Al-Qaeda double agent duped MI5

From correspondents in London

March 26, 2004: "The Australian" -- One of al-Qaeda's most dangerous figures has been revealed as a double agent who fooled MI5, raising intense criticism from European governments who had repeatedly called for his arrest.

Britain ignored warnings from friendly governments about Abu Qatada's links with terrorist groups and refused to arrest him.

A leaked copy of a judgment by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission has revealed how British intelligence chiefs hid from their European allies how they were hoping to use the cleric as an informer against Islamic militants in Britain.

Qatada boasted to MI5 how he could prevent terrorist attacks in Britain and hoodwinked agents into believing he would expose dangerous extremists arriving, while all along he was setting up a safe haven for his terror organisation in the country.

Among the scores of young militants who visited him was the chief suspect in the Madrid train bombings. His followers also included volunteers to be suicide bombers for al-Qaeda, including Richard Reid, the shoe bomber. The judgment copy, obtained by Britain's Channel 4, revealed yesterday there was evidence that Qatada "has been concerned in the instigation of acts of international terrorism".

A security source in Madrid said: "How much violence and bloodshed could have been prevented if Britain had heeded the warnings about this man a long time ago."

Authorities in many countries asked to question Qatada about his links to al-Qaeda, but were refused.

A Jordanian, Qatada arrived in Britain with a forged passport in 1993 claiming asylum. Jordan told Britain he had been convicted of terror attacks in Amman seven months before September 11. Spanish investigators produced evidence of how a militant in custody in Madrid - Abu Dahdah - had visited the cleric more than 25 times, bringing money and recruits.

Copyright: The Times, London.

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