WASHINGTON – U.S. and British authorities investigating the deadly attacks in London two weeks ago searched Thursday for information on Haroon Rashid Aswat, a Pakistani man allegedly connected to a foiled plot to create a terrorist training camp in Bly, Ore.
Aswat’s cell phone received as many as 20 calls from several of the bombers, said intelligence and law enforcement officials, one of whom said the last call was made in London the night before the July 7 bombings.
Authorities here, in Britain and in Pakistan cautioned Thursday that they did not know what role Aswat might have played in the attacks, whether he was the one using the cell phone or when he might have been in London last. In recent years, U.S. officials have even questioned whether he is alive because of unconfirmed reports he was killed in Afghanistan. But new evidence, and Aswat’s U.S. connections, set off a search by the FBI for clues that would help determine his whereabouts.
U.S. officials scurried to follow up on thousands of pieces of information provided by their British counterparts since the July 7 bombings, which killed 56 people, including the four British bombers, and wounded 700 commuters. One intelligence official, who would discuss the investigation only on condition of anonymity, said the list of wanted suspects was growing and the inquiry had become far more complex in recent days.
The FBI’s Document Exploitation team, based in Washington, has sent several people to work out of the U.S. Embassy in London, while the main London-based FBI team has been deployed to Scotland Yard, officials said. American officials are cross-checking investigative data with information and prisoner debriefings from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a U.S. law enforcement official said.
Another official involved in the investigation said there was some evidence Aswat might have left Britain on a ferry two weeks ago, suggesting that he left his phone for accomplices to use.
U.S. authorities first heard of Aswat, 31, while investigating attempts by Muslim extremists to set up a training camp in the Oregon woods in 1999. Aswat was an aide then to Abu Hamza Masri, a fiery Muslim preacher who was arrested in April 2004 and charged with a variety of terrorism-related offenses including involvement in the Oregon camp and a role in a deadly hostage-taking in Yemen. Aswat’s name does not appear in the August 2002 federal indictment of James Ujaama, an American charged with planning to set up the camp, but law enforcement sources said he was one of the unindicted co-conspirators referred to in the document.