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11 May 2006 : Column 520

London Bombings

12.17 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (John Reid): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the 7 July bombings.

I am today publishing the official account of the bombings in London on 7 July last year. Also today the report of the Intelligence and Security Committee on intelligence aspects of the bombings has been published, together with the Government’s response. I very much regret the sombre nature of my first statement to the House as Home Secretary. I send my condolences, as the new Home Secretary, to all those who suffered in those events and I pay tribute to the work done by my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke).

The official account published today summarises what we know about the bombers and how and why they did what they did. It is not yet a complete picture, both because we have had to withhold some information for legal and security reasons and because the police investigation is continuing and we may discover more. It will be for the legal process to confirm formally what happened, but as is now well known, there were four suicide attacks carried out by four British citizens. Mohammad Sidique Khan, Shehzad Tanweer, Jermaine Lindsay and Hasib Hussain. Those attacks killed 52 people over and above the bombers themselves and injured over 700.

The first three bombs went off simultaneously at 8.50 am on the underground. The first, in a Circle line tunnel between Liverpool Street and Aldgate stations, was carried out by Tanweer and killed seven people and injured 171. The second, on the Circle line just outside Edgware Road, was carried out by Khan and killed six people and injured 163. The third, on the Piccadilly line between King's Cross and Russell Square, was carried out by Lindsay and killed 26 and injured over 340.

Just under an hour later at 9.47 am, Hussain detonated the fourth device on a No. 30 bus in Tavistock square. This killed 13 and injured over 110. It remains unclear why Hussain did not detonate his bomb at the same time as the others. It may be that he was frustrated by delays on the underground heading north from King's Cross. However, it now appears that he bought a battery after coming out of the underground system, which could mean that he had difficulty detonating the device earlier. But I stress that this remains speculation at this point.

We now know from CCTV footage and witness statements that Khan, Tanweer, and Hussain travelled down from Leeds in a hire car that morning and met up with Lindsay in Luton station car park. Further devices were found in one of the cars which may have been for self-defence or diversion in case of interception during the journey down. They do not appear to indicate a fifth bomber and there is no evidence to suggest this elsewhere. The four then travelled from Luton to King's Cross, leaving at 7.40 am and arriving at 8.23 am.

Owing to some outstanding police and security service work in the immediate aftermath of the bombings, the police were able publicly to confirm the
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identities of Tanweer and Hussain on 14 July and Khan and Lindsay on 16 July. The key factors leading them to this were finding credit and other cards in the names of the four at the sites—in Khan's case his cards were found at more than one site—Hussain's family calling the police emergency hotline reporting him missing, and subsequently discovering that he had travelled to London with Khan and Tanweer; the discovery by the security service that Khan, and subsequently Tanweer, had been picked up on the periphery of another investigation; the CCTV images of four men with rucksacks matching their descriptions at King's Cross and Luton; and the discovery of the two cars in Luton car park.

Khan, Tanweer and Hussain were all second-generation British citizens of Pakistani origin from the same small area of Leeds. Lindsay was a British citizen of Jamaican origin who had grown up in Huddersfield and moved to Aylesbury after his marriage. Khan was a well-respected teaching assistant and youth worker, aged 30 at the time of the bombings. Tanweer, who was just 22, had recently left university. Hussain was only 18 and had just completed sixth form college, and Lindsay, who was 19, had left school and had a series of odd jobs thereafter.

The account which is published today sets out what we know about their early lives and how they may have been radicalised. The picture remains incomplete at this stage, but, with the partial exception of Lindsay, there is little that marks them out as particularly vulnerable to radicalisation and little in their subsequent behaviour which could have given much indication to those around them of their intentions. It is not yet known whether others in the UK were involved in indoctrinating the group or helping them to plan, but Lindsay appears to have been influenced by an extremist preacher who is now serving a prison sentence. Their motivation appears to have been a mixture of anger at perceived injustices by the west against Muslims and a desire for martyrdom.

The account that we publish today also details what we know about influence from abroad. Khan is known to have made a number of trips to Pakistan, including one in July 2003 when he is believed to have had some relevant training. Khan and Tanweer travelled together to Pakistan between November 2004 and February 2005 and are assessed as likely to have met al-Qaeda figures during this visit. There were a series of suspicious contacts from an unknown individual or individuals in Pakistan in the immediate run-up to the bombings. We do not know their content. Al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for launching the attacks, but the extent of its involvement is unclear.

Shortly after the second Pakistan trip—the trip from November 2004 to February 2005—the group appear to have begun planning in earnest. They appear to have assembled the devices at 18 Alexandra grove, a flat in another part of Leeds. As far as experts can establish, the bombs were made with ingredients that are readily commercially available, and to have required only limited expertise to assemble. The operation appears to have been self-financed and the cash raised by methods that would be extremely difficult to identify as related to terrorism or other serious criminality. Our best estimate is that the operation cost less than £8,000 overall.

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The account published today does not address the emergency response, but it is right that I should place on record my thanks and admiration for the bravery of so many—the police, those working on the underground, buses and trains, medical staff, firefighters, disaster recovery teams, volunteers and ordinary people, including and perhaps especially the survivors. The Government have separately conducted a lessons learned exercise addressing many aspects of the emergency response, and we will publish the results shortly. The London Assembly's inquiry, due to report soon, is also considering this.

I now turn to the Intelligence and Security Committee report. The Committee is, of course, independent of Government, but it has had access to a wide range of highly classified documents. Its report assesses what was known prior to July, how the threat level and alert state systems operated, how the threat was assessed, and issues of coverage, resources and co-operation between the security and intelligence agencies and between the agencies and the police. The House will obviously wish to give it serious consideration. The Prime Minister has presented to Parliament today the Government's response to the report, which generally welcomes its conclusions.

I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), as Chairman of the Committee, has spoken in more detail about the report this morning, but I note first that the report sets out that the security service had come across two of the bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, on the margins of other investigations. On the basis of what was then known, the security service made the judgement that they were peripheral to the main investigation and there was no intelligence to suggest that they were separately interested in planning an attack against the UK. Although limited attempts were made at that stage to identify the two men, the security service decided to concentrate its resources on higher priorities, including plots known at that time to attack the UK. The ISC report concludes that this decision was understandable.

Secondly, the report concludes that it was not unreasonable to reduce the country threat level from “severe general” to “substantial” in May last year on the grounds that there was no intelligence of a current credible plot to attack the UK at that time.

The term “substantial” still represented a high level of threat, and the report concludes that that reduction was unlikely to have altered the alertness of the responders or to have affected the chances of preventing the 7 July attacks. None the less, the Committee recommends changes to the system. The Government have reviewed it and will be making changes to create a simpler, more flexible and more proportionate system.

The report makes a number of other useful recommendations, which we have addressed in the Government response. It also covers the issue of resourcing, which I will address in a moment. I am grateful to the Committee for its very thorough and constructive approach.

What the official account and the ISC report demonstrate is the very real challenge that the police and the agencies face in combating this new kind of terrorism. The bombers were ordinary British citizens
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with little known history of extremist views, far less of violent intention. At least three were apparently as well integrated as anyone else. Their radicalisation, to the extent that we know how and where it happened, appears to have been conducted away from places with any obvious association with extremism.

The willingness of the men to use suicide bombing as their method and to attack vulnerable, civilian targets—as is familiar from previous attacks—made them doubly difficult to defend against. That is not a comfortable message, but it is important that we are honest about it if we are to defend ourselves against the threat effectively.

The key lesson—this is at the heart of the Government’s counter-terrorist strategy—is that the response needs to be collective, with Government, Parliament, police, agencies, local communities, faith leaders and international co-operation all playing their part, and that it needs to be completely comprehensive.

We have a counter-terrorism strategy for achieving that, known as “Contest”, which aims to reduce the risk from international terrorism. As part of the strategy, we are seeking to prevent terrorism by stopping young people being indoctrinated into extremist violence. In that, we need the help of Muslim leaders and the community to fight the distortion of Islam that turns young people into terrorists. We have taken new powers to criminalise encouragement to terrorism. We need to work together to show that democracy is the only legitimate means of changing policies, and to ensure that all young people in all communities can see how engagement in British society can bring about change for the better. I know that my predecessor as Home Secretary led an extensive round of consultations with all sections of the Muslim community, and I intend to develop that.

Secondly, we need an effective and adequately resourced law enforcement and intelligence effort. The ISC report suggests that we might have had a better chance of preventing the July attacks if more resources had been in place sooner. Even that, of course, would have been no guarantee of preventing the attack. The Government have put in substantially increased resources, particularly since 9/11. Further resources were provided last autumn. The Security Service is expanding as fast as its top management believes is organisationally possible.

The specific police budget for counter-terrorism will have grown fourfold between the financial years 2002-03 and 2007-08—that is, in the period after 9/11. We have allocated £30 million extra next year and £60 million the year after to expand special branch and other specialist counter-terrorism capacity outside London. Indeed, the total cross-Government budget for counter-terrorism and resilience has more than doubled, from less than £1 billion to more than £2 billion in the same period.

In addition, general policing makes a significant contribution to the counter-terrorist effort. We will implement neighbourhood policing in all forces by next April and will expand the number of community support officers from around 6,500 to 16,000 in that period. That will improve our capacity to gather local intelligence to support the counter-terrorist element.

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In that context, I want to put it on the record that the police and agencies have disrupted many attacks against the UK since 9/11, including three since last July alone. However, the reality is that difficult choices have to be made between priorities in intelligence-led operations, whatever the level of resources.

Thirdly, we need effective international co-operation. This is both a local and a global threat. We are a long way from being the only targets. As the House will know, there have been appalling attacks in the United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey and Indonesia, to name but a few. We need to have the closest possible law enforcement and intelligence links with our many allies in the war against global terrorism.

We also need rapidly to develop European co-operation. The former Home Secretary made that his key priority for the UK presidency last year. He achieved important concrete outcomes, including common provisions on the retention of telecommunications data that will make it more difficult for terrorists to communicate across borders to plan their crimes. I will make it a major priority of mine to develop that co-operation further.

The bombings were despicable attacks on ordinary people going about their normal daily business. It is a tribute to Londoners—the people of our capital city—that the city recovered with such remarkable speed. The victims have shown tremendous courage in rebuilding their lives, but I know that many victims, and particularly bereaved families, are still trying to find their own way to come to terms with what, for them, was a terrible personal tragedy. I think that it is right that we try to explain what the Government know about what happened that day, and I hope that many of the victims will find the account that we have published today helpful.

I know that some will find it painful to relive those terrible events again, and that some will continue to feel that there should be a public inquiry. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is responsible for supporting victims. In the short period that I have been Home Secretary, and before that, she has explained to me the strong views that some of the families hold on that subject. I find that perfectly understandable, but the House will know that my predecessor as Home Secretary explained last year why the Government had decided that it was not right to hold such an inquiry a decision with which I concur. However, I should like to offer some further explanation to those most directly affected.

I shall therefore be writing to all those who were bereaved by the 7 July attacks to offer them the chance to come and talk the issue through. I and my right hon. Friend the Culture Secretary will convene a series of meetings, at which families will be able to ask detailed questions about the documents that have been published today. At those meetings, I hope that I will be able to explain to them why I do not think a public inquiry would be the best step to take. Not least among the reasons is that such an inquiry would involve diverting very precious resources needed for the security and protection of everyone, at a critical time.

As Home Secretary, my principal duty is to protect the public. I am determined that we will learn the lessons from the official account and ISC report, and
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strengthen our defences against the terrorist threat, but international terrorism will not be defeated by the security services, the police or the Government acting alone. It will be beaten only by all of us in this country working together to defeat what is a threat to us all. That is what all of us must achieve together.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): I welcome the Home Secretary to his new post, and I am sorry that his first outing is on such a tragic subject. I join him in offering our condolences to those who suffered in the attacks and our thanks to and admiration for those whose bravery and commitment on the day and afterwards saved so many lives.

The issue before us is, as the Home Secretary implied, of great importance. The attacks in London on 7 July and 21 July were attacks on our people, our country and our way of life. Accordingly, our ability to deal with such attacks and to learn from our errors is critical to the defence of the realm, our people and our way of life.

It is important to start by acknowledging the real strengths of our security services, which have thwarted a significant number of attacks. For that, the whole House thanks and congratulates them. However, it will not serve them or the safety of the British public if we do not learn from the mistakes made in these cases, the better to prevent them in the future.

During the attack and in the immediate aftermath, the Government claimed that the bombers were previously unknown to the authorities, because they had no record of previous criminal or terrorist activity. We now know that that is untrue. Both Sidique Khan and Shezad Tanweer were known to the authorities in connection with another very serious terrorist bomb plot. On the basis of accounts in the newspapers, rather than the reports, it appears that Shezad Tanweer was picked up by a foreign intelligence agency one month before the attack, but that that information was never acted on by the UK security services, so I ask the Home Secretary whether that is true. Again on the basis of documentation given to newspapers rather than these reports, it seems that MI5 taped Mohammad Sidique Khan talking about his wish to fight in the jihad and saying his goodbyes to his family—a clear indication that he was intending a suicide mission. The newspapers also tell us that he was known to have attended late-stage discussions on planning another major terror attack that was subsequently thwarted. Again, I ask the Home Secretary whether that is true.

Despite all that, the surveillance on Khan was called off months before the attack. Why? Was it, as intimated in the Intelligence and Security Committee report, because of a shortage of resources? Is it true that there were not enough MI5 agents to cover possible suspects and that that led to surveillance of dangerous terrorists being terminated on that occasion? The ISC report states that

Did that occur because the resources for MI5 were not increased to meet the necessary step change until 2004, some three years after 9/11? And, because it takes three years to recruit, screen and train agents, the expansion will not take full effect until 2008.

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