One of the terrorist suspects arrested in Britain this week is the man named in the report by the Sept. 11 commission as the operative al-Qaida sent to the United States to review possible economic and “Jewish” targets a few months before the terrorist attacks in 2001, NBC News reported Thursday.
Two years earlier, the man, Abu Eisa al-Hindi, a British citizen of Indian descent, wrote a terrorist training manual describing how to kill enemy soldiers using remote-controlled explosives, grenades and automatic weapons, according to a copy of the manual obtained by NBC News.
Referring to al-Hindi by his nom de guerre, Issa al-Britani, the independent commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks quotes a CIA interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, al-Qaida’s operations chief, as saying he sent al-Hindi “to the United States to case potential economic and ‘Jewish’ targets in New York City” in early 2001. Mohammed, who was captured in March 2003, said the trip was made as he considered “other possibilities for terrorist attacks” beyond those on New York and Washington that were carried out on Sept. 11.
A senior Bush administration official told NBC News that al-Hindi was “not cooperating at all” with U.S. or British interrogators in London.
Personally cased U.S. buildings
U.S. intelligence views al-Hindi as a top al-Qaida operative — “not Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, but someone at the next level,” a U.S. intelligence official told NBC News — because of his trusted role as an aide to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Intelligence officials said they believed al-Hindi was responsible for all al-Qaida operational communications in Britain and for some in the United States.
U.S. intelligence learned that al-Hindi was in Britain from one of two laptop computers that were seized in Pakistan last month, officials told NBC News. U.S. officials tipped British authorities to his presence there, and he was arrested along with 12 other men in a nationwide raid Tuesday.
One of the computers also contained surveillance reports detailing security, construction and other features of five buildings in New York, New Jersey and Washington. Officials said Thursday that al-Hindi was believed to have written those surveillance reports himself.
The United States announced a terrorism alert for the five buildings — the Citigroup Center Building and the New York Stock Exchange, the Prudential Building in Newark, N.J., and the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington — last week.
Raised in Britain
A counterterrorism official said on condition of anonymity earlier this week that much of the documentary evidence for the alerts, including surveillance reports, was in fluent English, indicating the author spent significant time in the West. Al-Hindi was raised in Britain, according to a biography that was included in the jihad training manual he wrote.
NBC News obtained the manual, which was published in England in 1999, and independently confirmed that the author is the same al-Hindi who was arrested this week.
The manual, titled “The Army of Madinah in Kashmir,” says al-Hindi was born into a Hindu household but “reverted to Islam at the age of 20.” He fought in the disputed Kashmir region in the mid-1990s before returning to Britain. After writing the manual, it says, he went to Afghanistan for a year and became a “trainer in one of the many Mujahideen training camps.”
The book describes how to be a “jihadist” and kill Indian soldiers in Kashmir using remote-controlled explosives, grenades and automatic weapons. Included is a section on “modern-day war stratagems,” including “germ warfare” and “chemical warfare.”
Al-Hindi cautions against being taken prisoner by the enemy, writing: “A live captured Mujahid is like a gold mine” to enemy interrogators.
Heathrow another likely target
In addition to maps, photographs and other details of the possible U.S. targets, intelligence officials in Pakistan told The Associated Press that they also found images of London’s Heathrow airport and other sites on the computers, which belonged to two al-Qaida fugitives who were arrested in the country last month.
Pakistani officials identified them as Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani — a Tanzanian indicted for his role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa — and a Pakistani computer expert named Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan. Al-Hindi, whose identity was first reported Wednesday by NBC News, was allegedly involved in the plot against Heathrow.
Authorities were also looking into whether al-Hindi was connected to the radical London cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, whose extradition the United States is seeking on charges that he tried to establish a terrorist training camp in Oregon.
Police gained court approval to continue questioning al-Hindi and the other detainees until Sunday afternoon. Two of the detainees have been released without charges, the second one Friday afternoon.
Police also said Thursday that they had arrested a British man, Babar Ahmad, who was wanted on terrorism charges in a warrant issued by a federal prosecutor in Connecticut, and that anti-terrorism officials were searching three “residential premises” and a business in southwest London on behalf of U.S. authorities.
Ahmad, 30, is accused in the United States of trying to raise funds for “acts of terrorism in Chechnya and Afghanistan” from 1998 through 2003, according to the U.S. extradition warrant. His detention was not believed to be linked to the arrest of the 12 on Tuesday.
Earlier, Peter Hain, leader of the House of Commons, told British Broadcasting Corp. radio that those detained Tuesday “are important arrests,” but he declined to comment on reports of a plot against Heathrow.
“If we had evidence of a specific threat, then we would tell everybody,” he said. “Now, the situation is not that at this stage.”
A spokeswoman for Heathrow said airport authorities had not heard anything from the government “to suggest the threat level to Heathrow has increased in recent weeks.”