“Their concern is compounded by a realisation among al-Qaida leaders of the value of individuals who can enter western countries easily. All eight people arrested in Britain over the failed bomb attacks in London were doctors or medical students and all entered the country legally.
“The arrest in Australia of an Indian-born doctor related to two brothers arrested in Britain show how far links between potentially dangerous individuals are spreading, Whitehall officials say.
“British counter-terrorist officials recently visited Bangladesh to brief their counterparts there, the Guardian has been told. Officials say the number of Britons of Bangladeshi descent apparently prepared to consider carrying out terrorist acts marks a new and worrying development.
“It coincides with the increasing number of young Britons travelling to Pakistan via South Africa in an effort to avoid being noticed by British security officials. Recent terrorist trials have shown how the Britain-Pakistan link has been crucial, with many convicted terrorists having trained in camps in Pakistan.
“The advantage, say intelligence analysts, is that British citizens do not require visas to enter South Africa. Furthermore, the country is regarded as a good market for identity and travel documents. South Africa’s intelligence chiefs have played down the country’s role as a potential transit route for British-born al-Qaida sympathisers travelling to Pakistan.
“However, Kurt Shillinger, of South Africa’s Institute of International Affairs, warned that the country’s passport is “one of the world’s most abused, available on the streets for as little as £10”. In an article titled South Africa: Transit Point for International Jihadists? for Britain’s Royal United Services Institute Mr Shillinger warns that intelligence officials privately admit they cannot monitor accurately a swelling immigrant community and the smuggling of people to Pakistan.
“In north Africa Ayman al-Zawahari, Osama bin Laden’s deputy, has announced the setting up of al-Qaida of the Islamic Maghreb with the idea of embracing other extreme groups, including Algeria’s Salafist movement. In an internet video this week al-Zawahari urged fighters to “hurry to Afghanistan, hurry to Iraq, hurry to Somalia, hurry to Palestine”.
“However, Pakistan remains the country posing the greatest threat to Britain’s security, Whitehall officials say. One of the problems is the sheer number of Britons of Pakistani descent who visit the country every year – more than 30,000 between the ages of 18 to 35, the group most likely to be influenced by al-Qaida ideology, according to intelligence officials. Another problem is the pressure on the Inter Services Institute, whose priority is to keep the country together and President Musharraf alive rather than monitor British-born Pakistanis.”