Analysis of surveillance tapes found that the terrorists' leader cropped up more than was thought
THE leader of the London suicide bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan, appeared on surveillance tapes a year before the attacks on July 7, the security services have admitted.
MI5 has been trawling through transcripts of eavesdropping tapes and video footage of surveillance carried out on a large number of terrorist suspects over a period of about 12 months, leading up to the attacks on the London Underground and a double-decker bus.
Its analysts have been checking to see what could have been uncovered about Khan's activities and preparations for the suicide bombings.
Previously it had been admitted that one surveillance tape had identified Khan but he had been judged to be only "on the periphery" of suspected terrorist endeavours and, with limited resources available, he was not considered a priority.
Like many other potential suspects caught up in the process of long-term surveillance operations, Khan escaped the net because there was insufficient evidence against him to merit a full-scale monitoring programme, which can take up to 20 MI5 officers for each suspect.
However, since the July 7 bombings, MI5 and other secret agencies have produced a wealth of intelligence that has enabled the Security Service to pinpoint Khan's activities in the previous year with more accuracy.
Security sources said that with the new intelligence it had been possible to identify Khan on a number of surveillance tapes, matching what were often grainy pictures taken in the dark with the features and profile of the suicide bomber.
The sources said that it was not just a question of benefiting from hindsight. It was the post-July 7 intelligence that had helped to build up a fuller picture of a potential terrorist plot and the key individuals who were to be involved. Apart from Khan, there was also some prior knowledge of Shehzad Tanweer, one of the other suicide bombers.
The discovery of more tape and video evidence puts MI5 in a sensitive position. While the organisation can argue that it did not have the resources to follow every suspect who flitted in and out of its long-term surveillance operations, the more that the Security Service finds from the past records, the more difficult it will be to satisfy the families of the 52 victims of the London bombings that everything possible had been done to try to prevent the terrorist attacks.
The parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, headed by Paul Murphy, the former Northern Ireland Secretary, has questioned Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the Director-General of MI5, and several of her most senior intelligence officers on a number of occasions as part of its inquiry into the July 7 bombings.
The committee is examining whether there were intelligence failings and is expected to publish a report in March or April.
Separately, the Home Office is also drawing together a publishable "narrative" of the events leading up to July 7, which is expected to be published in the spring.
Tony Blair has ruled out holding a public inquiry into the bombings.
ON THE TRAIL OF A TERROR SUSPECT