The Case of the Missing Terrorist Solved? Not Yet

by JACOB LEVICH

Three weeks after Counterpunch first probed “The Case of the Missing Terrorist” (16 July – August, 2002), the Financial Times has followed up, adding new information to the strange tale of alleged 9/11 conspirator Atif Ahmed. But the FT story may raise more questions than it answers.

Ahmed, you’ll recall, was nabbed by Scotland Yard detectives in November, 2001, after the FBI said it found evidence suggesting he was a co-conspirator with accused “20th hijacker” Zacarias Moussaoui.

In subsequent months, Moussaoui has repeatedly and insistently identified Ahmed as a key player in the 9/11 conspiracy — and as a British mole within Al Qaeda. Yet the mainstream press declined to investigate, and the elusive Ahmed vanished from the public record in what felt eerily like a press blackout. During the nine months following his arrest, Counterpunch was the only publication to point out that a pivotal figure in an upcoming “Trial of the Century” had been, well, mislaid.

Comes now the Financial Times with a September 19 story reporting that Ahmed was quietly released, without charge, a few days after his arrest. No longer an alleged terror conspirator, Ahmed is now characterized by unnamed UK security sources (presumably MI5) as merely a “minor figure in the London Islamist underground.”

The story also subtly revises an earlier account of the nature of Ahmed’s arrest. Whereas ABC News reported in November that Ahmed was the target of a joint US-UK operation stemming from the discovery of possibly incriminating material on Mousaaoui’s telephone records and hard drive, we are now told that Ahmed was simply scooped up as part of UK anti-terror sweeps that took place in the wake of 9/11.

FT seems to have made no attempt to contact Ahmed and was satisfied with the sources’ assurance that Moussaoui’s charges have no evidentiary basis.

Case closed? Yes, if you assume that a) Moussaoui’s a half-mad fantasist, and b) FT’s spooky sources are on the level.

But we can’t help finding it a little odd that one of Moussaoui’s Islamist connections was back on the streets within a few days of his arrest (“Keep your nose clean, Atif, and don’t hang around with any terrorist kingpins in the future”) — especially at a time when hundreds of terror suspects in both the US and UK were being preventively detained for months, usually on the flimsiest of pretexts.

Moussaoui’s trial begins in January, and further questions about Atif’s role in the 9/11 plot may well be raised. But don’t expect answers. If Ahmed were a British agent, intelligence sources told FT, “MI5 would attempt to restrict whatever evidence he might be prepared to give in a court of law on the grounds of national security and possible compromising of sources.”

Translation: Don’t even go there.

JACOB LEVICH is a writer and editor living in Queens, N.Y. He can be reached at: jlevich@earthlink.net

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