British intelligence agencies captured tons of explosive materials linked to the Lebanese Shia militant group Hezbollah in a number of properties on the outskirts of London, according to revelations by the Daily Telegraph.
The newspaper’s scoop says that Britain’s domestic intelligence service MI5 worked with the Metropolitan police force to raid four properties in the north of London, seizing three metric tons of ammonium nitrate, a common ingredient used in homemade bombs.
The report notes that the scale of ammonium nitrate found at the scene exceeded that used by Timothy McVeigh in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people.
During the raid, a man in his forties was reportedly arrested on terrorism charges but later released because the plot had "been disrupted by a covert intelligence operation rather than seeking a prosecution." The man’s identity has been kept under wraps, as has the entire operation, which occurred in 2015, until now.
The Telegraph’s report does however speculate that the UK government stayed quiet about the incident in order to help keep the 2015 nuclear deal alive that was made with Hezbollah’s chief supporter, Iran.
"It raises questions about whether senior UK government figures chose not to reveal the plot in part because they were invested in keeping the Iran nuclear deal afloat," the paper says.
According to the report, then-Prime Minister, David Cameron, and then-Home Secretary, Theresa May, were personally briefed on what had been found in the properties on London’s periphery as it may have indicated a large-scale terrorist threat to the UK.
Ben Wallace, the UK Security Minister, has been quoted by the Telegraph as trying to explain why the incident was purposefully kept out of the public’s knowledge.
"The Security Service and police work tirelessly to keep the public safe from a host of national security threats. Necessarily, their efforts and success will often go unseen," he said.
While a number of UK media outlets claim that UK intelligence was aided by a tip-off from a foreign country, the Jerusalem Post has been much more explicit, saying that, "… Israeli officials confirmed that the Mossad [Israel’s intelligence agency] provided the intel for the operation."
Perhaps substantiating that claim, a UK intelligence source was quoted as saying: "MI5 worked independently and closely with international partners to disrupt the threat of malign intent from Iran and its proxies in the UK."
The Telegraph notes how the London plot may be part of a wider Hezbollah agenda to establish a global attack structure, pointing to foiled Hezbollah operations in places as far and wide as Thailand, New York and Cyprus. All three of those plans were revealed to the public, and are believed to have targeted various Israeli interests.
In particular, the case of Cyprus was seen as accurately mirroring the 2015 London incident. In the same year, Hezbollah affiliate Hussein Bassam Abdallah was sentenced to six years in a Cypriot prison after he was discovered to have 8.2 metric tons of ammonia nitrate in his Cyprus home. Reportedly, Mr Abdallah was planning to attack Israel-related targets on the island.
At the time of the designation, UK Foreign Minister, Jeremy Hunt, said the UK now believes that any distinction between Hezbollah’s political and military wings "doenot exist."
However, there were those who disagreed.
The UK Labour Party issued a statement suggesting that the move was a politicised one, saying that, "decisions on the proscription of organisations as terror groups are supposed to be made on the advice of civil servants based on clear evidence that those organisations fall foul of the proscription criteria set out in legislation."