4,000 in UK trained at terror camps 

 Daily Telegraph 

Up to 4,000 Islamic extremists have attended terrorist training camps in Afghanistan before returning to Britain, security chiefs have revealed.

The alarming figure raises fresh questions about UK border controls and the capacity of the intelligence and security services to keep the country safe.

It demonstrates how Gordon Brown's plans for tighter checks on people entering Britain, unveiled last week, will come too late to keep out many dangerous individuals.

Afghanistan was the centre for al-Qaeda terrorist training between 1996, when the Taliban regime came to power, and the end of 2001, when America and Britain invaded. Since then the focus has shifted to areas of Pakistan along the Afghan border.

More than 400,000 journeys are made each year between Britain and Pakistan, the vast majority of them legitimate. It is not known how many travellers continue their journey overland into Afghanistan.

A senior security source said of the al-Qaeda camps: "There are 3,000 to 4,000 people who went from the UK to Afghanistan and came back. The important question is, where are they now?" The figure is more than double the estimate of 1,600 which MI5 gave last autumn for the number of individuals actively involved in plotting terrorist attacks in the UK.

There are several possible explanations for the gap. Some of those who came back to Britain from Afghanistan may since have given up terrorist activities. Others may have left the UK to fight in Iraq.

MI5 and MI6 are working on the assumption, however, that al-Qaeda sees its British Muslim recruits as too valuable to be used in Iraq, and that most are ordered to return to their communities in Britain to establish autonomous terrorist "sleeper cells". Concerns over sleeper cells have been heightened since the failed "doctors' plot" attacks in London and Glasgow two weeks ago.

Estimates for the total number of extremists who have received weapons training and religious instruction at al-Qaeda camps, mostly in Afghanistan, have ranged from 20,000 to 70,000. Until now, intelligence sources have said it was impossible to estimate how many of those were British residents.

Terrorists who are believed to have trained in Afghanistan include Richard Reid, from Bromley, Kent, and Saajid Badat, from Gloucester, who both jailed for plotting to blow up aircraft with shoe bombs.

Andrew Rowe, a Londoner of Jamaican origin serving 15 years for terrorist offences, trained at one such camp in Afghanistan. Dhiren Barot, brought up in London and now serving 30 years for plotting a "dirty bomb" attack in Britain, trained in either Afghanistan or Pakistan.

Others believed to have trained in Pakistan include Mohammad Sidique Khan, the leader of the July 7 2005 bombers; Muktar Said Ibrahim, the leader of the failed July 21 bomb plot, and most members of the "Operation Crevice" plot to blow up nightclubs or shopping centres with fertiliser bombs. The Terrorism Act 2006 made it illegal to attend a terrorist training camp.

Last week, Ronald K Noble, secretary general of Interpol, accused the Government of failing to check people entering the country against a database of terrorist suspects.

Hours after The Sunday Telegraph revealed his criticism, the Prime Minister admitted that the sharing of data between countries needed to be improved "as a matter of urgency".

Details have emerged of a classified US intelligence report which says that al-Qaeda has regrouped along the Afghan-Pakistan border and is now in a stronger position that it was before the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York. John Kringen, head of the CIA analysis directorate, said: "We see more training. We see more money. We see more communications. We see that activity rising."

Dame Stella Rimington, the former MI5 chief, called last week for stronger border controls. She said: "We have realised that the free movement of people is a great concept but if you have people who would kill you, there have got to be a lot more checks.".

Documents discovered at abandoned al-Qaeda camps following the fall of the Taliban revealed how recruits were schooled in the use of small arms, as well as anti-armour and anti-aircraft weapons. Those selected for elite training would learn assassination skills or espionage techniques.

Forms and correspondence found at the ruined camps also showed that the operation was carefully-managed with paperwork in various languages including Arabic, Urdu, Tajik, Uzbek and Russian, as well as the locally spoken Pashto language.

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