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UK spies in disguise testify at US terror trial

NEW YORK: Spies working for Britain’s MI5 intelligence agency donned wigs and makeup Tuesday to testify against a Pakistani Al-Qaeda suspect on trial in New York for allegedly plotting to blow up a British shopping center.

Five surveillance officers, identified by four-digit numbers, detailed how they followed the defendant, Abid Naseer, in March and April 2009 in the cities of Manchester and Liverpool in northern England.

District judge Raymond Dearie prohibited artists at the federal court in Brooklyn from drawing their faces, ordering that their faces be left blank and their haircuts generic in any court sketches.

The witnesses were also permitted to enter the court room from a side entrance, precluding any possibility of mingling with members of the press and public, who use the main public entrance into the gallery.

Three of the men, as well as the one woman agent, wore heavy black and dark-brown wigs and partially shielded their eyes behind spectacles.

Two of the men had helmet-style hair somewhat similar to John Lennon and Paul McCartney from their Beatles days.

US government prosecutors say Naseer helped Al-Qaeda plan an assault on the shopping center as part of coordinated attacks that also targeted the New York subway and a Danish newspaper.

Naseer is being tried in the United States because of the supposed link to the subway.

Prosecutors called it one of the most serious terror plots since the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Speaking calmly and quietly, the agents said they watched the defendant visit a Manchester shopping center, allegedly the intended target.

They also monitored him as he visited a mosque, consorted with other suspects, frequented an Internet cafe and traveled to Liverpool.

The agents all identified the defendant, who is representing himself in court, as the man they knew by the codename “small panel” as part of Operation Pathway that led to his initial arrest in Britain in 2009.

Naseer, who denies the charges, faces life in prison if convicted.

– ‘Happy Skater’ –

Naseer conducted his own defense in articulate, polite English, dressed in a green and black button-down shirt and sporting a large, bushy black beard.

He is charged with providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization, conspiring to provide material support to Al-Qaeda and with conspiring to use a destructive device.

The surveillance officers said they followed him in the company of other men, codenamed Happy Skater, Glass Pendant and Under Current.

Naseer cross-examined three of the spies who once tailed him, one of whom stayed silent when Naseer twice wished him “good morning.”

The fifth agent said he saw Naseer take out a USB stick from his pocket and spend around 10 minutes on a computer in the Internet cafe before he looked “concerned” and moved to a private terminal.

Crucially to the government’s case, the officers said they had never seen the defendant — who was in Britain as a student — go to college, carry any books or in the company of a woman.

The defense argues that Naseer was embarked on a quest to get married and not carry out the attack.

Naseer extracted admissions from the MI5 agents that there was nothing outwardly untoward about his activities in moving around Manchester.

He was first arrested in 2009 in Britain with 11 other men suspected of preparing an attack against the Manchester mall, and was extradited to the United States from Britain in 2013.

The other men were released without charge, but Naseer was arrested again in July 2010 at the request of US prosecutors- AFP

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