x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

MI5 recruited al Qa'eda by error

Six al Qa'eda activists were mistakenly recruited as agents by Britain's internal security service, an MP claims.

LONDON // Six al Qa'eda activists were mistakenly recruited as agents by Britain's internal security service, it was claimed yesterday. Two men recruited by MI5 were later found to have been at al Qa'eda training camps in Pakistan, according to Patrick Mercer, a senior Conservative MP and chairman of the House of Commons' counter-terror subcommittee. Mr Mercer is now demanding to know from the government how far the men managed to infiltrate the MI5. The claims came a day after the home office was forced to admit that MI5 computers had been successfully targeted by hackers.

According to Mr Mercer, the al Qa'eda supporters were actively recruited in early 2006 in an "unseemly rush" to hire British Muslims after the July 2005 attacks on London transport, when four suicide bombers killed 52 commuters. That attack made the security services realise the paucity of information they had on dissident Muslims within Britain and led to a drive to recruit 200 Muslim agents. Among the influx were the six alleged al Qa'eda supporters. Aside from the two who were found to have attended camps in Pakistan, the other four were discovered to have unexplained gaps of up to three months in their recent pasts.

Mr Mercer said that two who had been to the camps were given several weeks' training by MI5 before being dismissed from the service. He said that the other four were hired but had not begun training by the time the unexplained gaps were found on their curriculum vitae. They, too, were dismissed. Mr Mercer, who is calling on Home Secretary Alan Johnson to mount an investigation, told yesterday's Daily Telegraph: "[9/11] should have prompted the government ... to seek drastic measures for the expansion of our security services.

"In fact it took an attack on this country for such measures to be started. But at this point it was an unseemly rush at which our enemies, not unsurprisingly, took advantage." The home office declined to comment on Mr Mercer's claims yesterday, but a "senior security source" was quoted by the Telegraph as denying that any al Qa'eda infiltration of MI5 had been successful. "MI5 take vetting really, really seriously and it is not unusual for people to fail," he said. "They have had tens of thousands of people applying - many have been sifted out before vetting and others didn't pass vetting or dropped out."

He added that recruits were subjected to months of vetting before being allowed access to MI5's headquarters and he said nobody had been dismissed after gaining access to intelligence or techniques. Nevertheless, the latest claims have brought renewed questions over the security of MI5's procedures following the revelation 24 hours earlier that a group of computer hackers had attacked the service's official website in an apparent attempt to pick the information on people using the site.

The home office subsequently confirmed that the hacking attempt had been made but said that it was a "small matter" that did not pose a threat to national security. According to the Daily Express on Friday, a group of hackers calling themselves Team Elite accessed the MI5 site in an apparent bid to steal the identities of users or, perhaps, to download viruses on to visitors' computers. A home office spokesman conceded that there had been a minor problem with a search engine linked to the MI5 website.

However, Mr Mercer said: "Having potentially highly-classified information available to hackers is deeply concerning. The identity of agents and informers in terror groups such as al Qa'eda are held by MI5." @Email:dsapsted@thenational.ae