Daily Mail : Terror raid house owner's Al Qaeda links

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Terror raid house owner's Al Qaeda links [1st article at the link]

By Alan Rimmer and Daniel Boffey | April 12, 2009

At least one of the men arrested in the counter-terrorist raids this week was living in a property owned by a man on the run for allegedly financing groups working alongside Al Qaeda.

Mohammed Benhammedi, who appears alongside Osama Bin Laden on Interpol’s wanted list, is accused of channelling money to terrorists through his British companies.

A property Benhammedi owns in Liverpool was raided on Wednesday as part of an investigation into what Gordon Brown described as ‘a very big terrorist plot’.

Arrests: This flat, over an off-licence, was raided by police. It is owned by Mohammed Benhammedi who is wanted by Interpol

Witnesses said one man was arrested by police as he entered the £115,000 flat, but it is believed two of the other 11 men detained this week were also tenants in Benhammedi’s property.

Benhammedi is accused by the US Treasury and the United Nations of funding the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an organisation described as being part of the ‘wider A Qaeda associated movement’ dedicated to jihadi. The group is banned here under terrorism laws.

Yesterday, officers continued to search the property, a three-bedroom flat above an off-licence, as those detained faced further questioning.

An 18-year-old arrested in connection with the plot was released into the custody of the UK Borders Agency, possibly for deportation.

Police have a further seven days to detain the 11 men they still hold, who range in age from 22 to 41, most of whom are believed to have come to Britain from Pakistan on student visas.

Sources have claimed police believe that one of the possible targets for the plot was Manchester’s Piccadilly train station while packed with holiday travellers over the Easter break.

The police operation was rushed forward on Wednesday following a blunder by Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick, who inadvertently revealed confidential details of the raids while leaving his car for a Downing Street meeting.

Benhammedi’s flat on Earle Road, in Liverpool’s Wavertree district, was one of ten properties being searched. He bought it with Asaad Shalash in 2004 as part of a business partnership called Ozlam Properties Ltd.

But in 2006, Mr Benhammedi, 42, had his assets and three property firms frozen for his alleged role in financing the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an organisation that the US Government claims attempted to install a hard-line Islamic state in the African country.

A press release from the US Treasury accused Benhammedi of being a ‘key financier’ of the terrorist group, adding that he was believed to provide funds through three property companies, including Ozlam Properties Ltd.

The statement claimed he had first come to the attention of authorities when he was detained in 2002 by Iranian officials as he attempted to illegally enter Afghanistan.

Benhammedi was subsequently arrested in 2006 in the UK under terrorism legislation for alleged activities in Iraq and was due to be deported.

Last night it was unclear whether Benhammedi had been forced to leave the UK. However, Interpol has appealed for anyone with information on the Libyan-born businessman, who operates under a number of aliases including the westernised name of Ben Hammedi.

Mr Shalash, who was a co-director with Benhammedi in Ozlam Properties, claimed ‘complete innocence’ of any links with terrorism.

He said he first met Benhammedi in 2004 when he was running a rival property firm called Sara Properties.

He said: ‘I was running a company called Ozlam Properties on the same road in Liverpool. We became partners and shared some work, mainly maintenance work and property lets.

‘In about 2006, Mr Hammedi was arrested and I understand he was in custody for about five months on terror charges. As a result of that, his business assets, including his interest in my company, were all frozen by the United Nations. The whole thing ultimately cost me about £180,000.

‘He was a flamboyant character and would drive around in limousines with lots of women. He controlled a property empire of some 300 properties in the Liverpool area. I don’t know whether he is a terrorist or not. But as he was released from custody after being arrested, I assumed he was innocent.

‘The last time I saw Mr Hammedi was about 18 months ago. But to be honest with you, I do not want to know him.’

Mr Shalash, 46, added that the men living in his property had only recently moved in, each paying a month’s rent in advance. He said: ‘The police interviewed me for three hours. They went over all I knew about the men. I told them I knew nothing about them, apart from the fact that they were students.’

This week’s raids caused a diplomatic row between Britain and Pakistan, with Mr Brown calling on Pakistan to do more ‘to root out the terrorist elements in its country’.