Wednesday 14 November 2018

Revealed: London Bridge Isis group's plot to attack Dublin 'family-friendly' spot

  • London Bridge terrorists 'planned to stage similar atrocity at well-known Dublin landmark'
  • Khuram Shazad Butt (27) and Rachid Redouane (31) responsible for deaths of eight people in June 3 attack
  • Group made military observations at a number of high-profile locations in Dublin
London Bridge attackers Youssef Zaghba, Rachid Redouane and Khuram Shazad Butt (Met Police/PA)
London Bridge attackers Youssef Zaghba, Rachid Redouane and Khuram Shazad Butt (Met Police/PA)
Stock picture
Khuram Shazad Butt, left, and Rachid Redouane

Paul Williams

At two minutes to ten on the evening of June 3 a white Renault van was driven south across London Bridge. Six minutes later the van crossed the landmark again, this time travelling north over the Thames.

At the northern end of the bridge the vehicle suddenly made a U-turn and gathered speed as it crossed the river for a third and final time.

On a balmy night in midsummer, the bridge was also packed with pedestrians. Tourists mingled with Londoners as they walked toward the heart of the capital and its famed clubs, pubs and restaurants.

The van, laden with Molotov cocktails (wine bottles with rags in the neck filled with flammable liquid) mounted the pavement and smashed into terrified pedestrians at high speed, eyewitnesses said, killing three people outright and causing multiple casualties.

Khuram Shazad Butt, left, and Rachid Redouane
Khuram Shazad Butt, left, and Rachid Redouane

The first calls to the emergency services from London Bridge were logged at seven minutes past ten.

The Renault van crashed on Borough High Street and the three occupants - all armed with kitchen knives strapped to their arms - ran into nearby Stoney Street and stabbed four people who were in and around the Borough Bistro pub.

The stabbing rampage continued as bystanders bravely hurled chairs and tables at the attackers who witnesses said were shouting: "This is for Allah." A number of other people were stabbed in what was a classic marauding terror attack.

It is remarkable, even in a city that is permanently on a state of high alert for terror attacks, that the three terrorists were shot dead less than 10 minutes after the first frantic 999 calls came in from London Bridge.

A young girl leaves a message of support on the base of the obelisk on London Bridge following the terror attack in which eight people died. Photo: PA
A young girl leaves a message of support on the base of the obelisk on London Bridge following the terror attack in which eight people died. Photo: PA

But even in that brief and terrifying assault, eight people lost their lives and dozens were injured, many of them critically.

However, the Sunday Independent can reveal for the first time today that it could have been Dublin, not London, that was hit by an Islamic terror attack.

A vigil beside Tower Bridge for the victims of the June 3 terror attacks
A vigil beside Tower Bridge for the victims of the June 3 terror attacks

Khuram Shazad Butt and Rachid Redouane, who together with a third accomplice, were shot dead by police during the London Bridge attack carried out reconnaissance two years ago on a number of high-profile locations in Dublin that they had identified as potential targets.

Butt (27) and 31-year-old Redouane, who was married to an Irish woman and lived in Dublin for a number of years, actively discussed carrying out at an attack in the capital according to reliable sources, including an Irish woman who became radicalised after converting to Islam.

At that time the two jihadists were under the strong influence of a 33-year-old Pakistani-born UK citizen named 'Raza' who operated an internet fraud scheme targeting Irish companies from an address in Santry, north Dublin.

The scam was designed to raise hard cash to fund logistical support for jihadists in the form of transport and false documentation including passports through a network of Irish-based Isis sympathisers.

Two women comfort each other during a minute’s silence on London Bridge in honour of the terror attack victims. Photo: PA
Two women comfort each other during a minute’s silence on London Bridge in honour of the terror attack victims. Photo: PA

The Sunday Independent understands that the Garda's Counter Terrorism International (CTI) unit has now established that Butt and Redouane stayed at the Santry address with 'Raza' on several occasions up to two years ago.

The Pakistani-born UK citizen is still on MI5 and Scotland Yard's most-wanted list of suspects thought to have orchestrated the London Bridge atrocity carried out by Butt, Redouane and 22-year-old Youssef Zaghba.

The shadowy figure is suspected of radicalising young Muslims for Isis and orchestrating similar internet rackets - known as invoice redirection fraud - in the UK.

The Sunday Independent can reveal that 'Raza' is also wanted by gardai in connection with a €2.8m internet fraud from an Irish company last year.

The suspected terror chief registered a company at an address in an industrial park in Santry which was then used to set up a bank account through which the money was to be transferred to other hidden accounts in the UK.

Armed police officers patrol outside The Shard tower and London Bridge railway station in London. Photo: Getty
Armed police officers patrol outside The Shard tower and London Bridge railway station in London. Photo: Getty

However, Raza fled the country shortly after the Garda's Economic Fraud Bureau - formerly the Fraud Squad - moved in and froze the money before it could be moved.

A Sunday Independent investigation has established that the connections between the internet fraud, Isis and the London Bridge attackers came to light only when an Irish woman who was radicalised after converting to Islam while living in the UK broke her silence in the wake of the June outrage.

At a press conference organised by the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council at the Al-Mustafa Islamic Centre in Blanchardstown, the woman who identified herself only by her Muslim name 'Sister Aaliya', said she met Butt about 20 times in Ireland and the UK.

She claimed that at that stage that she never met Redouane, a Moroccan-Libyan pastry chef who had been refused residency in the UK.

The vulnerable woman, who is now 26, described how she had been drawn into the Islamist extremism after developing a fascination with Osama bin Laden in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

She said she feared for her safety and had been threatened several times by the extremists. She had been in a relationship with a man who associated with extremists for about 10 months.

She added that the man was "very controlling" and beat her severely before she fled London late last year. "I've been threatened on numerous occasions... I came back to Ireland to get away from all that," she said.

Sister Aaliya claimed that there were up to 150 Muslim extremists living in Ireland and that this country was viewed as a soft touch by the UK extremists.

She said the Islamists "laugh" at Ireland because they see the country as being "backward and behind the times" in the authorities' assessment of the threat of radical Islam.

Chairman of the council and head imam at the centre Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri said Sister Aaliya, who converted to Islam at the age of 18, had been successfully deradicalised by a Muslim scholar at a mosque in Barking, east London.

Following the press conference the information offered by Sister Aaliya was viewed with suspicion by security specialists.

However, the Sunday Independent has learned that MI5 took an "intense interest" in the woman after she was interviewed at length by gardai in the CTI and she revealed far more than she had originally divulged.

'Sister Aalyia' was also a registered director of one of the front companies incorporated by Raza for the purpose of the €2.8m fraud in Dublin last year.

She was also registered as a director in at least one other company in the UK which was also linked to an internet fraud in that country.

Sources close to the woman have revealed that she was aware that Butt and Redouane had been plotting attacks in Dublin and possibly at other locations in the country over two years ago.

It is believed that the two jihadists were convinced to change their plans because Raza believed that Ireland would suit Isis's cause better as a logistics base and somewhere to carry out internet frauds to raise funds.

The Sunday Independent is aware of the woman's identity and the companies where she was registered as a director.

Sources close to the woman say she gave gardai an 80- page statement giving details of all her interactions with Isis extremists both here and in the UK.

It is understood that her information has been assessed by counter-terrorism experts as highly credible.

It is believed she has been offered a place in a witness protection programme outside the State but this could not be confirmed yesterday.

The Sunday Independent has learned that 'Sister Aalyia' was interviewed by detectives from the Economic Fraud Bureau shortly after they moved in on the €2.8m fraud plot last September.

But at that stage the woman was too terrified to divulge what she knew.

It was only when she came forward and the CTI became involved that the true extent of her knowledge became known.

At the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court in July a Pakistani national, Atif Saeed (28), pleaded guilty to offences under the Criminal Justice Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Act in connection with the Raza internet fraud racket.

The pizza deliveryman had been used, the court heard, by a "Mr Raza" who described himself as an immigration adviser.

Acting on Raza's instructions, Saeed had attempted to transfer €5,000 via Western Union at Clarehall post office in north Dublin on September 23, 2016, after Raza said he needed to pay college fees for an associate.

Undercover gardai from the Economic Fraud Bureau had been carrying out surveillance and arrested him. Raza has been in hiding ever since.

Saeed's lawyer told the court that he had lived openly under his own name and did not benefit to any significant degree from the transactions. He had no idea the money was stolen.

It has been confirmed by security services that Saeed was not radicalised and that he had moved to Ireland from Britain in 2014 on Raza's advice.

Saeed was well known to Sister Aalylia.

He had been in custody since his arrest and in July was given a two-year sentence, backdated to the time of his arrest with the final year suspended. It is understood that he has since left the jurisdiction.

Sunday Independent

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