Terrorists linked to Iran were caught stockpiling tonnes of explosive materials on the outskirts of London in a secret British bomb factory, The Telegraph can reveal.
Radicals linked to Hizbollah, the Lebanese militant group, stashed thousands of disposable ice packs containing ammonium nitrate - a common ingredient in homemade bombs.
The plot was uncovered by MI5 and the Metropolitan Police in the autumn of 2015, just months after the UK signed up to the Iran nuclear deal. Three metric tonnes of ammonium nitrate was discovered - more than was used in the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people and damaged hundreds of buildings.
Police raided four properties in north-west London - three businesses and a home - and a man in his 40s was arrested on suspicion of plotting terrorism. The man was eventually released without charge. Well-placed sources said the plot had been disrupted by a covert intelligence operation rather than seeking a prosecution.
The discovery was so serious that David Cameron and Theresa May, then the prime minister and home secretary, were personally briefed on what had been found.
Yet for years the nefarious activity has been kept hidden from the public, including MPs who were debating whether to fully ban Hizbollah, until now. It raises questions about whether senior UK government figures chose not to reveal the plot in part because they were invested in keeping the Iran nuclear deal afloat.
The disclosure follows a three-month investigation by The Telegraph in which more than 30 current and former officials in Britain, America and Cyprus were approached and court documents were obtained.
One well-placed source described the plot as “proper organised terrorism”, while another said enough explosive materials were stored to do “a lot of damage”.
It became clear, according to well-placed sources, that the UK storage was not in isolation but part of an international Hizbollah plot to lay the groundwork for future attacks.
Ice packs provide the perfect cover, according to sources - seemingly harmless and easy to transport. Proving beyond doubt they were purchased for terrorism was tricky. The group had previously been caught storing ice packs in Thailand. And in 2017, two years after the London bust, a New York Hizbollah member would appear to seek out a foreign ice pack manufacturer.
But the most relevant case was in Cyprus, where a startlingly similar plot had been busted just months before the discovery in London. There, a 26-year-old man called Hussein Bassam Abdallah, a dual Lebanese and Canadian national, was caught caching more than 65,000 ice packs in a basement. During interrogation he admitted to being a member of Hizbollah’s military wing, saying he had once been trained to use an AK47 assault rifle. Abdallah said the 8.2 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored was for terrorist attacks. He pleaded guilty and was given a six-year prison sentence in June 2015.
Neither the name nor the nationality (of the man in his 40s arrested on suspicion of terrorism offences under Section 5 of the Terrorism Act 2006) have been disclosed.
His was the only arrest, although sources told The Telegraph at least two people were involved. The man was released on bail. Eventually a decision was taken not to bring charges. The exact reasons why remain unclear, but it is understood investigators were confident they had disrupted the plot and gained useful information about Hizbollah’s activities in Britain and overseas.
The decision not to inform the public of the discovery, despite a major debate with Britain’s closest ally America about the success of the Iran nuclear deal, will raise eyebrows.
Keeping MPs in the dark amid a fierce debate about whether to designate the entire of Hezbollah a terrorist group - rather than just its militant wing - will also be questioned.
The US labelled the entire group a terrorist organisation in the 1990s. But in Britain, only its armed wing was banned. The set-up had led senior British counter-terrorism figures to believe there was some form of understanding that Hizbollah would not target the UK directly.
Hizbollah was only added to the banned terrorist group list in its entirety in February 2019 - more than three years after the plot was uncovered.
"Proving beyond doubt they [the ice-packs] were purchased for terrorism was tricky." Now let me get this straight; ice-pack containers are obviously ice-pack containers and are designed for the purpose of holding essentially water that can be frozen in such a manner that the packs won't leak. But if you substitute ammonium nitrate for said water (and perhaps even label the packs as ice-packs) it's difficult to prove that they were to be used for terrorism? What else would they be used for? People who need ammonium nitrate fertilizer for their very tiny gardens? Only in the legal profession could this be a "doubt" issue. What's next? Uranium disguised as bars of chocolate?
I think this is actually worse than the grooming scandal since it could result in mass casualties. Stop appeasing Iran.
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