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Jun 17, 2004 | 16:37 GMT

4 mins read

Arrests Show Countries, Agencies Cooperating

FBI officials announced June 16 they had arrested a suspected Islamist militant in April and succeeded in penetrating a militant cell operating in the United States, Canada and Britain. Mohammed Junaid Babar has not been formally charged, and was reportedly taken into custody in April as a material witness. Authorities believe he is connected to a plot to carry out militant attacks in London. The arrest of Babar — coupled with raids and arrests in Canada and Britain within a few weeks of each other in late March and early April — is evidence of the improved capabilities of law enforcement and counterterrorism agents since Sept. 11. Babar originally was arrested in New York City, allegedly in connection with a group of suspected militants in London. At the time of his arrest, he was taking classes to become a New York City cabdriver. An Ottawa raid in late March netted Mohammad Momin Khawaja — a Canadian citizen charged with "knowingly participating in or contributing to, directly or indirectly, an activity of a terrorist group, for the purpose of enhancing the ability of a terrorist group to facilitate or carry out a terrorist activity" and "knowingly facilitating a terrorist activity." In a third raid, British authorities arrested a group of suspected Islamist militants in April with 1,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which can be used in constructing explosive devices. The facts seem to point to a fairly sophisticated Islamist militant cell operating on two continents and in three nations. The arrests were coordinated and carried out within weeks of each other — precise dates have not been released — and highlight the cooperation taking place between agencies and countries in seeking out militant activity. In what could have been a stroke of luck, Babar was first identified making anti-American threats on a Canadian television show in the aftermath of Sept. 11. Once Canadian authorities relayed that information to the United States, Babar was placed on a terrorism watch list. After he was found, authorities were able to survey and monitor his activities and communications, and it is possible this information led to the March and April raids in Ottawa and London. Agents were likely able to glean information that not only appears to have led to a series of international arrests, but also could be instrumental in thwarting Islamist militants within the United States. FBI officials said Babar has been more than willing to cooperate with authorities. Babar reportedly:
  • Revealed to police that he was an active part of a cell planning to carry out a string of bombings in pubs, restaurants and train stations in London.
  • Told officials that al Qaeda was planning more attacks in the United States, a revelation that helped prompt official warnings of the threat of militant activity in the United States during the summer.
  • Revealed that al Qaeda was studying the feasibility and utility of smuggling militants into the United States across the Mexican border. The FBI said Babar also was a known supporter of a London-based Islamist radical group known as al-Muhajiroun. STRATFOR has assessed the organization as being more a mouthpiece for Islamist rhetoric than a militant group. There is reason to believe al-Muhajiroun has connections to other militant organizations that could lead to intelligence that might help prevent future attacks. No connection has been established between al-Muhajiroun and those arrested in Britain in April. It is not unusual for militant groups to carry out operations far from their havens, and it is entirely feasible that Babar and Khawaja — arrested in New York and Ottawa — were participating in planning attacks in London. The fact that high-profile arrests of suspected terrorist groups have been made in Canada, the United States, England, Italy, Belgium and Spain suggests a level of unprecedented law enforcement cooperation. Al Qaeda is a global entity; law enforcement agencies have been forced to figure out how to respond in kind. The raids and arrests in Europe and the United States show that intelligence and law enforcement agencies are taking substantive steps to create this global capability.
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