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Aswat tried to set up Al Qaeda camp in US: FBI

Source: PTI
Last updated on: July 25, 2005 11:28 IST
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Haroon Rashid Aswat, the man accused of masterminding the London suicide bombings is also being hunted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who say he tried to set up an Al Qaeda training camp in America.

The 30-year-old, whose parents hailed from Gujarat, was named last week as the 'Mr Big' who authorities believe was behind the London attacks. Many newspapers even reported he had been arrested in Pakistan.

The Mail on Sunday quoted FBI sources saying they suspected Aswat to be the 'main man' behind the July 7 attacks, although highly placed British security sources dismissed his involvement.

Aswat, according to the report, was a follower of a radical Islamic cleric in London, who cannot be named for legal reasons.

According to FBI sources, Aswat first came to the attention of the Americans in 1999 when he arrived in Seattle with another man, Oussama Kassir, a Swede of Lebanese descent who once bragged about being Osama Bin Laden's 'hit man'.

The FBI claimed that the pair met James Ujaama, 36, who proposed an Afghanistan-style training camp near the sleepy town of Bly, Oregon, with a population of 500.

The dilapidated 160-acre ranch earmarked as the jihad training site was owned by a relative of Semi Osman, a man who worshipped in the same Seattle mosque as Ujaama.

But the plan quickly descended into farce. According to sources familiar with the case, Aswat was frustrated when, on arriving at the Dog Cry Ranch, he found that Ujaama did not have a key to open the locked gate.

The men then discovered they had to share a dilapidated trailer with no bathroom or running water. There was no food and they were forced to hunt quail and rabbits to eat. Things went from bad to worse when Osman was driving with Aswat near the ranch one morning and they were stopped by police for jumping a red light.

Police officer Morrie Smith told The Mail on Sunday: "It was just a last-minute traffic stop before my shift ended. The men in the car were wearing long, black trench-coats with camouflage trousers underneath. They were of ethnic origin and were sweating profusely. The driver was nervous."

"The man in the front passenger seat, who I now believe was Aswat, looked Indian and had a beard. He was clutching a briefcase and he appeared very protective of it. Every time I looked at him, he pulled it closer to his chest. It threw me because you don't get sights like that on the roads here in Bly."

"I booked the driver for not having a licence and then allowed the car to go. I could have arrested them, but did not as I had a gut feeling there was something very strange and dangerous about these men. It was a traffic stop, which I now realise could have gone very bad indeed."

The FBI said Aswat and Kassir left Oregon in disgust and returned to Britain dismissive of the Bly training camp proposal.

Ujaama was indicted by federal authorities in Seattle in 2002 for offering support to the Taliban. Because he cooperated with FBI, Ujaama was sentenced to just 24 months in jail.

He is believed to have helped American officials identify a photograph of Haroon Aswat taken in London. On Sunday, senior Whitehall security sources said Aswat was not wanted in connection with the current terrorist attacks.

Also Read: The London Blasts


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