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Monday, February 14, 2011 

Many ifs and Butts.

There's a rather glaring omission from today's Grauniad front page splash by Shiv Malik, revealing that jihadi turned supergrass Mohammed Junaid Babar has been released after serving than less than 5 years of a possible 70-year sentence: large sections of it are leftovers from Malik's abortive attempt at publishing a book heavily reliant on the testimony of Hassan Butt, another jihadi who supposedly turned his back on extremism, only for his credibility to come crashing down when he admitted in court that he was a "professional liar" and had taken Malik for a "right patsy".

While an accompanying box to the article (see above, not seemingly reproduced online) makes this clear, it doesn't mention the rather pertinent fact that Malik was writing the book with Butt. Indeed, this latest account Butt has provided Malik and Khurrum Wahid with makes things even murkier still. About the only thing now undisputed is that in 2000 Butt moved to Pakistan, where he worked for the now banned radical group al-Muhajiroun. After 9/11 he was joined by Babar. According to the new account given to both Wahid and Malik, Butt and Babar processed foreigners who arrived hoping to fight for the Taliban. How this tallies with Butt's subsequent proclamations both in court and when interviewed by Greater Manchester Police that he had never "been training ... been a jihadi" is uncertain.

Absolutely nothing properly tallies with Butt however. From his repeated returns to Pakistan, his profile as a "British jihadist" in Prospect magazine, his supposed realisation of the error of his ways and the numerous arrests by anti-terrorist police, only never to be charged, even after being denounced by the man that has helped convict so many others, something obviously isn't right. Finally confirmed, or at least as confirmed as anything involving Butt and Malik can be, by today's article is that Butt has long had some sort of relationship with MI5. Butt claims that he first turned to MI5 in the UK as part of the exit plan he and Babar had devised from their work in Pakistan, where they would first go even deeper into the jihadi world in an effort to show how useful they would be. Like most of Butt's tales, it seems scarcely credible: firstly, it's well documented that despite his claims of not being able to reintegrate himself into normal society, he was able to come and go from Britain to Pakistan even after he had been arrested multiple times with no problems whatsoever. If he'd really wanted to get out of al-Muhajiroun's work in Pakistan, he could have just stayed in this country. Furthermore, the idea that MI5 wouldn't have been interested in what he already knew having been involved in such a role is ludicrous: they would have been delighted to have him work for them in some sort of capacity.

Undisputed though is that Butt gave evidence at the trial of his best friend (subsequently convicted) in closed court "in the interests of national security", testimony which remains secret. This also raises just as many questions as it answers: if he really has long been some sort of MI5 double agent, why has he been repeatedly arrested and apparently very close to being charged with terrorism offences, unless it's all been for appearances? Why go through the whole doubtless heavily looked down upon "conversion" to fighting against Islamic extremism when he would have probably been getting some sort of stipend from the security services? Why continuously bring so much unwelcome attention to himself? Could it be possible that his brief period as a denouncer of those that claimed foreign policy was the main motivator for terrorism in this country was part of some sort of disinformation programme ran by the security services, only for it to all fall apart when the police insisted they had to investigate his ever wilder claims of involvement in attacks?

Certainly true is that MI5/6 offered the opportunity of work to many of those they've come into contact with in the course of investigations, including Binyam Mohamed, Omar Deghayes and Jamil el-Banna (Excuse the lack of links; the server currently hosting the blog is down, and I'm writing this relatively blind, and also not knowing when this is even going to be published). Where this leaves the main thrust of Malik's article is anyone's guess: half of the additional corroboration for Babar having contact with the Americans at the time he was organising the training camp attended by Mohammad Siddique Khan is either from the modern day equivalent of Billy Liar or someone with a tenuous connection with the UK state who can't seem to keep his mouth shut. Babar has long been someone whose full background is worthy of investigation, but the idea that he had a critical role in the leader of the 7/7 bombers becoming acquainted with explosives while a US asset seems too fantastic to be wholly accurate. One thing is absolutely undeniable: someone or some organisation somewhere is spreading a tidal wave of bullshit and misinformation and Malik seems to remain the pawn.

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