By ELIZABETH COLUCCIO & FARAH PRINCE
One of five British spies testified on Tuesday to observing an alleged al Qaeda operative scanning the cosmetics aisle of a store, presumably in search of essential bomb-making ingredients during a month-long surveillance operation.
The British MI5 agents, who are with Britain’s domestic counterintelligence agency, testified in Brooklyn Federal Court, where they were referred to only by number and disguised with wigs and makeup. U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie also ordered media sketch artists to depict the agents with “blank faces,” and “generic hair,” in an effort to further protect the agents’ identities.
The officers tracked Abid Naseer, a 28-year-old Pakistani native, and his movements in a surveillance operation, called ‘Operation Pathway’ in 2009. The first officer to testify, referred to as Officer 1661, identified the main target of the operation as ‘Small Panel, who is the defendant. He also named two of Naseer’s alleged accomplices, ‘Glass Pendant’ and ‘Happy Skater’.
Officer 1661 testified to observing the defendant in the cosmetics aisle of a Tesco in the UK. One of the main components of homemade bombs is acetone, commonly found in nail polish remover. He also testified that Naseer was seen at Bradford College, though the officer never saw the defendant with any schoolbooks.
Naseer was extradited from the UK in 2013 for allegedly conspiring to plot bomb attacks in Manchester, England as part of an al Qaeda conspiracy for simultaneous attacks in Denmark and New York City.
If convicted, Naseer faces a possible life sentence for providing and conspiring to provide material support to al Qaeda and conspiring to use a destructive device.
Other agents who took the stand included a female officer who observed the defendant at an Internet café on March 24 and another spy who also observed Naseer at an Internet café, stating he was there “quite a bit,” suggesting that he might be communicating with Al Qaeda leaders.
Officer 1498 tracked Naseer’s activity at an Internet café and Mosque and on April 3, the officer stated that the defendant met with ‘Glass Pendent.’
“Glass Pendant’s body language changed from previously,” He said. “I noticed him turning his head and eyes, watching the people around him.”
When asked if they observed Naseer with any women, all five MI5 agents stated that they never saw him with a woman. Naseer is accused of creating an email address, under a female name, to communicate with an al Qaeda leader though he argues the female alias was used to talk to women on the Muslim dating site, qiran.com.
On Monday, prosecutors called Ibrahim Houri, an Arabic-speaking employee of the FBI who translated jihadi “anthems” or nasheeds, which were found on Naseer’s phone and on his pen drive.
One said. “I will throw myself into the abyss of sacrifice. Today Jihad is due. Let it be with my blood.”
Houri told the court that the “anthems” were “done to create excitement and interest.”
He said. “In my interpretation, it’s to recruit people.”
Naseer, who is defending himself, cross-examined the witness, asking if nasheeds “were always about jihad.”
Houri replied no, but asserted that these found on the defendants phone were related to jihad.
Naseer also tried to undermine Houri’s testimony, questioning if he ever had any formal training in Islamic studies. Houri replied that he hadn’t.