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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Spooks seek Rich Picture of al Qaeda

Thursday June 29, 2006
By Jason Bennetto

LONDON - Up to 8000 suspected al Qaeda sympathisers are being investigated in Britain by MI5 and the police in an operation to identify future terrorists.

The huge covert inquiry, known as project Rich Picture, is aimed at finding people who are being groomed for terrorism, and the Islamist extremists carrying out the recruitment.

The nationwide investigation follows intelligence suggesting that there is a very small but significant number of British-born and British-based Muslims prepared to carry out terrorist attacks.

Of the estimated 1.6 million Muslims living in Britain, counter-terrorist sources have disclosed that they believe up to 0.5 per cent - about 8000 - support al Qaeda's aims, and have links to Islamist extremists.

Project Rich Picture was set up shortly after the suicide bombings in London last July. Up until recently the intelligence services have been concentrating on uncovering and disrupting active terrorist plots in Britain.

By July 2005, the number of "primary investigative targets" known to security services in Britain had risen from about 250 in 2001 to 800.

But a big expansion of MI5 and police counter terrorism resources has allowed the agencies to start looking at the recruitment and grooming of future bombers. MI5 has grown from just under 2000 staff in 2001 to about 2500 today, rising to 3000 in 2008.

Project Rich Picture involves hundreds of MI5 and police officers, supported by the communication eavesdropping centre in Cheltenham.

Much of the work is being carried out by MI5 at the agency's new regional stations. So far four centres in Scotland, the northwest of England, the northeast and the Midlands are up and running. A further four, in the southwest, Wales, the east and the southeast of England will be operational by year's end.

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