin Laden survived the attacks because he was notified three hours in advance of the Khost attack by MI6 who still believed that they could contain him and possibly use the attraction of London as a means of enticing his cooperation.
That Bin Laden loved England is without doubt. He and his most senior lieutenants made more than 260 calls from their base in Afghanistan to 27 numbers in Britain.
They included suspected terrorist agents, sympathisers and companies. Some were prearranged calls to public pay phones.
He made more calls to Britain than any other country in the two years that he used the phone. He stopped using it two months after members of his al-Qaeda terror network bombed two American embassies in East Africa in August 1998. He believed the Americans were tracking his movements through the phone.
The satellite telephone was bought in 1996 with the help of Dr Saad al Fagih, a bearded surgeon, who was the head of the London-based Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia. This fundamentalist Muslim group was dedicated to the overthrow of the Saudi Arabian government but did not form part of Al-Qaeda.
It was al Fagih's credit card which was used to help buy the £10,500 Compact-M satellite phone in the United States and it was shipped to his home in north London. His credit card was also used to buy more than 3,000 minutes of pre-paid airtime.For two years Bin Laden and his number two, Atef, used the phone to direct operations. More than 200 calls were made to the London home and mobile phone of al Fawwaz, who would ultimately be arrested.
Calls were also made to two public phone boxes in December 1996 and May 1997. One was outside Willesden Library in North London, and another was only a few minute’s walk from al Fawwaz's home.
Other calls were made to companies for which al Fawwaz worked. Al Fawwaz, who lived in Kenya from 1993-94 before moving to London, was head of a group called the Advice and Reformation Committee, based in Queen's Park, North-West London, which subsequently has been described by the FBI as a ‘front organisation for Bin Laden.’
Another recipient of calls from Afghanistan was Eidarous, who lived in Waldo Road, not far from al Fawwaz and the call boxes.
In December 1996 a call was made to the home of Mohammed Hamed, a retired journalist, who lived in a quiet street in Surbiton, Surrey. MI6 was tracking the calls but did not share the information.
In January 1998, a brief call was also made to the home of Salem Azzam, a retired diplomat from Egypt, who lives in a smart three-storey maisonette near Edgware Road in London. Again, although MI6 by that time were aware that they had ‘lost’ Bin Laden, they did not share the information.
While some calls went to known terrorists, others were inexplicable. One, for example, was to a house in Wandsworth, South London, occupied by a family of Asian origin since 1996. That information was not shared.
MI6 files show also a three-minute call in December 1996 to a ground-floor council flat in Erith, Kent. The occupant of the flat was Michelle Urquhart, who lived there with her three children. That information was not shared.
After the United Kingdom, the country Bin Laden called most frequently was Yemen, where al-Qaeda terrorists bombed the destroyer USS Cole, killing 17 American sailors, in October 2000. Yemen received more than 200 calls on the sat-phone.
Other calls were made to Sudan (131), Iran (106), Azerbaijan (67), Pakistan (59) and Saudi Arabia (57). Six calls to America are recorded and 13 appear to have been made to a telephone on a ship in the Indian Ocean. Six were made to Italy, where police earlier this year uncovered an Al-Qaeda cell planning a poison gas attack on the American embassy, four to Malaysia and two to Senegal.
The most surprising for MI6 was the omission of calls to Iraq, with not a single call recorded.
All calls were monitored by MI6 from GCHQ.
Al Fawwaz kept a note of the sat-phone number in his address book under the name of Atef. The number was 00873 682 505 331.
But enticing Bin Laden back to London was not to be.
Bin Laden felt betrayed by MI6, although grateful that they had notified him in advance of the attacks in Afghanistan by the US cruise missiles.
Bin Laden repaid MI6 with information. He made it a condition that those arrested would be well treated and given an advantage over extradition to the US. MI6 complied as it saw Bin Laden as a good source for intelligence. MI6 would honour its arrangement.
Seven weeks after the East African Embassy bombings, MI6 surveillance of Islamist Extremists in London disrupted a plot to bomb the US Embassy in Albania. In late July, MI6 had received intelligence from Bin Laden indicating that the Islamic Jihad leader in the UK, Ibrahim Eidarous and Al Fawwaz, had instructed militants in Albania to survey the US Embassy in preparation for an attack.
On 23 September 1998, Ibrahim Eidarous, Al Fawwaz and five others were arrested in London. They would never know they had been betrayed by Bin Laden. Operation Challenge was successful because of Bin Laden but Special Branch would not know that until much later.
There were other arrests in Italy on 2 October and an Islamic Jihad member killed resisting arrest in Tirana.
Eidarous was diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer by 2002, and treated by the NHS in Britain, while being held at Broadmoor. He was released on house arrest, an option arranged by MI6 as part of its historic ‘deal’ with Bin Laden, where he died in 2008.
Al Fawazz is still under indictment.
However, another senior terrorist suspect, Mustafa Nazar ‘escaped’ to Afghanistan. It was arranged by MI6 and a cheap price to pay for capturing the others.
The love affair between Osama Bin Laden and MI6 was over.
Bin Laden had repaid his debt to MI6 and he made it clear that from 1999 onwards Britain should also consider itself at risk.
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