In April 2009, 12 men were hurriedly arrested after details of an ongoing investigation were inadvertently revealed in a photograph of top counter-terrorism officer Bob Quick entering Downing Street with files under his arm.
With the input of the security services, the police believed the group were planning a mass casualty attack targeting civilians in north west England, with support from al-Qaeda in Pakistan.
Ten of the men were detained as terror suspects for two weeks. They rapidly became a cause for Islamist and far Left activists who called the suspects “the North West 10”. For example, Asim Qureshi spoke at a “Free the North West 10” meeting at SOAS in July 2009 [archived here].
Asim Qureshi dismisses profiling in intelligence as a blunt tool, used unthinkingly and in a discriminatory manner by security authorities:
“The entire system is so stupid. Intelligence gathering, there is no intelligence whatsoever, you know. You got a brown face, that’s it mate, you’re done for kind of situation.”
He also speaks about interviewing three men who had been stopped and interrogated by MI5 when they had merely gone “on safari” in Tanzania. It is believed that one of them was actually Mohammed Emwazi, the future ISIS terrorist.
In the SOAS talk Asim Qureshi claims a Pakistani security official told him the UK had asked Pakistan to take the “North West 10” back shortly after the arrests and this demonstrated that “there was really no plot”.
Asim Qureshi continues:
“Had there been a plot, they would have tried to investigate it properly, they would have tried to do everything they can in order to make sure that they brought criminal convictions here in the UK. Because it wouldn’t suit them just to send them back to Pakistan. Technically, it makes more sense to use the vast amount of anti-terrorism legislation that they have in order to prove that there was some kind of crime going on. And then further to find out who these people are connected to in the UK. These things make sense from an intelligence gathering perspective. But none of that happened.”
Asim Qureshi concludes:
“That’s the reality of the situation. … The fact is that, that is as intelligent as these people get and that is how this whole situation has been manipulated.”
Abid Naseer, a citizen of Pakistan living in Manchester, was at the heart of the Manchester case, including messaging with suspected al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan.
With the investigation hobbled by the leak, the authorities opted to deport suspects instead. The case was assessed by a SIAC tribunal. It found that Abid Naseer’s claim that he was looking for a wife in the messages was “a lie, deliberately told to conceal their true meaning”. Instead, they referred to explosives and the context was planning for an imminent terrorist attack. [archived here]
The tribunal found that:
“Naseer was an Al Qaeda operative who posed and still poses a serious threat to the national security of the United Kingdom” and deporting him would be “conducive to the public good”.
It later emerged that two of the 12 men originally arrested were undercover operatives who were detained only to maintain their cover.
Abid Naseer managed to remain in the UK for a period on the grounds that he might be tortured if he was returned to Pakistan. However, in 2013, he was extradited from the UK to the US in 2013 for prosecution in New York City for terrorist offences.
Fahad Ansari, one of the authors of the Manchester University Press book, “I Refuse to Condemn”, objected to the extradition at the time in a piece published by CAGE [archived here]. In that article, Fahad Ansari complained about “the procedural unfairness of British anti-terrorism policy today”, “dramatic Hollywood style raids”, and “sensational media coverage deliberately calculated to stoke panic and xenophobia among a population already terrified by the politics of fear callously being played by the government, whose premature and hyperbolic statements only served to legitimise such views”.
In 2015, Abid Naseer was found guilty of plotting to attack the Arndale Centre in Manchester, using a car bomb in the first strike and then sending in suicide bombers to kill fleeing survivors. He was sentenced to 40 years imprisonment. The plot was linked to planned attacks on the New York subway and a Danish newspaper. The police estimated that the victims in the Manchester attack could have numbered in the hundreds.
This was a high-level Al Qaeda plan. Some of the individuals involved in the plot were discussed in materials seized by US forces in their raid on Osama bin Laden’s home In Pakistan in 2011.
When Abid Naseer was sentenced, Detective Chief Superintendent Tony Mole of the North West Counter Terror Unit said he was the “real deal”, “recruited and trained in Pakistan by al-Qaeda” and “able to come into the UK as a student under the radar”.
“abhorrent and completely undermines the rule of law and principles of due process which will only lead to a widespread lack of respect for the British criminal justice system”