Chapter 58: The 'Easter Bombers'

Previous: Ian Tomlinson

Bob Quick revealed a "secret" document.
On April 8, 2009 -- the morning after The Guardian posted the video showing Simon Harwood's lethal assault on Ian Tomlinson -- a very strange sequence of events began to unfold.

It started when Robert Quick, then Assistant Commissioner of the Metro Police, arrived at No. 10 Downing Street for a meeting with Prime Minister Gordon Brown and emerged from his car carrying some folders.

Outside the folders was a document marked "secret," which outlined the planned arrests of a dozen terror suspects in Manchester and Liverpool.

Photographers are always camped outside the Prime Minister's office, of course -- with digital cameras and telephoto lenses. Quick realized the implications of his "blunder" immediately, according to the story.

So some authorities moved promptly to suppress publication of any photos of the "secret" document, lest the suspects learn of the plan to arrest them, while others moved promptly against the suspects.

And Bob Quick promptly tendered his resignation, which was promptly accepted. After 30 years on the force and more than a year as the top anti-terror officer, he retired, publicly disgraced but with a six-figure annual pension.

Meanwhile, with a blaze of publicity, SWAT teams went to work. Police in the north of England arrested 12 men who were officially described as "terror suspects."

The document detailed plans
to arrest 12 terror suspects.
The Prime Minister congratulated the police and the intelligence agencies on having broken up "a very big plot."

At first, police spokesmen were mostly mum, but anonymous sources told the media that the security services had foiled an imminent attack which would have involved multiple suicide bombers.

Eleven of the suspects were Pakistani nationals living in the UK on student visas, who were said to have come from the "lawless tribal region" of northwest Pakistan, and who were allegedly linked with the al Qaeda terrorists headquartered in the same region.

Later, the police said they had been watching the suspects for several months in an operation code-named "Operation Pathway," and that to the best of their knowledge the alleged terrorists had not yet settled on a target. This did not deter the media from suggesting many potential targets, including Old Trafford.

And no dates were confirmed, but the police were said to be taking no chances with public safety, especially with the Easter weekend approaching.

Normally, the police prefer to arrest suspects in their homes, while they're sleeping. But in this case, with the operation suddenly public, the police were "forced" to take the suspects from public places, in broad daylight.

The suspects were arrested at gunpoint.
Thus two men were taken from a university library in Liverpool. According to one of them, police forced them to the floor, tied their hands behind their backs, and held machine guns to their heads for an hour before taking them away.

In Clitheroe, a small town about an hour north of Manchester, more than a hundred armed officers surrounded a home improvement supply store which was preparing for its grand opening and arrested two men who were working there as security guards.

Another suspect was taken from his car, which was stopped at gunpoint on the highway. And so on.

An indication of how serious the alleged plot was considered to be, and how closely the suspects were being watched, was provided by the fact that all twelve were arrested within an hour.

Their names were not immediately released. Instead the press simply called them the "Easter Bombers."

Investigators found no bombs
or weapons of any kind.
And with the "Easter Bombers" safely out of the way, the search began for their "bomb factory." Police searched the suspects' flats, and found nothing: no weapons, no ammunition, no bombs, no bomb-making equipment, no bomb-making ingredients.

Then they temporarily relocated some of the suspects' neighbours and started searching whole blocks of flats. Again they came up with nothing.

Next they took the suspects' computers, books, notes, and other personal items for forensic analysis, and found nothing incriminating in any of them: no plans, no hints of plans, no dates, no targets, nothing at all.

And so, within two weeks of the arrests, all the suspects were "released."

But unfortunately for eleven of them, "released" in this case did not mean "set free." Instead they were called threats to national security and transferred from one prison to another, to await deportation hearings.

According to some of the news reports which were slightly more detailed than most of the others, the suspects had been under surveillance even before they left Pakistan, and while in England they were in contact via email with Rashid Rauf.

Holmes had asked about the email the "Easter Bombers" had sent and received, but I hadn't found anything relevant. So I kept digging through the files.