MI5 warned today that disclosing why it failed to investigate the ringleader of the July 7 attacks could give al Qaida plotters an “invaluable weapon”.
Bereaved families want to use the forthcoming inquests into the deaths of those killed to ask security service officials why they did not follow up Mohammad Sidique Khan after he was witnessed meeting known terror suspects. But MI5 told a hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London to decide the scope of the inquests that allowing this would aid those planning the next atrocity.
Neil Garnham QC, counsel for the Home Secretary and MI5, described the 2005 London bombings as “the deliberate action of evil and callous killers”. But he went on: “The appalling truth is, however, that there are people out there who applauded and celebrated this appalling act. “And there are others who would like to repeat it, to emulate the action of these murderers and see to it that there are other innocent people bereaved like the families here.
“Not all such people are stupid. Some of them are both evil and intelligent.”
Mr Garnham told the hearing that allowing the bereaved families’ lawyers to question at the inquests why Khan was not fully investigated might provide al Qaida plotters with an “invaluable weapon”. “Can there be much doubt that potentially the security service’s answer to that question would be of the greatest interest to an intelligent planner of the next terrorist outrage?” he said.
In early 2004 Khan was watched, photographed and followed by counter-terrorism officers during an inquiry into a group of extremists planning a fertiliser bomb attack. But MI5 concluded that diverting resources to place him under detailed investigation or surveillance was not justified. Khan, 30, and three other suicide bombers killed 52 innocent people when they detonated explosives on three Tube trains and a bus in central London on July 7 2005.
It was disclosed yesterday that West Yorkshire Police have only just discovered that they held Khan’s fingerprints on file for 19 years before the attacks. The coroner, Lady Justice Hallett, must decide what form the inquests – expected to start at the Royal Courts of Justice in October – should take. Lawyers for many of the bereaved families say they should include a broad-ranging investigation of whether the authorities could have prevented the bombings.
But MI5 argues this is both unnecessary and impossible because doing so would require the disclosure of top secret intelligence files. Another key issue the coroner must rule on is whether the inquests into the deaths of the four suicide bombers should be combined with those of the victims. Relatives of those killed oppose having the hearings held together because of the distress this would cause them.
The coroner said she hoped to announce what form the inquests would take within two to three weeks.