Pakistani American Aiding London Probe
Monday, July 25, 2005
It is safe to assume that most people would not react to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in quite the same way as Mohammed Junaid Babar. After all, the longtime resident of Queens, N.Y., told a Canadian television network that his own mother had been one of the survivors -- barely escaping from the ninth floor of one of the towers before it collapsed.
Yet, Babar said in that same interview from Pakistan in the fall of 2001, his "loyalty is to the Muslims, not the Americans."
"I will kill every American that I see in Afghanistan, and while I am in Pakistan, if I see them in Pakistan, I will kill every American soldier I can in Pakistan," he said during the interview with ITN Five News.
Thus began the strange jihadist odyssey of Babar, 30, a naturalized U.S. citizen and Yankees fan who said he gave up a $70,000-a-year job as a computer programmer to join al Qaeda operatives in plotting attacks against U.S. soldiers and targets in Britain.
Now in U.S. custody after pleading guilty to terrorism charges last year, Babar has proved invaluable to U.S. and British investigators probing this month's attacks on the London transit system, numerous officials said. He has identified at least one of the suicide bombers, Mohammed Sidique Khan, through photographs and has provided other details that may be helpful in unraveling the plot, according to law enforcement and intelligence sources.
The revelation that Babar is linked to the July 7 London attacks, which killed at least 56 including the four suicide bombers, is only the latest connection to emerge between the grandson of Pakistani immigrants and al Qaeda.
In addition to his connection to the London bombers, Babar has admitted in court proceedings to supplying bomb-making materials to a Pakistani cell in the United Kingdom that had plotted to blow up restaurants, pubs and train stations there. (When the cell was broken up in 2004, British authorities discovered more than 1,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, the same material used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.) Furthermore, Babar said in federal court in Manhattan during a plea hearing last summer that he spent much of 2003 and early 2004 in the Waziristan province of Pakistan, supplying money and materials -- including night-vision goggles, sleeping bags and other items -- to "a high-ranking al Qaeda official" for use in the fight against U.S. and Northern Alliance forces across the border in Afghanistan. He also admitted to setting up a jihad training camp in the region, a court transcript shows.
Babar also is believed to have links to Issa al-Hindi, the operative involved in surveillance of financial buildings in the United States before the Sept. 11 attacks.
"This guy's connection to different cells and plots just seems to be expanding," said one U.S. law enforcement official, who declined to be identified because parts of the case are classified. "He is the fish that is getting bigger."
Although his arrest and prosecution last year in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York went largely unnoticed, U.S. counterterrorism and law enforcement officials say they have long recognized Babar's importance as a link to major al Qaeda players.
In an interview last fall, Frances Fragos Townsend, now the White House national security adviser, pointed to the Babar case as an example of a major prosecution. Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey also said in an interview during the same period that Babar's case provided a lesson on the importance of greater surveillance powers for the government, citing evidence that he checked e-mail at a library despite having access in his home.
Babar's attorney, Daniel Ollen of New York, did not return several telephone messages left at his office. Babar's mother also could not be located last week.
U.S. counterterrorism officials said Babar first hit their radar screen in late 2001, after the incendiary comments he made to ITN were broadcast. But it was not until April 2004, after Babar had returned to New York and was put under surveillance by the FBI, that he was arrested.
Babar has told authorities that he recognized Khan, one of the London bombers, as a person he met in Pakistan and that he accompanied him to a jihad camp in the area, sources said.
Although Babar could face as many as 70 years in prison, he is likely to receive a lesser sentence for cooperating with U.S. authorities, and a sentencing date has not been scheduled, officials said.
Staff writer Barton Gellman contributed to this report.