It began with a party in the Beeston area of Leeds in northern England, on Sept. 12, 2001 -- crisps and soda passed around -- in celebration of al-Qaeda's murderous attack on New York and Washington. It ended with what was intended to be a dry joke in front of a television set on July 7 last year: "I bet they come from Beeston," said Martin Gilbertson, only to realize a few days later how "unfunny" his remark was.
By then it had emerged that two men the computer expert had worked closely with for several years were among the four who blew themselves up killing 52 people on three London tube trains and a bus. The pieces of a chilling jigsaw were falling into place. Gilbertson would soon appreciate how unique a position he had occupied.
"We were as far inside as anyone outside could get," he says.
Immediately after the bombings of July 7, Gilbertson told his story to the anti-terrorist squad of the London's Metropolitan police, but has never done so publicly, until now. His attempts to alert West Yorkshire police, before the bombings, to what he was doing and with whom -- including the provision of two names who would later become bombers -- were, he claims, ignored.
Gilbertson -- from Blackpool, but a longtime resident of Yorkshire -- is a former Hell's Angel and Motorhead roadie now working toward a university thesis on the radicalization of Islam in Leeds.
But it was his IT expertise that was sought out by the men who ran four entwined institutions in Beeston frequented by two of the July 7 bombers -- the Iqra Islamic bookshop, the Leeds Community School, the "al-Qaeda gym" and the Hamara Youth Access Point, an offshoot of a mainstream Muslim community center nearby.
All these institutions are a stone's throw from each other in the cluster of streets that is Beeston -- a poor enclave of terraced housing. And, between 2001 and 2004, Gilbertson deployed his expertise to produce spine-chilling DVD "presentations" which contributed to what he himself calls the "atmosphere conducive to the bombers" in Beeston.
"I was doing it because I was on crap wages. I'm good at what I do, and I've got kids to feed. And after a while, I became so alarmed by what was going on around me, I went to the police."
The "presentations" depict crimes by the West against the Muslim world. Watching them, Gilbertson is moved. One opens majestically, with skillfully assembled sequences featuring a rising sun, a turning globe, set to sung verses from the Koran. But for one presentation called Think Again, using material from a Web site called Harun Yahya, Gilbertson re-edits a montage of images of violence in the US, to a soundtrack of the Star Spangled Banner, ending -- surreally -- with the first plane crashing into the World Trade Center.
According to reports after the bombings, the man regarded as the bombers' ringleader, Mohammad Sidique Khan, distributed what newspapers called "horror DVDs." By October 2003, Gilbertson had become so alarmed by his own work and the discourse around him that he went to local police. He says he was told to send his material to West Yorkshire police headquarters. The package he sent to the force's headquarters included examples of the DVDs he had produced, a contact number at which he could be reached and a list of names, including two of the bombers -- Shehzad Tanweer and Sidique Khan -- as well as the recipients and senders of their e-mail traffic.
He heard nothing; his warning, he claims, disappeared into a black hole.
"I only wish I had had some access to MI5 [British counter-intelligence]. I probably could have got them in there, before the bombs went off."
Gilbertson's package was addressed to the anti-terrorist squad.
Asked this week about Gilbertson's approach, a spokesman for West Yorkshire police said: "It's going to be almost impossible to trace what happened to a specific item of mail. We don't have an anti-terrorist squad, and there's no way of saying to where it might have gone from the mailroom. ... it's impossible to say whether this made its way into the intelligence system, whether it was discounted as low-level intelligence or whether it was acted upon in some way."
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