Whenever anything of a high-profile criminal nature occurs in the United Kingdom, the public, press, and police immediately look to Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington for solutions. Whether it be alleged British collusion in sectarian killings in Northern Ireland, terrorist actions further afield, or who now caused the deadly explosions in London, the former Deputy Constable of Cambridgeshire, who conducted three inquiries into the dirtiest part of Ulster's dirty war, is the man everyone expects definitive answers from. As the Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police until last January, it was hardly surprising that before the dust and smoke had really settled from the underground and bus bombings in Central London on July 7th that he was immediately queried about the culprits.
And Stevens did not disappoint, blaming it upon domestic Muslims in the hundreds who had been trained by the thousands by Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit acts of terrorism in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. "I'm afraid there are a sufficient number of people in this country," he stated on a television news program over the weekend, "willing to be Islamic terrorists that (others) don't have to be drafted in from abroad." In explaining that the terrorists were likely to be "British born and bred", Steven blamed the culprits he thought to be behind the Madrid train bombings last year in March - Syrian-born Mustafa Nasan, and Moroccan-born Mohammed Guerbouzi - for their existence. "Nasa(n)," David Ward added in Monday's Guardian, "now believed to be in Iraq, set up a sleeper cell of terrorists in Britain."
What Stevens claimed was hardly surprising, though, as he was just repeating what he had written back in March for the News of the World to help secure passage of a stronger Terrorism Act - what Prime Minister Blair had given him a peerage for to help promote passage of in the Lords. In explaining rubber-stamping a massive building contract to make Scotland Yard safer, Stevens wrote that there were at least 200 bin Laden-trained terrorists who "...would commit devastating terror acts against us if they could." Before leaving the Metropolitan Police, he said that he had seen reports which "...made my hair stand on end."
Stevens was particularly upset by the release of the detainees at Belmarsh Detention Centre, calling what liberals demanded, and the Law Lords had agreed to sheer "madness", though he did agree to a judge, rather than the Home Secretary, being given the power to detain a suspected terrorist in tighening up counterterrorist measures, and a "sunset clause" in the bill to require its reconsideration in six months time. People, he explained,"...haven't understood the brutal reality of the world we live in and the true horror of the terrorism we have."
Of course, Stevens' critics - like Crispin Black, the former intelligence briefer of the PM, and the Joint Intelligence Committee - were quick to dispute his claims, especially the number of home-grown terrorists for fear that they might trigger a wave of violence against Muslins, what has already surfaced with the murder of Pakistani visitor Kamal Raza Butt in Nottingham, a wave of hate mail against
Muslims, and firebombings of mosques throughout the kingdom. "That would simply play into the hands of the murderers," Sir Iqbal Sacranie, head of the Muslim Council of Britain, explained.
So why if Britain was creating so many British-bred ticking-bombs, to use Mossad lingo when discussing such matters, was Stevens' warning not taken more seriously? Why were not those ticking most loudly not sent to Belmarsh, or least subjected to the most intense surveillance in order to make sure that they didn't place bombs in public transport? The answer seems that 'Big John' cried "wolf" too loudly, too many times for the kingdom's counterterrorist agents, especially those at Scotland Yard and in the Police Service of Northern Ireland, to give his claims their undivided attention. Then Stevens may rarely get his man, as the Canadian Mounties say, but he always gets his way.
The Met's leader started going wrong when Britons began traveling to the Middle East to carry out suicide bombings to help the Palestinian cause. Stevens was particularly intrigued by two attacks against the Israelis, especially the suicide bombings by Asif Hanif and Omar Khan Sharif in Tel Aviv's Mike's Bar in 2003. Stevens reacted by wanting Scotland Yard to work with MI5 and GCHQ in entrapping some Muslims in false bomb plot which would be exposed before anything happened, and would alert the country, especially Muslim leaders and mosques, to the potential threat. Stevens was convinced that Al-Qaeda was completely overhauling its modus operandi, and some prophylactic act must happen to prevent it.
It all started when Scotland Yard's S0 19 Anti-Terrorist Squad in January 2003, with the help of MI5 and Manchester's police, tried to make out that a crazy asylum seeker Kamel Bourgoss from Algeria was actually running a ricin plot, intending to wreck havoc upon the kingdom. Of course, the whole idea was absurb because ricin, unlike anthrax, has to be ingested to become deadly. Still, thanks to tip offs by France's DST, the British authorities made a raid upon an alleged London ricin factory, and fanned out across the country to catch the people who were supposed to spread it, making raids in Edinburgh and Bournemouth before the fateful one in Manchester occurred. In all, 200 suspects were detained, but all that resulted was the murder of Special Branch officer Stephen Oake when the Algerian turned out to be a simple psychopath rather than a WMD master plotter.
While Stevens, the Anti-Terrorist Squad, and the Security Service Director General Eliza Manningham-Buller - along with their boss Home Secretary David Blunkett - should have had to answer many serious questions about this supreme cock-up, Prime Minister Tony Blair brushed everything under the carpet
with this typical rhetorical flourish: "It is a reminder that Britain is not immune to international terrorism.
This incident has major implications for our wider war against terror."
Given this clean bill of health, then things moved into high gear in November 2003 when Canadian Mohammad Monim Khawaja was persuaded to come to Britain, buy a big load of fertilizer which could be made into bombs, and store it in a storage bin near Heathrow. Then the security forces tried to connect a group of Muslim youths, most of them living in Crawley, running an IT store in the town, and having visited Pakistan, with the bomb plot. The key link was MI5 mole Abu Qatada, the fiery cleric, and Al-Qaeda's alleged European ambassador, who, it was hoped, would manipulate, while being held in detention, the youths into doing and saying things - 'chatter' that GCHQ would completely record - which would implicate them in criminal activites.
Stevens' plot, though, was completely upstaged by Al-Qaeda's bombings of the four commuter trains in Madrid on March 11, 2004. While GCHQ was listening for the 'chatter' between Abu Qatada and the Crawley youths, and was discounting any threats to Aznar's government, Syrian-born Edin Barakat Yarkas aka Abu Dahdah, while under similar detention, was plotting with similar youths in Spain the deadly attacks. When this happened, all British security forces could do is try to flush the English youths to flee to the country to Pakistan in the hope of bolstering their most feeble case - MI5 agent 'Gould' telling Jawad Akbar, Omar Khyam, Anthony Garcia and others that they faced immediate arrest on terrorist charges. They stayed, and the cases against them fell apart except for the most minor infractions. All the Khawaja family got for its trouble was a completely torn apart home.
The Madrid bombing did, however, get Stevens and his people thinking seriously about domestic suicide bombers attacking British targets, the only trouble was that they thought that the most likely culprits would be renegade elements within the IRA, especially because of their apparently incredible robbery of the Northern Bank in Ulster last December, though there have been no arrests, much less any
convictions of the crime. Scotland Yard believed that Shankill Road bomber Sean Kelly was behind the heist, and was possibly involved in some kind of Madrid bombing incident on the mainland. To prevent any such incident from happening, PSNI Commissioner Hugh Orde, a long-time subordinate of Stevens's, recommended successfully to Secretary of State Peter Hain that his prison release under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) be revoked because he was resuming terrorist activities.
It was Kelly who had completely turned around Stevens when he was investigating possible British collusion in sectarian killings 15 years ago in Northern Ireland. When the nasty work of the British Army's Force Research Unit finally surfaced - resulting in the needless murder of about 29 persons
innocent of terrorist connections on the basis of Army files on them or to suit the needs of other operations - Stevens was assigned to get to the bottom of the mess that Ulster Defence Association
mole Brian Nelson had ochestrated, and loyalist and FRU assassins had carried out. A new inquiry was wanted because the previous investigation of similar actions - the Stalker one - had been frustrated by the ongoing needs of covert operations.
The victims now concerned people like alleged RUC Special Branch mole Charles McIlmurray in April 1987; bread delivery man Dermot Hackett of Drumquin, County Tyrone a month later; retired taxi driver Francisco Notarantonio the following October; mourners Kevin Brady, John Murray, and Thomas McErlean at the funeral of volunteer Mairéad Farrell, killed in the cull at Gibraltar on March 6, 1988; Ken Stronge the following July; Belfast solicitor Patrick Finucane on February 12, 1989; John Joseph Davey of Gulladuff, Magherafelt, two days later; Loughlin Maginn on August 25, 1989; Patrick McKenna of Ardoyne, Belfast a week later; and Ulster Volunteer Force histman Brian Robinson a few minutes later.
Hardly had the Stevens team started working than Nelson was persuaded to flee to England to avoid arrest, and a fire destroyed much of the evidence it had collected during the previous four months, leaving the former FRU mole to plead guilty to five charges of conspiracy to murder, and the team to settle for jailing much of the old UDA/UFF leadership. "These charges," Peter Taylor explained in The Brits: The War Against the IRA, "reflected only a fraction of Nelson's activities." (p. 294) Little wonder that Stevens then concluded that British collusion in sectarian murders was "neither widespread nor institutionalized."
In clearing out the deadwood of the loyalist paramilitaries, Stevens cleared the way for Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair's paramilitaries to carry the loyalist fight into the Republican heartland of West Belfast - the Falls Road and the Ballymurphy and Divis estates. In the next two years, his group killed another 20 people. In retaliation, the Republicans tried to assassinated him on several occasions, the most publicized one being when Sean Kelly and Thomas Begley tried to blow him up in an office over a fishmongers store on the Shankill Road on October 23, 1993. The bomb, exploding prematurely, made a suicide bomber out of Begley, and killed nine bystanders, but Adair escaped again. Kelly received nine life sentences for his trouble, but was released under the terms of the GFA. Adair suffered similarly for taking vengeance on seven customers at a pub at Greysteel a week later, and then bragging openly about it.
While this seemingly stopped the rot about the dirty war in Northern Ireland - Stevens' primary objective - he was still obliged to engage in more damage control with new investigations in 1993 and 1999 into what the Force Research Unit really was, and what it did. Every time, he seemed to have stemmed the flow of alarming information - like a conviction of someone for Finucane's murder - something new would happen - like the assassination of another lawyer, Rosemary Nelson; the coming forward of former FRU agents like Martin Ingram and Peter Keeley as whistleblowers to tell tales on their former employer; and the continuing demand by Sinn Fein for impartial inquiries into all the murders in which British collusion was suspected.
The breaking point of this whole process occurred when former Canadian Judge Peter Cory - under the terms of the Weston Park agreement - called for inquiries into a few of the most controversial killings, especially those of Finucane and Nelson.
Stevens thought that his parting call from Scotland Yard about Kelly would solve all his problems with terrorism, but British-born Muslims, increasingly agitated by security forces' inventions, have only compounded his problems and those of his fellow subjects. His self-fulfilling prophecies have come home to haunt Britain.