The Farid Hilali story in the Evening Standard which we commented on yesterday seems to have been based, without attribution, on a story in The Times (unless both stories are just verbatim parroting of a briefing or leak).
Several other "newspapers" have parroted this story, but one of the few which seems to have quoted The Times as the source, is, astonishingly, the communist Chinese Xinhua news agency.
"The Times, June 30, 2004
Key 9/11 suspect held in London
By Dominic Kennedy, Richard Ford and Stewart Tendler
AN ALLEGED terrorist suspected of plotting the September 11 massacres and being an accomplice of the Madrid train bomb cell has been arrested in Britain, The Times can disclose.
Alleged links between Farid Hilali and the two biggest al-Qaeda attacks in the West make him one of the most important Islamic terrorist suspects held by Scotland Yard.
His arrest on Monday made him the first high-profile suspect detained in Britain under new European warrants designed to improve cross-border co-operation.
Mr Hilali, 35, from Morocco, is believed to be the shadowy figure, previously known as "Shakur", who telephoned the alleged chief of al-Qaeda?s Madrid cell shortly before the September 11 attacks.
In a tapped call on August 27, 2001, Mr Hilali allegedly said that he "had entered into the field of aviation" and "cut the throat of the eagle". Mr Hilali is also said to have promised that he would have something to show the Spain-based terrorist leader in about a month. The calls are reported to have been made from the New Cross or Peckham areas of southeast London.
Voice analysis and detective work led police to believe that Shakur and Mr Hilali were the same person.
Who exactly conducted this "voice analysis" ? The Spanish or the UK authorities ?
The name "Shakur" appeared alongside Osama bin Laden and 33 others on an indictment in Spain last September for allegedly using the country as a base to plot September 11.
Mr Hilali was arrested by the Metropolitan Police last September. He was not charged but was discovered to be an illegal entrant and detained at Belmarsh prison.
If he has been in Belmarsh maximum security prison since September 2003, surely that gives Hilali an alibi for the Madrid bombings in March 2004 ?
He immediately claimed political asylum but his case has yet to be processed. Well-placed sources yesterday expressed doubt about any direct involvement in September 11 but suggested that his arrest was a significant development in the war against terrorism.
We are not a "well placed source" but our doubts about the actual threat posed by Farid Hilali are growing.
Baltasar Garzon the judge leading the Spanish investigation, said last autumn that he had been unable to establish Shakur's identity. But in April he made a new order saying that police had identified him as Mr Hilali, and calling for his extradition.
Baltasar Garzón is the Spanish judge who issued an extradition warrant for General Pinochet the dictator of Chile, which caused such a headache for then Home Secretary Jack Straw, by reminding everyone of Jack Straw's own left wing political activities in Chile when he was a student.
The Metropolitan Police formally arrested Mr Hilali on Monday and brought him before Bow Street Magistrates? Court, accused of ^participation in a terrorist organisation". He was sent back to Belmarsh for seven days. The fast-track extradition procedure, introduced on January 1, should take three months.
The identity of Shakur has been a mystery since Judge Garzón first alleged that a Madrid terrorist cell prepared the September 11 attacks.
There is an alleged link between September 11 and the Madrid al-Qaeda cell blamed for the train bombings which killed 191 people in March.
Judge Garzón alleges that the 9/11 plot was finalised in 2001 at a meeting between Mohammed Atta, the leading hijacker, and Ramzi Binalshibh, a suspected al-Qaeda leader. One train bomb suspect has been charged with helping to arrange the meeting. "
The detailed USA 9/11 Commission report does not mention any Spanish links with either Mohammed Atta or Ramzi Binalshibh, and it does not mention Farid Hilali either.
Why have no "journalists" asked questions such as:
- Is there really any proper evidence against Farid Hilali or is the UK court's interpretation of a European Arrest Warrant going to permit "fast track" extradition merely on on rumours and easily faked mobile phone "evidence" ?
- Where did the Spanish authorities get authenticated voice samples from Farid Hilali, with which to conduct "voice analysis" comparisons with the intercepted mobile phone call allegedly made by "Shakur" in August 2001 ?
- Were such recordings obtained by the UK authorities by bugging Hilali's legally privileged conversations with lawyers or with relatives or other inmates etc. inside Belmarsh prison ?
- Or are we to assume that the Spanish authoritiesare conducting illegal electronic surveillance within the United Kingdom ?
- Will the extradition hearing on July 5th actually bother to forensically examine the alleged Spanish "voice analysis" and the mobile phone intercept "evidence", something which should be illegal under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act ?