Taskforce hunts for missing burka terror suspect
- 6 November 2013
- From the section UK
A taskforce has been assembled to try to locate and catch a terror suspect who escaped from his government minders by disguising himself in a burka.
Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed, 27, who was subject to an order restricting his movements, left a London mosque on Friday with his face and body covered.
The Met Police's Counter Terrorism Command, MI5 and the UK's Border Force are now joining forces to find him.
He is the second terror suspect under a so-called TPim order to go missing.
The terrorism prevention and investigation measures (TPim) have come under intense scrutiny since the Briton, who is of Somali origin, absconded from the mosque in Acton, west London.
His disappearance has caused acute embarrassment to the home secretary, who introduced the measures.
Three escape options
TPims are placed on terror suspects - who officials decide can neither be charged nor deported - by the home secretary.
The measures, which need to be approved by a court and expire after a maximum of two years, include electronic tagging, reporting regularly to the police and travel exclusions. They were introduced in 2012 to replace the more restrictive control orders.
Mr Mohamed is believed to have close links to al-Shabab, the Somali insurgent group that raided Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall in September, resulting in 67 deaths, but officials say there was not enough evidence to bring a criminal case against him in court.
Within hours of Mr Mohamed's disappearance, an alert to ports notice was issued.
Along with his photograph, it placed him on a Warnings Index Database.
While officers from the Home Office's Border Force, previously known as the UK Border Agency, look out for the suspect, intelligence officers are working closely with the police to try to second-guess where he would be likely to go.
One possibility is that he could lie low and stay in Britain. Investigators are considering the probability that he will make contact with elements of the criminal underworld, although he may be wary of exploiting existing links.
To stay out of custody he will need a new, forged identity, but he still risks being recognised and having his whereabouts phoned in to the police by the public.
If he can make it to Kenya there is a well-established secret pipeline used by al-Shabab associates to pass through the country on their way from Europe and the US to Somalia.
The Kenyan authorities may be able to apprehend him, but plenty of jihadist volunteers have used the porous Kenya-Somali border to slip through the net and join al-Shabab.
The UK government estimates there are still around 50 British jihadists training and fighting with al-Shabab in Somalia. That number is dwarfed by those heading to Syria to join al-Qaeda-linked groups there.
A third potential option under consideration is that Mr Mohamed could flee to Europe.
If he can assume a new identity then he may be able to assimilate himself into the Somali diaspora in a European country with a sizeable community, such as Norway.
But most Somalis do not want to be associated with al-Shabab and, with his picture so widely circulated, he could again be easily recognised.
Arrested if caught
The open judgement handed down by the High Court on his case last year said the security service assessed him as being linked to a group of six British nationals who received terrorist training from al-Qaeda operatives in Somalia in 2006.
The judgement says he also fought on the front line in Somalia in support of al-Shabab, and between 2008 and 2010 was "engaged in procuring weapons for use in furthering his terrorism-related activity".
A Home Office spokesman confirmed that if the police do succeed in catching him, Mr Mohammed will be arrested, as breaching a TPim order is classed as a criminal offence.
The other TPim absconder, named as Ibrahim Magag, escaped in a taxi on Boxing Day in 2012. He has never been caught.