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July 7th 2005 London Bombings

'When I heard where the bombers were from I felt sick'

guardian | 24th June 06 | original url: http://www.guardian.co.uk/attackonlondon/story/0,,1804930,00.html

September 11th, 2001: in front of a television set a computer shop in Beeston, Leeds - where I was working - aghast at the news, watching the Twin Towers fall. I will never forget, as the second plane crashed into the World Trade Centre's South Tower, the cheers of the people in the room around me. I was horrified by what I saw, while they screamed their hoorays. Next day, September 12th, with details coming out about the connections to al-Qaida, the owners of the shop and some of their 'brothers' from the area held a celebration party: drinking pop, passing round crisps - cheering, shouting their delight at what they saw as an attack on the infidel, Satanic USA.

I'd been working there only a few days - it was a Muslim-owned business, getting me work all over the area: Batley, Dewsbury and in Beeston itself. But it was at that gathering to celebrate 9/11 that I first made contact with three people: Naveed Fiaz, whom I knew as 'Jazz'; a former Royal Marine called Martin McDaid, who had converted to Islam and was now known as Martin Abdullah - and the quiet one, sitting at a computer during all this celebration, Tafazal Mohammed - or "Taf". These introductions were my first step into a murky world, in which I came to know two of those who bombed London on July 7th last year, and those around them, those behind them - people for whom I worked, people who needed my skills with computers, compiling their presentations and propaganda, and protecting their systems from outside; part of what I call the bedrock for what happened in London. We - myself and those who helped me - were as inside as anyone outside can get. And my warnings to the authorities about what was happening - long before 7/7 - were ignored.

This is how it happened: in December 2001, I was assigned to work for the Leeds Community School, based at 49a Bude Road in Beeston - for Martin Abdullah McDaid. The School was closely connected to - and run by the same people as - the Iqra Islamic bookshop next door, for whom the owners of TBB wanted me to start work in January 2002, teaching the 'brothers' how to use a Macromedia flash programme, for a presentation the bookshop wanted to compile.

Being reasonably proficient in producing flash animations - and because teaching flash takes a long time - I found myself doing the work for Iqra myself, and in June 2002 I left TBB to work on this first of 12 presentations I made for the group: "War on Terror: Hidden Agenda", finally finished on October 12 2002. They made several copies for distibution at the mass demonstration against the Iraqi war in February 2003.

The driving forces behind the work of the school and bookshop were the three I had met at the 9/11 celebration. The were back rooms at the bookshop, and access was by invitation only, and, apart from two colleagues of mine, I never saw a non-Muslim inside these rooms. They consisted of a downstairs internet suite with four PCs linked to the web by broadband, a first-floor prayer room and storage room for a women's group that met there every Sunday afternoon; plus, on the second floor, an office for the Leeds Community School and a room containing a digital video editing suite. Iqra and the Leeds Community School were capable to producing their own videos and along with the computers, they had a multi-CD burner to produce large quantities of of CDs and VCDs. How do I know these PC's? I built them!

Martin 'Abdullah' McDaid did most of the talking, most of the ranting and raving; and as an ex-Marine, he knew about matters military. Two of those who later became bombers on July 7th - Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer - were regular type - but the talk around me, all the conversation between themselves and their 'brothers', was about Jihad, Jewish conspiracy, how the Holocaust was a fake, the 'Great Satan' America - and Britain's alliance with the Satanic USA. Bush's word 'Crusade' triggered them off - triggered off their ranting about the 'Jihad', and we used it in the presentations - very effectively, I would add.

Indeed, though I say it myself, the presentations were unbelievable, and won me kudos in the Muslim community. The fact that I wasn't a Muslim baffled them, but they kept me on because of that kudos. Mostly, it was a job - but I was also doing it for the children. They would give me material you would never see on television - horrific stuff from Iraq in 1991, Afghanistan and the Middle East - and there I was, editing terrible pictures of what the Americans and Israelis had done to children. I have nine children myself, one of them victim of a tragedy - although I would later become an opponentof the war in Iraq, I was doing it for them, for the children.

What they were doing was creating an atmosphere in Beeston conducive to the bombers. If these pictures can make me cry, what effect are they going to have on some impressionable Muslim youth? This was religious racism. I am not at all convinced about any link to al-Qaida proper; I think this was home grown.

I was alarmed and disgusted by what I heard, but kept my views to myself, and they were friendly towards me. They needed my skills and I was perceived to be anti-Government. Some years before, I had set up a website and got some press coverage during the government's plans to criminalise DOS attacks on internet services. They liked that, they saw me as some kind of internet anarchist.

I spent a lot of time repairing their PCs, and clearing viruses they had picked up from Jihad websites, put there, I think, by the Americans. When the Jihad sites were closed down, they were often replaced by pornographic sites, again - I think - by the Americans. At one point, the police took McDaid's Laptop computer and stripped it down - I had to repair it. Naveed also had his home computer taken by the police, and I helped him build a new one.

From July 2003, a young colleague and I ran a computer and internet security course at Iqra. They wanted to secure their network from outside access. They wanted their emails encrypted. They had a computer upstairs that was offline, with a removable hard drive, and used a Linux server - an advanced server system which is more stable and a lot more secure. It had been paid for by an institution called the Hamara Healthy Living Centre, which had connections to mainstream Muslim community leaders. They provided it, and we supported it. We also set up a firewall on the main server which would make access from the outside harder. They also asked my young colleague to tell them how to hack - he refused. They also wanted me to access the videos of the beheadings of hostages in Iraq - I do actually have a sneaky way of getting to them, but said the government was blocking those sites, and that would be impossible.

I became aware of Sidique Khan, the man the newspapers and authorities call the bombers' 'ringleader'. To be honest, he wasn't the one who stood out. I bumped into him, and he was much like the others - 'Allah Akbar' and all that. But he wasn't the ranting type; what he seemed to want was kudos within the group, and among people on the street outside. Khan's way was to be a 'cool dude'; it was all about kudos in the Muslim community. Khan was well known at the gym round the corner, affiliated to the Leeds Community School and Iqra - known as the 'al-Qaida gym'. So far as I could see, Khan was the one who had to be 're-converted' or 'reverted' - as they say - back to Islam first.

I remember a conversation I had with another of the bombers, Shezhad Tanweer, in eary 2003. I thought I might have been seriously ill at the time, and he said he would pray for me. He couldn't have been nicer. What disturbed and disturbs me is: what happened to get them from that to what they then did? I think the answer lies in what I'm calling the "atmosphere" - the bedrock. I call it 'Ummaism', corrupting the youth; making them disillusioned with their families; determined to show that Western civilisation was a lie, that your parents are not living the Koran, that you are a Muslim first and supporting your brothers in arms is what it means to be a Muslim. A lot of young Muslims were being re-converted - or 'reverted' as they say - to this distortion of a beautiful religion. The attitude was: if you insult my religion, you will die.

You know how you have those moments of revelation? Something happened that was last straw. Even then, it never occured to me that there would be a bomb in Britain. But, in October 2003, I walked into the police station in Holbeck and said I have something for the Anti-Terrorist Squad. The officer told me to "send it in" to West Yorkshire police headquarters. I sent, by normal mail, a collection of the discs I had made and a covering letter, with my telephone number, to the West Yorkshire police. I added a list of names, including Khan and Tanweer, plus the names of people from whom they were receiving emails. Some of those names were quite surprising, because they included people regarded as mainstream Muslim community leaders. I heard nothing back from the police. Not a word. I only wish I had had some access to MI5 - I probably could have got them in there, before the bombs went off.

Khan became more prominent after that autumn of 2003, when the Hamara Youth Access Point (YAP) was opened, at 73 Lodge Lane - another front for the Leeds Community School and Iqra. They moved the Linux server from Iqra to the Hamara YAP. Khan used to go there without them, with some of the youths he was 'working' with - there were plenty of stories about him working and working out in there.

Anyway, from January 2004, I signed a contract to maintain and support the PCs at Hamara YAP. The following month, I finished the Iqra website and began work on Hamara's - it was a good website. During June that year, there was an open day for Muslim male youths, with anti-Western presentations, some of which I had worked on. I had even worked with Khan himself, a leaflet for the football team they had. I remember him having quite a flair for design. There was nothing special - it was just a job done. I used to play football with them quite regularly, Naveed, Khan and the others, though not McDaid. I scored seven goals !

On reflection, I don't know which way round it was. Whether the people at Iqra were putting Khan up to it, or whether Khan was using them. The path of least resistance is to say that the people at Iqra were creating the atmosphere in which Khan worked. Khan was taking advantage of the atmosphere they were creating, but what I don't know is to what extent the others were aware of what he was doing. I see it as series of pyramids: at the top, the official Muslim community leaders; below that, the pyramid I was working for at Iqra and Hamara YAP, with Khan as a hinge between this and a third tier of pyramids: one of which was the footsoldiers, the bombers.

But Khan was a hinge to another third-tier pyramid: the Mullah Crew. The Mullah Crew was an Asian street gang, ostensibly for self-defence against racist attacks, only I don't remember any racist attacks by whites in Beeston. Khan was playing the Mullah Crew, and the training of this crew was the other reason - apart from supposedly preparing for Afhanistan or Iraq - they were forever working out at the 'al-Qaida gym', and at various classes run by the Hamara YAP. Then, in April 2004, the Mullah Crew killed a black youth, Tyrone Clarke, who they said had insulted Islam. Tanweer was among those questioned by the police, but not one of the four members of the crew later convicted.

On my very first day, they had asked me if I believed in God. I had said 'No'. But they never stopped trying to convert me, especially McDaid, the convert himself. Sometimes, I felt that I may have come close, but I never made the leap - to my great relief, which sometimes leaves me wondering what would have happened if I had. By the end, I was even living in a house belonging to Taf - he said: "it's yours; no deposit, just pay the rent" - and sometimes not even that: I would do a bit of decoration in lieu.

But in July 2004, I left Beeston, to get away from it all. I was sick and tired of the religious racism. I was sick of being bombarded. I had done what I had done out of a sense of community, but felt I was being dragged into a cesspool in which I could drown. I wanted to get my wife and family away, and did: to the Harehills area. But I failed. I ran into McDaid. I was contacted again by Taf; he wanted me to teach a group at Iqra how to use web-based programmes - I refused. He asked me again, this time to teach a group how to produce secure web pages - I refused. Even in Harehills, I couldn't get away from the very religious dogma I'd worked on myself.

By July 7th 2005, I had moved to Keighley, still trying to get away from it all. I was with some Muslim friends that morning, watching the news from London. I said it as a joke: "they're probably from Beeston". A few days later, I realised how un-funny that was. When I heard where the bombers were from, I felt physically sick. It was the last piece in the jigsaw. Everything fell into place. I spent five hours trying to get hold of the Anti Terrorist Squad; this time they did come to meet me, at the Radisson SAS hotel. They were nice guys, and we talked. But they knew little about Islam and nothing about computers. All they wanted ot know about was Khan and Tanweer. My wife called them Dangermouse and Penfold. Thanks very much, they said, we'll get back to you. And they did: after the failed explosions on 21st July, they came back up and, at 2am, showed me the photographs of the non-bombers. I said I couldn't help.

The authorities, over all this, remind me of something I remember Eric Cantona saying: "When the seagulls follow the trawler, it's because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea".

Martin Gilbertson (as spoken to Ed Vulliamy)

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