The recruitment of Muslim students at British universities to take part in terrorist attacks is at the heart of the alleged plot to blow up passenger jets, it is feared.
A dossier of extremist Islamic literature has been uncovered by The Sunday Telegraph on the campus of a north London university, one of whose students has suspected links to the alleged terrorist attack.
Waheed Zaman, 22, a bio-chemistry student and the president of the Islamic Society at London Metropolitan University, was one of 24 people arrested last week. Material found at two portable buildings used by the society includes documents advocating jihad and a pamphlet on how to deal with approaches from the security services.
Prof Anthony Glees, the director of Brunel University’s centre for intelligence and security studies, criticised university authorities for ignoring the threat to national security in their midst. “Institutions have not sought to address the problem: they have instead sought to undermine those who have raised the issue,” he told this newspaper.
Extremist Muslim groups had been detected at more than 20 institutions, both former polytechnics and long-established universities, over the past 15 years, Prof Glees said.
Cassette tapes produced by al-Muhajiroun, the disbanded militant organisation that praised the “Magnificent 19” who carried out the September 11 2001 attacks, were also discovered at the university’s portable buildings used as a prayer room and library.
Al-Muhajiroun was headed by Omar Bakri Mohammed, the radical London cleric forced into exile in Lebanon last year. The portable buildings are on land owned by the university, which also part-funds the Islamic Society.
According to security sources, “several” of the 23 people still in custody over the alleged plot last week are suspected of links to universities, appearing to confirm growing fears that campuses are providing Britain’s biggest security threat.
Intelligence analysts warned Britain in the aftermath of September 11 that British Muslims of student age were being drawn to the cause of fundamentalism. Many of these men, often from middle-class families, are believed to have infiltrated British universities to recruit terrorists.
It can also be revealed that five of those arrested last week are suspected, like two of the 7/7 London bombers last year, of attending training camps in Pakistan to learn the use of explosives. According to security sources in Pakistan, some of those arrested last week had also had recorded “martyrdom messages” to be used for al-Qaeda propaganda.
Anti-terrorist detectives were continuing last night to question those arrested in London, Birmingham and High Wycombe on Thursday. Those detained, aged 17 to 35, are suspected of involvement in an alleged plot to blow up as many as 10 transatlantic airliners bound for United States cities. They are being quizzed amid growing evidence linking the alleged plotters to terrorists in Pakistan.
The authorities there have announced the arrest of two Britons, one of whom they consider a “key” suspect. Rashid Rauf, 25, the brother of Tayib Rauf, 22, one of those held in Britain, is among seven people held in Karachi and Lahore.
Under questioning in Pakistan, Rauf is alleged to have admitted meeting Matiur Rehman, a Pakistani terrorist suspect. If confirmed, it is the strongest indication yet that al-Qaeda may have been involved in the plot, which would have killed more than the 3,000 victims who died in the September 11 attacks on the US.
Police in Britain are believed to have found chemicals and other equipment for bomb-making at the home of at least one of the men arrested last week. Thames Valley police said they had seized computer equipment during raids at three internet cafe’s.
Although the security services in Britain are convinced that they have arrested the “main players” in the airline plot, officials in the US say that at least five suspects are still being hunted.
The family of Zaman has denied that he is involved in terrorism. There is no evidence that he put the extremist literature in the university’s portable buildings.