Chronicle : Tyneside businessman's shock at terror arrests

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Tyneside businessman's shock at terror arrests

by Lisa Hutchinson | April 11, 2009

A TYNESIDE businessman caught up in the country’s biggest suspected terror plot since 7/7 has told how he became linked to the bomb plot.

Muhammad Haroon Rashid today spoke out about a police swoop in which 12 men were arrested in a series of raids, including two men working for his security firm.

The pair have been named by Mr Rashid as Umar Farooq, who was studying hotel management in Manchester, and Johnus Khan.

Mr Rashid, 26, said he was stunned to hear of their arrest, at a branch of Homebase, in Clitheroe, Lancashire, where they were security guards.

The pair were employed by an agency called Sky Interserve UK Ltd, based in Benwell, in Newcastle’s West End, after being subcontracted by Essex-based Manpower.

Mr Rashid said he had put forward the two men, both in their mid-20s and living in Liverpool, for the security guard roles. Mr Rashid, who has lived in Newcastle’s West End since moving to the UK from Pakistan four years ago, said: “I have a small recruitment company with a few people on my books.

“Manpower came to me wanting security guards and I recommended these two men. I have no involvement in checking if they have visas or the correct documents to work.

“Someone from Manpower spoke to them and, I assume, did the relevant checks. I don’t have details on them.”

Greater Manchester Police said inquiries into the alleged plot were ongoing and it was not in a position to confirm the identities of anyone arrested. It is believed those arrested were members of the alleged al Qaeda cell suspected of plotting a Bank Holiday terror atrocity. Others arrested worked for a firm at Manchester Airport.

It is said at least one drove vans for a cargo company which has access to sensitive locations and two had passed security industry checks enabling them to guard premises overnight.

But Mr Rashid said: “I know Umar through a friend and he has lived in the UK for five or six years after moving from Pakistan to study in Manchester.

“I have met him before and was really shocked to hear about his arrest. Johnus is a friend of his but I have never met him. As far as I know they have both worked for other companies as full-time security guards. I recommended them on April 2 and that was the last involvement I had.

“I was really surprised to hear they had been arrested and linked to alleged terrorism. I have spoken with friends of theirs and they think it is a mistake.”

Armed officers swooped on at least 14 addresses, including homes, flats, and an internet cafe, during six hours of frantic activity on Wednesday night.

The suspects – 11 Pakistani and one UK-born British national – were still being held today.