January 20th, 2012
01:10 PM ET

Al Qaeda planner had ties to UK extremists

By CNN's Paul Cruickshank

A senior al Qaeda operations planner killed in a CIA drone strike last week was for several years a resident of the United Kingdom, and was associated with extremists and their activities before returning to Pakistan,  U.S. counterterrorism officials told CNN.

Although the U.S. officials did not elaborate on his links to UK radicals, they said  the al Qaeda operative - Aslam Awan - was a 29-year-old Pakistani citizen identified in British court documents as part of a group of Islamist extremists living in the Cheetham Hill area of Manchester.

By 2006 those extremists were increasingly attracting the attention of British security services, according to the court documents.

Awan, who arrived in Britain around 2002 on a student visa, had moved into an apartment in Cheetham Hill with Abdul Rahman, a school friend from Pakistan. Murad Iqbal, a Pakistani citizen from Karachi, also moved into the apartment, according to the court documents.

Strongly committed to al Qaeda's cause, the trio had begun recruiting other young men in the Manchester area, taking them on camping trips in the Lake District in March and June 2006, where they simulated suicide bombing exercises, according to the documents. Home movies of their training that were played in court show them "leopard crawling" in the snow.

Their recruiting techniques were compared to a pedophile grooming a child.

Later in 2006, Awan set off for the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region to fight, according to British authorities.

But Awan wanted his radical Manchester circle to join him in Pakistan. He sent a letter to his school friend Rahman in Manchester, calling on him and the others to travel to Pakistan.

The letter, later found by police in Rahman's bedroom, referenced his terrorist training and described his participation in the fighting, according to the court documents. In the letter Awan also described visits to the graves of al Qaeda fighters and provided instructions for the distribution of CDs glorifying the group's exploits.

He wrote that the group needed assistance in combating "air power," and requested Iqbal contact a mutual friend about it.

According to the court documents, in October 2006, one of the young men being groomed by the group - Omar Arshad, who had dropped out of pharmacy studies at Manchester University - fell out with his family and was reported missing by his father, who told police he was concerned his son was being radicalized.

In January 2007, the documents state, his father tracked him down and brought him back to Manchester, where he was served with a "control order," a British legal mechanism strictly restricting the movement and communication of terrorist suspects in which there is not sufficient evidence to bring charges.

British police believed Arshad was planning to set off imminently for Pakistan for terrorist purposes.

Arshad went back to the Cheetham Hill apartment, where Rahman, Iqbal and others in the group hatched a plan for Arshad to escape, the court documents state. Arshad shaved his beard, and a member of the group drove him to Birmingham airport, where he caught a plane to Iran the next day. Rahman paid for the flight.

British authorities believe Arshad has now joined militants in Pakistan.

Later, Iqbal also traveled to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region to join his friends, according to the documents. In November 2007, Rahman pleaded guilty to disseminating terrorist literature and aiding or abetting the breach of a control order.

The men in the Cheetham Hill group were also connected to Rangzieb Ahmed, a senior al Qaeda facilitator from the Manchester area who in 2008 was convicted in Britain for directing terrorism after being arrested in Pakistan. That connection emerged at Ahmed's trial.

Awan, for his part, appears to have been quickly promoted up al Qaeda's ranks as other operatives were killed in drone strikes.

Several others who spent significant time in the West have likewise been promoted to senior positions in the terrorist network.

They include Adnan Shukrijumah, a Saudi-born American who joined al Qaeda around 9/11 and who helped plan a suicide bomb attack on New York in 2009, according to U.S. officials. Like 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who attended an American university, their first-hand knowledge of Western countries has been an important resource for the terrorist group. Awan was working on attacks against the West when he was killed, another U.S official told CNN.

Half a dozen UK residents have been killed in drone strikes in Pakistan in recent years, including two from east London late last year. British authorities say that British militants are among hundreds of Europeans in Pakistan who are linked to, or training with, jihadist groups. In September, British police thwarted a terrorist plot by an alleged terrorist cell in Birmingham who trained in Pakistan in 2011.

 CNN's Pam Benson contributed to this report.

soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. Ninoos

    The most fundamentalist muslims are from Pakistan.

    January 22, 2012 at 10:02 pm | Reply
  2. rk from NY

    all pakis in other nations are sleeper cells..its in their DNA...the pakis never to to another country and obey the laws of that land....they are all sleeper cells and sooner the US deports all pakis the safer it is...!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 22, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Reply
  3. Skorpio

    Eliminate Muslim clerics and most of the killings around the world will drop drastically. The source of all hatred, terrorism, violence and discrimination lies with Islamic clerics (ayatollahs, muftis, imams, sheiks, mullahs, emyrs, etc.). These evil creatures are the main instigators of most violent actions, they are judges, witnesses, jurors, police and executioners at the same time. Unless these bast@#%s experience the same pain, suffering and anxiety as their victims, nothing is going to change.

    January 22, 2012 at 10:54 am | Reply
  4. DC skins

    I say we dump strips of bacon all over the Middle East.

    January 21, 2012 at 11:11 am | Reply


    January 21, 2012 at 7:20 am | Reply
    • KhmerNY

      @RAHMAN JAMIU OLDMIDE, Sorry dude the world only recognize the USA, and China are the super powers. IRAN does not have MONEY and MILITARY like they do o.k. You can tell your muslim brothers and sisters in the Middle East that Iran is super power. Most countries in Asia don't like you anyway, they only want two things from you Money and Oil. Keep on dreaming dude!

      January 21, 2012 at 7:58 am | Reply
    • Maxwell

      Dream on....already there are people in the country who wants to live in the free or western life-style in Iran in huge numbers. Iran is going to cruble out of this Islamic salafist ideology very soon. the super powers soon after the US are China, Turkey, and sadly Russia.

      January 21, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Reply
  6. rightospeak

    More fearmongering, terror,terror ,terror. The whole "War On Terror" is phoney just like the "War On Drugs", "War On Poverty" . We are losing all the wars because we are bankrupt-the corrupt politicians with media propaganda did us in. We are already upset enough about our country going down the tubes, so stop terrorizing us further.

    January 20, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Reply
    • str8vision

      6 degrees of separation.... Everyone alive today likely knows someone who under the U.S. definition is considered a terrorist. Witch hunts, Nazi hunts and Communist hunts now are followed by "terrorist" hunts. Fear mongering indeed. You ar right, we are at "war" with everything these days......

      January 20, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Reply
  7. rk from NY

    all pakis in western nations are sleeper cells...everyone knows that...pakis are not welcome in any country...the first step in controlling this problem is to deport all pakis....urgently...

    January 20, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Reply
    • Tanze

      Right bro, deport them then nuke them

      January 21, 2012 at 3:08 am | Reply
  8. Its me, geust

    Dont be racist, its not nice. I am hindu myself...

    January 20, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Reply
    • hindunegative

      hindu is not a race, a label adopted by hindus for their hinduism. Hun means great, Han, means, to be in greatness and hin to be negative to both of them and hindu, noun, a person in negativity.

      January 20, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Reply
  9. hindunegative

    Soul, desire of a hindu, never to be fulfilled.

    January 20, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Reply
  10. Naija

    Lets bomb UK,they are harboring terrorist.

    January 20, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Reply
    • hindunegative

      hinduism of a hindu.

      January 20, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Reply
    • Anonymous 000000

      if you want to start a war with a country that is just as powerful as you are. then be my guest I would love to see how you would succeed considering we are an island, your bombers would be destroyed by the time they dropped any and lets face you yanks need us just as much as we need you so either way you wouldn't even dare think about attacking the UK. not only that you can not call all Muslims terrorists. only the extremists and they will be dealt with.

      January 21, 2012 at 12:06 am | Reply
  11. Mimi

    Grumpy Muslims in the U.K!!

    January 20, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Reply
  12. gabriel escobar tucson az

    u.s kills with drones , pu**ys

    January 20, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Reply
    • Buzz Mann

      Say that to our face,oh wait you will never get close enough. 🙂

      January 20, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Reply
    • Mikismom

      Coming from someone who obviously shouldn't be on American soil, but is.....probably illegally.....and taking advantage of all kinds of benefits paid for by American citizens and defended by American soldiers. Go back under the rock you crawled out from....

      January 22, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Reply
  13. Islam4fools

    This is why Muslims need to be deported from the west.

    They are not loyal and are extremely ungrateful to the countries that has been sheltering them.

    January 20, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Reply
    • Buzz Mann

      They are loyal, just not to the west.

      January 20, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Reply
    • rk from NY

      muslims in pak are all terrorists..thats their GDP and export from the day they were created...terrorists are not loyal to anyone...they just are a nuisance to the world and need to be dealt with ...urgently

      January 20, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Reply

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