Chapter 59: The 'Easter Bomber' Emails

The amateurish code used by the "Easter
Bombers" must have been easy to break.
I spent most of Sunday reading about the email one of the 'Easter Bombers' had exchanged with an alleged al Qaeda contact in Pakistan. The sender, identified only as "XC," had seemingly written mostly about girls and cars, parties and weddings. But the messages themselves didn't make much sense, according to MI5, unless they were in code.

Duncan Gardham explained something about that code in The Telegraph of July 30:
MI5 believed that girls’ names were used to refer to chemicals and that talk of a “wedding” was actually a reference to the bombing itself.
I was glad to find Gardham's piece, but I was still looking for the email messages themselves. I found what I was seeking later that evening, in another July 30 article published by The Telegraph.

That piece, "Manchester 'terror plot' emails," contained transcripts of some of the emails that passed between the "Easter Bombers" and their contact in Pakistan, allegedly an "al Qaeda commander" who was sometimes said to be Rashid Rauf.

The first email published in The Telegraph was was sent in early December, 2008, from XC in Manchester to Pakistan:
Dec 3 11.33am

I saw a slight glimpse of Huma day before yesterday but she was very weak and difficult to convince.

Nadia is more gorgeous than Huma at the moment and she is easy to befriend….Nadia is crystal clear girl and it wont take long to relate with her.
Then came a question from the middle of December:
Dec 14 12.18pm

from Pakistan to Manchester

Hmm tell me that how is ur sweety girl friend I miss her a lot
The response arrived the next day:
Dec 15 8.47pm

From Manchester to Pakistan

About my Girl friend. As I told you about Huma’s affair. Nadia is still waiting for my response. She is very loyal and She has created a place in my heart. You know Gulnaz and Fozia. WOW man. I would love to get them in my friends list but you know I have been thinking about their abilities. Gulnaz sounds ok but she is found [sic] of money. Fozia is some times bull shit. She lets you down sometime.

I am still keeping my car because most of the jobs they ask for it and other reason is you know girls mostly like guys with car.
Questions about the multiple girl friends appeared in this email from January:
Jan 15 2009 12.41pm

from Pakistan to Manchester

hmmmm so u have a lot of girl friendsss me also like girlsssss pay my salam [greetings] for ur girls friend ok

when ever u will mariii soo plz first see ur girl friend how is she…is she nice and beautiy and honest bec [because] we marii in life on [only] one time
The next published email was sent to Pakistan a month later:
Feb 16 1.35pm

from Manchester to Pakistan

You know what girls are like. I am bore of being bachelor now LOL [laughs out loud] so I would try to make it happen in the near future. I will be careful about my choice because your whole family life depends upon the decision.
Finally, The Telegraph had this email from early April, which presumably led to the arrests:
April 3 4.19pm

from Manchester to Pakistan

I met with Nadia family and we both parties have agreed to conduct the nikah [wedding] after 15th and before 20th of this month.

I am delighted that they have strong family values and we will have many guests attending the party. Anyways I wished you could be here as well to enjoy the party.
Following these messages, The Telegraph explained how MI5 had interpreted them. According to the article,
MI5 believe that the student was using the girls’ names Huma, Nadia, Gulnaz and Fozia to refer to different bomb-making chemicals.

“Weak and difficult to convince” is thought to refer to the strength of hydrogen peroxide available, and “crystal clear” to the strength of another chemical.

Their “abilities” and “letting you down” refer to how efficient the chemicals were, to which the answer from Pakistan comes that that the girl should be “nice and beautiful and honest because we marry in life only once.”

The security service feared that [...] “girls mostly like guys with car” referred to a possible car bomb and the constant reference to weddings and parties, to the attack itself.
I couldn't help noticing the contrast between the one-time cipher which Slate had used to contact Holmes and the emails sent and received by XC. The latter would have been secure if each of them had used a unique key. But, as in the case of the "Liquid Bombers," the same key had been used again and again.

I could easily imagine Gareth Williams being called upon to help decode these emails, especially after his reported success decoding the emails of the "Liquid Bombers." Surely such an amateurish code must have been easy for him to break. But I found it difficult to imagine what breaking the code could have to do with being found padlocked in a zipped bag.

I knew Holmes would return shortly, and I was confident that he would be able to answer some, if not all, of my questions. But in the meantime, I felt compelled to try to answer them myself. So I sat in my favourite armchair, turning the puzzle over and over in my mind's eye, until I nodded off.