He got away

Posted: Mar 06, 2002 12:00 AM
In November, Spain indicted eight men connected to the Al Qaeda terrorist network. Judge Baltasar Garzon said the men were "directly linked to the preparation and the carrying out of the attacks perpetrated by suicide pilots on Sept. 11." The indictment described one Abu Qutadah of London as "the supreme leader at the European level of the mujahedeen." Abu Qutadah, a Jordanian who won asylum in the United Kingdom in 1993, denied the charges. "I am just a cleric for Islam," he told The Associated Press. Others disagree. In 2000, a Jordanian military court convicted Abu Qutadah in absentia for conspiracy to attack U.S. and Israeli targets, and sentenced him to 15 years behind bars. The court acquitted him of being linked to Al Qaeda but, as AP reports, Jordanian officials believe the ties exist. (The Brits refused to extradite.) Also, the brother of Zacarias Moussaoui -- allegedly the would-be 20th hijacker -- said that Moussaoui was radicalized at Abu Qutadah's Finsbury Park mosque. It appears that alleged shoe-bomber Richard Reid also was radicalized there. When British authorities raided Abu Qutadah's London home in February 2001 because of his suspected links with Osama bin Laden, they found $256,000 in cash -- even though Qutadah was living on the dole. Police later released him, although the government suspended his welfare benefits. A judge later upheld the welfare suspension but ruled the government had to provide some sustenance lest the family starve or become homeless. Bad News: Abu Qutadah took a powder in late December, just as a new law that gave British authorities the power to detain suspected foreign terrorists without charge or trial took effect. "He basically got in a van and vanished," Jonathan Stevenson, research fellow for the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told AP. "(British authorities) haven't been able to find him, and they have been actively trying to find him. I think it's pretty clear he's gone underground." How could America's most valued anti-terror ally let Abu Qutadah disappear? The British consulate could not comment, but it appears that good intentions aided Abu Qutadah's bad intentions. Oxford historian Andrew Apostolou noted that British authorities aren't anxious to repeat past mistakes. "We've got a history in Britain of putting innocent people in jail," he said. Apostolou added that the U.S. Justice Department fumbled when it pushed for the U.K. to extradite Algerian pilot Lofti Raissi -- then failed to produce evidence that he was indeed the "lead trainer" of some Sept. 11 hijackers. The Brits are understandably sensitive about not offending the country's largely immigrant Muslim population. But sensitivity shouldn't stop authorities from keeping tabs on known associates of terrorists. As Stevenson wrote: "They should have at least had the guy under sufficiently heavy (and/or competent) surveillance that he could not disappear. British threat perceptions, though changing, may still be lower than they ought to be." If Brits don't see the threat, they should look harder. A Finsbury Park imam was filmed telling young men to attack nonbelievers and "crush his head in your arms, wring his throat, rip his intestines out." Outside the mosque, The Washington Post reports, worshipers can buy a $14 tape that shows jihadis how "to choke, blind or slit the throat." National Public Radio taped mosque worshipers shouting "Death to Blair." Now Abu Qutadah is missing. He could be anywhere.