Even before the terrorist attacks of September 11, a team of Special Branch detectives had spotted Mohammed Sidique Khan exercising on a hillside with a number of other Islamic radicals.
Operation Warlock was launched in January 2001 to watch a group of Muslim men on a walking expedition at Dalehead in Dudden Valley, Cumbria, led by McDaid.
The operation was conducted by West Yorkshire police special branch on behalf of the security service but did not produce intelligence that was “of concern” the 7/7 inquest was told.
A video was taken of Sidique Khan, who went on to lead the July 7 bombers, which showed him leaving a stone out-house.
Photographs taken from the video were shown to a source but he was only able to identify nine out of the 45 people on the training camp, not including Sidique Khan.
Assistant Chief Constable John Parkinson of West Yorkshire Police, said: “There was the desire to understand people that repeatedly attended camps, or who may be people who were organising the camps. Bearing in mind Operation Warlock was pre-9/11…there was less understanding of what was happening on these camps at that time.”
Asked if they were investigating potential terrorist activities, Mr Parkinson said: “I don’t think that link was directly made like that.”
After July 7, West Yorkshire Police returned to the group after an officer going through special branch files spotted Sidique Khan.
Operation Atlas was launched to try and identify all the remaining members of the group, leaving only one without a name.
“I wanted to be absolutely confident and sure that everything that we could do to identify anybody else that had been on that camp was of great importance to me,” Mr Parkinson said.
“It was born out of hindsight. We were horrified by what had happened and we wanted to make sure that we’d done everything we could to identify those that had been on that camp with him.”
Sidique Khan appeared again as part of another, two-day, surveillance operation of McDaid in April 2003, codenamed Honeysuckle.
Sidique Khan gave McDaid a three-minute lift in his blue BMW and a check on the car threw up Sidique Khan’s name and address at Gregory Street, Batley.
His details, were recorded but he was not judged to be of “significance” to the operation.
McDaid continued to be of interest to West Yorkshire police for some time after the operation and his home was raided in November 2003, the inquest was told.
In June 2004, after the arrest of a terrorist cell in Crawley planning a fertiliser bomb attack, MI5 sent a request to West Yorkshire Police asking them to confirm details about Sidique Khan, but the Operation Honeysuckle details did not come up on their computer.
“There’s no technical reason we can find, including examination of the computer system,” Mr Parkinson said.
Hugo Keith QC, counsel for the inquest, asked Mr Parkinson if any attempt was made at “sitting down bluntly and trying to assess what it all amounted to?”
But Mr Parkinson said that at the time the police operated on a “task and complete” basis for the security service and were not asked to assess intelligence.
Sidique Khan had been spotted on four separate occasions as part of the investigation into the fertiliser gang and followed home to West Yorkshire on two of those occasions.
But only one officer was in charge of prioritising following up 4000 “contacts” with individuals who had appeared as part of that investigation, in what was called Operation Scraw.
The officer also had other duties as the service became heavily involved in the investigation of a plot to blow up hotels using radioactive bombs in limousines, and he met with his desk officers no more than once a fortnight.
„Witness G“, from MI5, said there was no process for returning to review decisions on who to follow up and the process was “reasonably intuitive.”
Asked if the follow-up from Crevice which was not „quite as thorough“ as it might have been, he said: „Not just Crevice, I think we learnt lessons from a number of operations between 2004 and 2005.“
Since then MI5 has introduced what it calls a “legacy review team” which follows a “more formal process” than in 2004 when the rest of the Crevice gang was arrested.
On one occasion Sidique Khan was bugged talking about his plans to travel to Pakistan for terrorist training and the officer agreed that “alarm bells would now ring somewhat louder.”
Hugo Keith QC, counsel for the inquest, asked him if “insufficient attention was paid to the speed and ease with which people can transform themselves from” those involved in facilitating terrorism to those actually involved in planning attacks.
“Yes, I think that’s fair,” he told the inquest. “We were still involved with those in full blown attack planning in the UK and so given the priorities at the time that was insufficiently considered.”
However the officer said that given the prioritising of investigations being undertaken “it would not have been appropriate” to carry out further surveillance on Sidique Khan.
The inquest was told the number of MI5 officers has now almost doubled since 2001 with the recruitment of further desk officers, surveillance officers and transcribers.
But few of the additional resources had arrived before July 7, and the service had merely diverted staff from other duties into international terrorism.
With a limited budget the service was forced to „prioritise ruthlessly“ and could only shoot at the „crocodiles nearest the boat“.
Nevertheless the officer said that MI5 “did not feel the government was starving us of resources. If we had been flooded with money, we might have struggled more than we did” because they would not have been able to train them all.
Even before arrests were launched in what was then Britain’s biggest counter-terrorism operation, senior police officers were concerned that there could be other associates planning further attacks.
An executive liaison meeting of key investigators two days before the fertiliser bomb gang was arrested in March 2004, showed that senior police officers were concerned about a “second plot of which we had no visibility and another attacks was planned.”
MI5 made efforts to identify other individuals from operation Crevice, soon afterwards.
Surveillance photographs were supposed to be sent to Mohammed Junaid Babar, who was detained by the US authorities after returning from Pakistan to New York and became and informant.
He is said to have offered “exceptional co-operation” as he turned on his former comrades, but was unable to identify Sidique Khan or his associate as the men who had been with him at an al-Qaeda training camp he set up in Malakand in Pakistan in July 2003.
Sidique Khan had been photographed at Toddington Service station on the M1 after he was followed on his return from the meeting in Crawley, West Sussex, along with fellow bomber Shezhad Tanweer and another associate.
The photographs from the service station were taken at close range and in full colour, clearly showing Sidique Khan and Tanweer standing in front of a Burger King takeaway and a fruit machine.
But an MI5 desk officer cropped the photographs so that the background could not be identified before sending them to America, the inquest into the 52 deaths was told.
Hugo Keith QC told a senior member of MI5: “I am bound to observe, if you will forgive me, one of my children could have done a better job of cropping out that photograph.”
Tanweer was missing half his nose and face and Sidique Khan was so badly cropped that he was missing half his head and the majority of his body and picture was not sent to America.
Witness G told the inquest that there was no documentation to explain why the pictures had been so badly cropped, adding: “My judgment would be when a photograph is cropped in this way for whatever reason it is that by including the background we are giving away too much detail about the covert means behind the observation.”
He said the officer was: “No doubt under significant pressure and would have done their best at the time while having quite a lot of other tasks.”
But Mr Keith said that the “informative aspect was entirely obliterated” and “a little care might not have gone amiss where proceeding with one of your most significant sources.”
Babar later identified him from photographs that appeared in the press after the bombings.
Mr Keith asked: “Surely it would come as no surprise to Babar or anyone else that the Security Service is capable of covert photography?” and added that the only possible identifying feature was a Burger King, adding: “It would have been a very long shot to have identified where the photographs were taken”
But the officer said they were not sure at that stage about Babar’s “bonafides.” He also said he did not know why the photographs were not sent in colour but it would depend “where in the world” they were being sent.
“But America is not on the other side of the moon,” Mr Keith said.
The inquest was told that Tanweer and the third man from the Operation Crevice surveillance, were the only unidentified photographs that were shown to Babar in April 2004, among a collection of 27 pictures.
Less clear surveillance pictures were later sent to Babar by the police in August 2004.
As a result MI5 dismissed a visit by the leader of the July 7 bombers to meet terrorists in Pakistan as “jihadi tourism.”
Sidique Khan flew to Islamabad where he bumped into members of another British terrorist cell at the airport in July 2003.
The terrorists went to breakfast together and the event was reported by Babar when he was detained by the FBI in April 2004.
Witness G told the inquest that at the time the breakfast meeting “would have been seen as a social gathering, but a social gathering of those who are like minded extremists.”
However it later emerged that Sidique Khan had also been to an al-Qaeda training camp with Babar, where he was trained to use weapons.
The following month MI5 was given access to a second prisoner, referred to only as “Detainee 2” who had also met Sidique Khan and his travelling companion in Pakistan.
He told MI5 that the man he knew as “Ibrahim,” and his companion “Zubair” had been sent on a “fact finding mission” by one of the original ring leaders of the other terrorist group and that they were from Leeds.
Asked if MI5 did not consider Sidique Khan to be “significant” at that stage, Witness G told the inquest: „A phrase that is used in the service than and is still used, is the phrase jihadi tourism,“ he said.
„Individuals go to Pakistan to have a look and see what’s going on, and the material from Detainee 2 would have tended, at that point, to suggest that perhaps that’s why they were going.“
However, MI5 was said to have missed a “jackpot” opportunity to Sidique Khan after he flew to Pakistan to take part in the training camp.
It emerged that the Metropolitan Police, who were investigating the fertiliser case, were able to get the flight number on which their suspect arrived at Islamabad airport in July 2003.
Patrick O’Connor QC, counsel for a number of the bereaved families, told Witness G that a check of the passenger list they would have “hit the jackpot” and identified “Ibrahim” as Sidique Khan.
“I can see your logic,” the officer told the inquest.
“That would have transformed your assessment of him?” Mr O’Connor asked. “It would have made him much more significant, yes,” the officer said.
West Yorkshire Police were also asked to try and find out more about Ibrahim and Zubair in July 2004 but sent a reply that they could do nothing with such limited details.
On the same form, they were asked to check details of Sidique Khan’s Honda Civic which had been seen in the Operation Crevice surveillance but no one realised they were the same person.
MI5 was sent a photograph of Sidique Khan by West Yorkshire Police, shown for the first time at the inquest, which showed him at the time of his arrest for assault occasioning actual bodily harm from February 2003 when he was cautioned.
In March 2005 another key piece of information was received from an informant who told them that a man called Saddique with a different surname, had been to a training camp in Afghanistan in the late 1990s with another man and lived in Soothill, Batley – where Sidique Khan was living – and was involved in the Iqra bookshop in Leeds.
The two men were said to be “extreme in their views towards the West.”
The MI5 witness said he had “very, very high confidence” that could have been used to identify Sidique Khan and to have linked him with the fertiliser gang in Crawley, West Sussex, and to another group in Beeston, West Yorkshire that had also been under surveillance.
But he said there were “good operational reasons” why that was not done, which he was unable to refer to in open court.
He added that a “high degree of intensive surveillance would have been required” in order to catch Sidique Khan buying bomb-making chemicals at that stage and “we could not have made a case to maintain that degree of surveillance.”
However, when they returned to the source on July 11 2005, after the bombings, the informant told them that Sidique Khan was “prepared to use a baseball bat and capable of carrying out a martyrdom operation.”
Hugo Keith QC, said that had been MI5’s “greatest chance” to identify the leader of the July 7 bombings but it was an “opportunity that had to go missed for good operational reasons.”
However a new computer system would now be better able to match a name or its variants, Witness G said, and MI5 had a “closer relationship” with regional police forces.
Mr Keith asked him: „If steps had been taken before 2005, whilst you can’t say for sure, you might have been able to increase your intelligence understanding of what might have been happening in the Dewsbury area?“
He replied: „Yes, I think that’s fair.“
A last effort to identify “Ibrahim”, code-named Operation Downtempo, was launched in May 2005 and the inquest heard that an MI5 desk officer suggested that he might be one of three individuals based in
Leeds who had featured in surveillance of the fertiliser bombers in February 2004.
“That was an intuition by the desk officer at the time who remembered the northern figures” who had been in the surveillance operation, code-named, Crevice, the witness said.
But he added that it would have been “unusual to work further on that intuition because of the strong contra indication” that the men had not been identified by the supergrass when their photographs were shown to him.