February 06, 2005

Martyr plan of Guantanamo Briton

February 06, 2005

Martyr plan of Guantanamo Briton
Dipesh Gadher

Source : TimesOnline.co.uk


A BRITON released from Guantanamo Bay has admitted being interviewed for advanced-level terrorist training in Afghanistan by two senior Al-Qaeda leaders and later volunteering for a “martyrdom operation”.

Feroz Abbasi believes he was singled out because of his western background, which would have allowed him to plan an attack without arousing as much suspicion as Arab militants.

He says he was prepared to take “actions” against Jewish and American military targets as part of his personal commitment to jihad, or holy war.

Abbasi’s revelations are contained in a 150-page handwritten “autobiography” obtained by The Sunday Times from the US authorities. The document, in 12 chapters, provides the most comprehensive insight to date into Afghanistan’s terror camps, which have been used to train thousands of Islamic extremists, some of whom are now living in western countries as Al-Qaeda “sleepers”.

Abbasi, 24, describes how a lack of self-esteem during childhood spurred him into militancy and led to him enrolling in courses in Afghanistan. They ranged from basic firearms training with a Kalashnikov rifle to mountain and urban warfare and intelligence gathering.

He claims that other British Muslims received similar training and explains how he was captured, having been abandoned by Al-Qaeda fighters during the Afghan conflict with America and its allies.

Abbasi, of Croydon, south London, wrote the statement at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba in 2003. It was used as evidence at a US military tribunal at Camp Delta before his release.

Abbasi was one of four remaining Britons freed from Guantanamo Bay last month after three years. The men, who all claim to have suffered abuse, were questioned by anti-terrorist police on their return to Britain, but were released without charge a day later.

The most startling admission in Abbasi’s statement relates to his meetings in Kandahar, southwest Afghanistan, with senior Al-Qaeda commanders just weeks before the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.

Having completed his basic training and a course in mountain warfare “reputed to be of the same standards as that of Russian commandos”, Abbasi and an Australian convert to Islam — believed to be David Hicks, who is still at Guantanamo — were persuaded to visit the offices of a group called Lashka Askari.

Here they were interviewed by Muhammad Atef, also known as Abu Hafs, then Al-Qaeda’s military chief, and Saif Al-Adel, his deputy. At the time, both leaders had a $5m price on their head for their involvement in the 1998 east African embassy bombings.

Abbasi, a former IT student in Britain, writes: “Abu Hafs was the brains behind Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden was just there for show.”

Atef, speaking through a translator, asked the Briton: “Would you like to take any actions against the Americans . . . and the Jews?”

Abbasi thought the Al-Qaeda leader was referring to US and Israeli troops and answered: “Yes . . . because jihad (military struggle against an aggressor) is an individual obligation on my person.”

Atef replied: “Okay, we’ll see about getting you some special training.”

Abbasi, who was using a pseudonym in Afghanistan, later claims that Atef was probably seeking to recruit Muslim converts — with Christian names — for a terrorist mission in a western country and had assumed he fell into this category because he was British.

Such recruits would be “undetectable by airports or travelling by commercial means and therefore could get in (to countries) and do what our . . . Arab counterparts with Arab/Islamic/Muslim names were unable to do”, writes Abbasi.

The “special training” referred to by Atef, who was later killed in the Afghan conflict, consisted of two courses: urban warfare, or “city tactics”, and intelligence-gathering, or “information collection”.

During the former course, Abbasi was trained in “targeting an enemy vehicle and destroying it”, clearing houses and using a rocket propelled grenade launcher to attack a weapons depot.

Intelligence gathering exercises — reserved for “English speakers/non-Arabs” — took place in Kabul, where recruits were divided into three-man teams to reconnoitre buildings. Abbasi reveals that practice targets included the disused British embassy and non-governmental offices such as those of the Red Cross.

The Americans have accused Abbasi of being present when Bin Laden visited two terror camps, but there is no mention of this in his autobiography.

A more pivotal point in Abbasi’s radicalisation appears to be linked to the assassination by Arab suicide bombers of Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the pro-western Afghan Northern Alliance, just days before September 11.

Abbasi says he was “touched” by the slaying, hoping that it would allow the Taliban to take full control of Afghanistan. He decided to visit Al-Adel, who has since replaced Atef as Al-Qaeda’s military commander and is thought to be in hiding in Iran.

Abbasi told him: “I heard about Masood (sic) being killed by a martyrdom operation. I would like (to) do something like that.”

The Londoner, however, draws a distinction in his writings between a suicide attack on a military target, which he regards as legitimate, and the killing of civilians, such as those who died in the World Trade Center attacks.

In earlier chapters of his autobiography, Abbasi describes growing up as a social misfit in Croydon. “I had not the will to stand up for myself, I had lost all respect for myself,” he writes. “I let people walk over me and treat me like I was dirt.”

Suffering depression as a youth, he attempted suicide on at least five occasions. At one stage he flirted with Buddhism and in 1999 set his sights on travelling to Japan to join a monastery. But he got only as far as Switzerland, where an encounter with a Kashmiri refugee fired his interest in Islam.

Abbasi returned home and started worshipping at the Finsbury Park mosque in north London. He dropped out of college and moved to the mosque, where he helped set up a website raising money for mujaheddin fighters.

In early 2001, Abbasi flew with a Muslim colleague to Pakistan. The pair slipped into neighbouring Afghanistan and met a militant leader called Ibn Shaikh, who paved the way for Abbasi’s training. Less than a year later he was captured by US troops while defending Kandahar airport.

Last week his lawyers claimed the autobiography was written under duress and accused the US Justice Department of violating a federal court order by making it public. Abbasi, who is in a safe house, has accused the Americans of physical, sexual and mental abuse at Guantanamo Bay.

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