A jury's acquittal of the only three men ever charged in connection with the 7/7 London suicide bombings Tuesday, April 28 brought British anti-terror investigation to the end of the road – empty-handed.
None of the three were prime movers; they were never traced. The Kingston Crown Court cleared them of the main charge of acting as scouts for the bombers, while two were convicted of the mild charge of “conspiring to attend a terrorism training camp in Pakistan.”
Waheed Ali, 25, Sadeer Saleem, 28, and Mohammed Shakil, 32, all from the northern English town of Leeds, admitted to knowing the bombers but denied helping them. At their first trial in 2008, the jury failed to reach verdicts against them.
British anti-terror intelligence is left without a single lead to the planners who masterminded the suicide attacks in London's Underground and bus system four years ago, killing 52 people and injuring more than 500. The bombers themselves perished in the attack.
This was not the first terror trial that come to nothing.
Eight men were arrested in August 2006 charged with intent to use liquid chemicals disguised as drinks to blow up 17 commercial aircraft over the Atlantic in midflight from Britain to the USA.
Michael Chertoff, then President George W. Bush's homeland security secretary, said the plan was “suggestive of an Al Qaeda plot,” was “well advanced” and “really quite close to the execution phase.”
New airline security regulations were introduced to ban all liquids from cabin luggage.
Two years and £10 million later, a five-month trial petered out on September 8, when a jury found no proof that such a plot ever existed and acquitted all eight defendants.
Vanished: Dead or Alive
Just by chance, the latest round of acquittals came the day after American and Pakistani security sources admitted again that they have no clue to the whereabouts of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, or even whether he is alive or dead.
That is the question, said Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, because “there is no trace of him.”
Zardari said his advisers find some substance to the rumors of bin Laden’s failing health: “They obviously feel that he does not exist any more, but that’s not confirmed.”
US State Department spokesman Robert Wood likewise confirmed that US has no information to show if Osama bin Laden is “… frankly dead or alive.” But Washington is working on the assumption that he is alive and keeps on looking for him.
In respect of the current debate in the United States over the harsh CIA questioning methods used against al Qaeda suspects, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counter-terrorism and al-Qaeda experts confirm that US intelligence services have since 2003 been groping in the dark about al Qaeda's central command core, its makeup, the identities of its top operatives and its location.
The last scrap of information about bin Laden is around seven years old.
The jihad organization has been able to carry on operating in one arena after another without leaving a trace. Since the Sept. 11 attacks on America, al Qaeda has kept going and kept its secrets, in the face of all the military and intelligence resources the West has thrown into the chase.
New jihadi influx to Iraq?
Our al Qaeda experts stress that when the jihadi organization's planners consider an attack, they first look at their intelligence chiefs' judgment about the chances of its masterminds and bombers' transporters getting away clean without leaving a trace.
Cutting away any leads is an overriding consideration.
This maxim applied to 9/11, the two terror offensives in Istanbul in 2003, the train attacks in Madrid in March 2004 and the Mumbai terror strike in 2008.
These attacks claimed the lives of more than 3,500 men, women and children. Yet since 2001, no Western counter-terror agency has come up with a lead to a single master planner.
Al Qaeda is governed by a simple rule of thumb: If their tracks are not guaranteed complete cover, the attack is called off. The hidden links from the suicide killers to their controllers and up the organization's hierarchy to the top, account for the total mystery of bin Laden's whereabouts.
The same rule seals his hideouts and movements from detection.
In Iraq, too, after fighting al Qaeda for more than five years, US intelligence has never cracked the mechanism and pathways which make it possible for the jihad organization to transport fighters from afar, insert them into the country and get them out.
The Tunisian “surge”
The US forces managed to track down and kill al Qaeda's Iraq commander, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in 2005, but that was an exception made possible because this master terrorist was not bred in al Qaeda and was never integrated into its hierarchy.
In the past two weeks, US forces discovered that al-Qaeda had transferred dozens of Tunisian suicide-fighters from the Sahara regions to Iraq against the June withdrawal of American troops from its main cities.
U.S. intelligence was belatedly alerted to the al Qaeda “surge” by the sudden rise in large-scale suicide attacks in Baghdad and other towns. Wednesday, April 29, three car bombs killed 41 Iraqis in Baghdad's poverty-stricken Shiite district of Sadr City. A weekly earlier, 150 people died in 48 hours of bloody blasts in several parts of Iraq, including a large group of Iranian pilgrims visiting Shiite shrines.
By chance, a would-be-shahid was captured alive. He confessed to being a Tunisian but, under interrogation, shed no light on al Qaeda's latest plans, proving that the organization's cut-out method between the individual fighter and the group was as effective as ever.