'Batley man' linked to bin Laden and bombers

By Tony Harney A BRITISH intelligence team in Zambia is today questioning a West Yorkshire man said to have been a personal body guard to Osama bin Laden and to have master-minded the London July 7 bombings.

Haroon Rashid Aswat, believed to have lived in Batley for 20 years and who has been linked to radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, is reported to have flown out of Heathrow just hours before 56 people were killed and hundreds injured when blasts wrecked three tube trains and a London bus.

Aswat, who is understood to have left Batley 10 years ago, is said to have entered the UK by ferry a fortnight before the first wave of bombings.

Searches of mobile phone records by British anti-terrorist police and secret service agents are understood to have found that he made numerous phone calls to the four suicide bombers.

American authorities have revealed they have been hunting the man for several years. They claim he master-minded the London horror although Scotland Yard has refused to confirm that theory.

Zambian authorities said last night that while in custody Aswat admitted he had acted as a bodyguard to Osama bin Laden.

That man, claim the Americans has been active around the world and their main interest focuses on a scheme to set up a terrorist training camp on a ranch in Oregon.

It emerged today that Aswat had made mobile telephone calls to two of the Yorkshire July 7 suicide bombers and had possibly visited Dewsbury in the days before the bombings. Dewsbury was the home town of Mohammed Sidique Khan, one of the suicide bombers.

Aswat, or Ashwad as he was sometimes known was arrested in Lusaka, Zambia 11 days ago after entering the country from Botswana.

An American source claimed that earlier this year their intelligence network had traced Aswat to South Africa, but an attempt to arrest him there failed because of a lack of co-operation from the government.

Training

The same source says that Aswat was known to have been in America in 1999 and 2000 checking out an Oregon ranch they believed was intended for use as a terrorist training camp.

An American Muslim was later convicted of plotting against US forces in Afghanistan and gave evidence concerning Aswat which caused the US to place him on a terrorism wanted list.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said: "The Americans are obviously very interested in this arrest in Zambia and we are happy for them to take precedence. The man in custody there is not our priority at the moment."

Despite that statement it is believed that representatives of both British and American authorities are now in Zambia holding discussions over his possible extradition. A Batley family confirmed to the Yorkshire Evening Post they do have a son of the same name. They described him as an "angry young man" who they have had little contact with for 10 years.

But they stressed they have no confirmation that their son is the same Haroon Rashid Aswat.

They said: "We are being asked about Haroon Rashid Aswat.

"He has not lived at this house and we have not had contact with him for many years.

"We ask the press to go away and we ask police to make sure our privacy is not invaded further."

One report said Aswat had left the UK to fight in Afghanistan.

Two years ago it was suspected Aswat had been killed in Afghanistan when his British passport was found on the body of a Taliban soldier.

But it was later revealed he had slipped into Pakistan where it is claimed he became a trusted associate of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

At least three of the July 7 bombers – Khan, 30, from Dewsbury, Hasib Hussain, 18, from Holbeck, and Shehzad Tanweer, 22, from Beeston – visited Pakistan in the months before the attacks.

Aswat's phone number is thought to have been found on Khan's mobile phone.

tony.harney@ypn.co.uk

Graham Pearce of KPMG

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