21 Feb 2013

Birmingham men convicted of bomb plot ‘to rival 9/11’

Three men from Birmingham accused of plotting suicide attacks potentially deadlier than those of 9/11 face life sentences after being found guilty of terrorism.

Irfan Naseer, 31, Irfan Khalid, 27, and Ashik Ali, 27, from Birmingham, have been found guilty at Woolwich Crown Court of being “central figures” in an elaborate suicide plot. The trio planned to dispatch as many as eight suicide bombers to detonate rucksacks stuffed full of explosives in crowded areas across the country.

Their detailed plotting was captured by security services as they discussed their plan from a safe house in Balsall Heath, Birmingham.

“They were deadly serious and they were hell bent because of the training they’d had and the things they said”, said Detective Inspector Adam Gough, from West Midlands Police.

“On committing these acts there’s no doubt whatsoever they were going to build bombs and martyr themselves and kill as many people as they could.”

Prosecutor Brian Altman QC told the jury: “The police successfully disrupted a plan to commit an act or acts of terrorism on a scale potentially greater than the London bombings in July 2005, had it been allowed to run its course.”

From Birmingham to Pakistan

Naseer, known as ‘Chubbs’ or ‘Big Irfan’, and Khalid, nicknamed ‘Little Irfan’ both spent a total of 15 months, during two trips, in terror training camps in Pakistan, and made martyrdom videos. In September 2011, when they started to experiment with making bombs, officers, who had them under surveillance, decided to arrest them.

Counter terrorism officers, who bugged their conversations, overheard them discussing the use of AK47 assault rifles and poisons, as well as blowing themselves up. No specific target locations were mentioned.

But the plans were also tainted with a level of incompetence.

In surveillance recordings, Naseer was heard talking about the possibility of mixing poison into creams such as Vaseline or Nivea and smearing them on car handles to cause mass deaths.

The plotters even considered welding blades to a truck and driving it into people. In a reference to the black comedy film, Ali also told his estranged wife Salma Kabal: “Oh, you think this is a flipping Four Lions. We’re one man short.”

The trio raised more than £13,000 over 23 days in bogus Muslim Aid collections in Sparkbrook for their plot. They only had a licence to collect for one day. Only a fraction of the money reached the charity.

Khalid even boasted that the attack was “another 9/11” as “revenge for everything”.

On committing these acts there’s no doubt whatsoever they were going to build bombs and martyr themselves and kill as many people as they could. Detective Inspector Adam Gough

Mr Justice Henriques told the trio that they will all face life in prison when they are sentenced in April or May.

New British terrorist threat

The trio is part of a new wave of British extremists identified by the security services who travelled abroad for training at al-Qaeda camps in Pakistan specifically to carry out attacks in their homeland. Naseer and Khalid both travelled to terrorist training camps in Pakistan between 2009 and 2011 to learn about bomb-making, poisons and firearms.

Raffaello Pantucci, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said the change is partly because camps in the mountainous region of Waziristan in Pakistan are under increasing threat of drone strikes.

He said: “We have seen this trend starting to emerge for a while. If you look back in time you can see how the time spent training foreign fighters by al-Qaeda or affiliated networks is now being constrained because there is the threat of drone strikes. The command and control element is drawing back.

“I think the conclusion for the security services is that the pressure in Waziristan is working.”

Karen Jones, from the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “These men had dangerous aspirations and, whilst the precise targets remained unclear, the potential for damage and loss of life from their plot should not be under-estimated.

“The evidence we put to the court showed the defendants discussing with awe and admiration the attacks of 9/11 and 7/7. These terrorists wanted to do something bigger, speaking of how 7/7 had ‘gone a bit wrong’.

“Having travelled to Pakistan for expert training and preparation, Naseer and Khalid returned to the UK, where they discussed attacks involving up to eight rucksacks. Had they not been stopped, the consequences would have been catastrophic.”