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Ex-UK intel official says liquid explosive claims 'fiction'

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Lieutenant-Colonel (ret.) Nigel Wylde, a former senior British Army Intelligence Officer, suggested that the police and government story about the "terror plot" apprehended on 10th August was part of a "pattern of lies and deceit".

British and American government officials have described the operation, resulting in the arrest of 24 mostly British Muslim suspects, as a resounding success. Thirteen of the suspects have been charged and two released without charge. According to security sources, the terror suspects were planning to board up to ten civilian airliners and to detonate highly volatile liquid explosives on the planes in a spectacular terrorist operation.

The TATP (Triacetone Triperoxide), DADP (diacetone diperoxide) or the less sensitive HMTD (hexamethylene triperoxide diamine) liquid explosives were reportedly to be made on the planes by mixing sports drinks with a peroxide-based household gel, to be detonated using an MP3 player or mobile phone. But Lt. Col. Wylde, who was awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal for his command of the Belfast Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit in 1974, described this scenario as a "fiction". Creating liquid explosives is a "highly dangerous and sophisticated task" that requires not only significant chemical expertise, but appropriate equipment.

Terror Plot Scenario "Untenable"

"The idea that these people could sit in the plane toilet and simply mix together these normal household fluids to create a high explosive capable of blowing up the entire aircraft is untenable", said Lt. Col. Wylde, who was trained as an ammunition technical officer responsible for terrorist bomb disposal, at the Royal Army Ordnance Corps in Sandhurst. "So who came up with the idea that a bomb could be made on board? Not Al Qaeda for sure. It would not work. Bin Laden is interested in success not deterrence by failure." After working as a bomb defuser in Northern Ireland, Lt. Col. Wylde became a senior officer in British Army Intelligence in 1977. During the Cold War, he collected intelligence as part of an undercover East German "liaison unit", then went on to work in the Ministry of Defense to review its communications systems.

"This story has been blown out of all proportion. The liquids would need to be carefully distilled at freezing temperatures to extract the required chemicals, which are very difficult to obtain in the purities needed." Once extracted, the process of mixing the fluids produces significant amounts of heat and vile fumes. "The resulting liquid then needs some hours at room temperature for the white crystals that are the explosive to develop." The whole process, which can take between 12 and 36 hours, is "very dangerous, even in a lab, and can lead to premature detonation", said Lt. Col. Wylde.

If there was a conspiracy, he added, "it did not involve manufacturing the explosives in the loo" as this simply "could not have worked". The process would be quickly and easily detected. The fumes of the chemicals in the toilet "would be smelt by anybody in the area." They would also inevitably "cause the alarms in the toilet and in the air change system in the aircraft to be triggered. The pilot has the ability to dump all the air from an aircraft as a fire-fighting measure. Leaving people to use oxygen masks. All this means the planned attack would be detected long before the queues outside the loo had grown to enormous lengths."

Government Silent on Detonators

Even if it was possible for the explosive to have been made on the aircraft, a detonator, probably made from TATP, would be needed to set it off. "It is very dangerous and risky to the individual", he said. "As the quantity involved would be small this would injure the would-be suicide bomber but not endanger the aircraft, thus defeating the object of bringing down an aircraft."

Despite the vacuity of this scenario, it has been used to justify wide-ranging new security measures that threaten to permanently curtail civil liberties and to suspend sections of the Human Rights Act 1998. "Why were the public delicately informed of an alleged conspiracy which the authorities knew, or should have known, could not have worked?" asked Lt. Col. Wylde. "This is not a new problem", he said, noting that 'shoe-bomber' Richard Reid had attempted to use this type of explosive on a plane in December 2001. "If this threat is real, what has been done to develop explosive test kits capable of detecting peroxide based explosives?", said Lt. Col. Wylde. "These are the real issues about protecting the public that have not been publicised. Instead we are going to get demands for more internment without

Lt. Col. Wylde also raised questions about the criminal investigation into the 7th July terrorist attacks on London last year. He noted that police and government sources have maintained "total silence" about the detonation devices used in the bombs on the London Underground and bus at Tavistock Square. "Whatever the nature of the primary explosive materials, even if it was home-made TATP, the detonator that must be used to trigger an explosion is an extremely dangerous device to make, requiring a high level of expertise that cannot be simply self-taught or picked-up over the internet." The government's silence on the detonation device used in the attacks is "disturbing", as the creation of the devices requires the involvement of trained explosives experts. He speculated that such individuals would have to be either present inside the country, or outside, perhaps in Eastern Europe, where they would be active participants in an international supply-chain to UK operatives. "In either case, we are talking about something far more dangerous than home-grown radicals here."
Spy Slams Police Inaction against Terrorists

Such concerns are echoed by others familiar with British terrorism-related intelligence operations. Glen Jenvey, who is profiled in the bestselling book, The Terror Tracker, by terrorism investigator Neil Doyle, worked for several military attaches monitoring terrorist groups in London, and obtained crucial video and surveillance evidence used by British police to arrest radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, who was convicted earlier this year in February. "I've been closely monitoring the internet communications of extremist Muslim groups inside the UK both before and after 7/7, and they are intimately interconnected", said Jenvey, who is affiliated to the London-based terror watch group VIGIL. "We've identified a coordinated leadership of at least 20, and up to 60 people, extremist preachers with blatant international al-Qaeda terrorist connections". He noted that despite being known to, and monitored by, the authorities for breaking the law with impunity, particularly in their closed sermons, the police have failed to take appropriate action against them. "The police don't need to round up and detain thousands of British Muslims. If they only arrested, charged and prosecuted these 20 key terrorist leaders, they will have a struck a fatal blow against the epicentres of al-Qaeda extremism in the UK. But they're sitting on this."

Jenvey points out that Omar Bakri Mohammed, a colleague of Abu Hamza who heads the banned al-Muhajiroun, continues to communicate with UK-based extremist groups operating under new names, including the Saved Sect and al-Ghurabaa, despite being exiled to Lebanon. British security sources have confirmed that the 7/7 bombers were associates of Omar Bakri's network, and Bakri himself publicly boasted a year before the London bombings that an al-Qaeda cell in London was planning a terrorist strike.

An investigation by the counterterrorism unit in the New York Police Department (NYPD) found that Bakri's al-Muhajiroun had formed 81 front groups and support networks in six countries, mostly based in London, the home counties, the Midlands, Lancashire and West Yorkshire. By the time Home Secretary Dr. John Reid moved to proscribe the latest incarnation of al-Muhajiroun, al-Ghurabaa, this sprawling interconnected network was fully functioning, continuing to operate namelessly, despite proscription. Bakri's network has recently adopted the name "Al Sabiqoon Al-Awwaloon".

Despite the arrest of radical cleric Abu Abdullah, Hamza's successor at the Finsbury Park Mosque, in early September, Jenvey complains that a "hardcore group of 20 or more extremists operating around Omar Bakri" remains at large. "The police have every reason to act, and they know who these people are. Their failure to do so has only exacerbated unjustified demonization of Muslims. These extremists are not Muslims in any meaningful sense, they are simply terrorists obsessed with violence."

MI5, MI6 Recruiting Extremists?

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Dr Nafeez Ahmed is an investigative journalist, bestselling author and international security scholar. A former Guardian writer, he writes the 'System Shift' column for VICE's Motherboard, and is also a columnist for Middle East Eye. He is the winner of a 2015 Project Censored Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for his Guardian work.

Nafeez has also written for The Independent, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Scotsman, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz, Prospect, New (more...)

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