Friday, March 24th, 2006
Ian Macleod, The Ottawa Citizen
Friday, March 24, 2006
Babar says he went to Pakistan, like the London Seven, to fight
LONDON – An Islamic extremist-turned-police informant began naming names minutes after taking the witness box at the London Seven terror trial yesterday. The testimony of Mohammed Judaid Babar, a 33-year-old New York City university dropout and convicted terrorist, capped an already dramatic day.
Morning rush-hour traffic in central London was halted to make way for a screaming police convoy that deposited Mr. Babar at the Old Bailey after retrieving him from the secret location where he is being hidden. Overhead, police and media helicopters trailed the speeding caravan to the courthouse, where it was met by a squad of intimidating London police officers wielding large black military assault rifles. Others guarded the entrances to Courtroom No. 8, where Mr. Babar, his brow locked in an anxious furrow, took the stand at 3:45 p.m.
He is here to save what he can of his own skin. After pleading guilty in 2004 of providing support to al-Qaeda, he is awaiting sentencing in a New York federal court. He is hoping to lighten his prison sentence, the London trial heard this week, in return for testifying here about his role in setting up an Afghan terrorist training camp and to helping plot an alleged bombing campaign in and around the British capital.
Seven young British men, charged with plotting to blow up pubs, clubs, trains and a giant shopping mall in Britain, stared intently at Mr. Babar from the courtroom’s heavily guarded prisoners’ box.
Momin Khawaja of Ottawa is named — but not charged — as a co-conspirator and will face trial in Ottawa next year. He is in an Ottawa jail cell and, like the others, denies all charges.
Bill Boutzouvis, the Ottawa Crown attorney handling the Khawaja case, sat at the back of the court yesterday, not far from a clutch of grim-faced Scotland Yard Special Branch counterterrorism officers and U.S. federal marshals.
The pulse in the room quickened as Crown prosecutor David Waters, cloaked in a black gown and traditional barrister’s wig, rose before Judge Sir Michael Astill and began questioning his star witness in the biggest terrorism trial in Britain since the IRA cases of the 1970s.
For 30 minutes, the bearded and broad-shouldered Mr. Babar recounted his childhood from the age of two in New York, how he dreamed of becoming a doctor. Instead, he ended up in his native Pakistan as an Islamic jihadist for the group al-Muhajiroon, supplying cash and military equipment to al-Qaeda and other Islamist fighters in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001 al-Qaeda attacks against the U.S. In a bizarre twist, his mother was working in one of the World Trade Center towers in Lower Manhattan when the jetliners struck that morning. She survived.
He became an Islamist warrior. “When 9/11 came, that’s when I decided it would be the best thing for me to do,” he told the court, speaking quickly in a nervous voice.
“I knew that Americans would be invading Afghanistan and that this was the best time to go.”
What had begun a decade earlier as an innocent interest in Islamic political issues was now a seething rage over Western involvement in Muslim nations and culture.
He already knew Sheik Omar Bakri, the British-based leader of al-Muhajiroun, then banned in Britain and now disbanded. Soon after, he said, he made contact with Sheik Abu Hamza, the extremist cleric at the the North London Central Mosque, infamously known as the Finsbury Park mosque, a one-time suspected hotbed for terrorist recruiting.
Mr. Hamza was charged by British authorities last year with, among other things, inciting the killing of Jews and other non-Muslims. He was sentenced last month to seven years in prison for inciting racial hatred and soliciting murder.
Less than two weeks after the attacks on Lower Manhattan and Washington, Mr. Babar was on his way to Pakistan, via London. When he arrived in Pakistan, he said he met 15 to 20 other men, many from London and the bedroom community of Crawley. They also were there “to fight.”
Do you recall the names of those men? Mr. Waters asked.
“Ausmann,” better known as defendant Omar Khyam, 24.
“Abdul Waheed,” — defendant Waheed Mahmood, 33.
“Abdul Rehman,” — defendant Anthony Garcia, 27.
“Khalid,” — defendant Salahuddin Amin, 30.
“Tanweer, from London.” One of the four suicide bombers who killed themselves and 52 London subway and bus commuters last July 7 was Shehzad Tanweer, 22.
At 4:17 p.m. the judge adjourned court and sent the 12-member jury home for the night. They return this morning. Mr. Babar’s testimony is expected to last for a month.