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Operation Pitsford: Guilty verdicts for bomb plotters

February 22, 2013, 3:17 pm

THREE MEN from Birmingham have been found guilty of plotting a bombing campaign intended to be bigger than the 7/7 London attacks.

Irfan Naseer aged 31, Irfan Khalid aged 27 and Ashik Ali also 27, planned to set off up to eight explosive devices in crowded areas, and posed as bogus charity collectors to raise money to fund their plans.

Naseer, from Doris Road, Sparkhill, and Khalid, from Timbers Way, Sparkbrook, were also found guilty of attending a terrorist training camp in Pakistan and Naseer with assisting four younger men to travel there after them.

All three will also face sentencing for trying to recruit others from Birmingham to join the plot which Khalid described as being “another 9-11”. Naseer talked of “spilling so much blood you’ll have nightmares for the rest of your lives.”

The convictions come at the end of a 14-week trial at Woolwich Crown Court. A jury of six men and six women returned unanimous verdicts, finding the defendants guilty of all 12 charges of engaging in conduct in preparation of acts of terrorism.

The judge, Mr Justice Henriques, told them all to expect life sentences with substantial minimum terms. Sentencing will take place at a later date.

Detectives from the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit, who investigated what has been described as the largest terrorism investigation since the airlines bomb plot of 2006, said they did not believe the men had firmly decided on a target for their bombs. However, they were certain the aim was to cause mass deaths and casualties.

West Midlands Police Assistant Chief Constable Marcus Beale says: “No one should underestimate the seriousness of what these men were plotting.

“We had got them under close surveillance, which meant we were able to intervene at an early stage before there was any serious risk to public safety. But had they been able to continue with their plans, the consequences could have been worse than the London bombings of 2005.

“The link to training camps demonstrates the international dimension of the threat we continue to face, and is a stark reminder that there are still groups within our communities who are motivated to plan such acts.

“These three men  all Birmingham born and bred – thought nothing of stealing money given by local people to charities in order to fund their activities. And they went about recruiting other vulnerable individuals to join their criminal activities.

“We have had the cooperation and support of our communities throughout the investigation and we continue to call upon them to help us detect and prosecute the small minority of individuals who plot to harm innocent people.

“The numbers involved in terrorism are small but the potential impact they could have if successful is huge.

“I would like to thank all my colleagues, including those at the Security Service and the Crown Prosecution Service, for their tremendous efforts.”

Bomb plot

During the lengthy trial the prosecution had described how the three were “central figures” in a wider case that includes a total of 11 men and one woman from Birmingham. Members of the group have been charged with a variety of terrorism offences. Six pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing with the remaining three, who have pleaded not guilty, due to go before a jury later this year.

In the weeks leading up to the verdict, the court heard that the defendants were proposing to explode up to eight rucksack bombs in a suicide attack and/or detonate bombs on timers in crowded areas in order to cause mass deaths and casualties. They also discussed using firearms.

Had they achieved their objectives, the scale could have been greater than the London bombings of 2005 which killed 52 and injured over 700.

The three men all pleaded not guilty. From the witness box Naseer claimed that he was trying to counter rumours circulating in the community that he was a spy for the Pakistani intelligence services by claiming an affiliation to al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

The guilty trio were said to have been influenced by al-Qaeda and speeches given by the Yemen-based extremist preacher Anwar al-Awlaki. He was killed by a US drone attack shortly after the defendants were arrested in September 2011.

Pharmacy graduate Naseer and former security officer Khalid  both unemployed at the time of their arrests – had spent two separate periods at terrorist training camps between March 2009 and July 2011  the second one known to have been in Waziristan. There they learned how to use weapons and poisons and make improvised explosive devices, with the intention of using their knowledge in the UK.

The court was also told that the pair had made martyrdom videos to be released by their training camp colleagues in Pakistan after they had carried out suicide attacks. This would most likely be as a result of placing bombs in rucksacks  some with timers for co-ordinated explosions.

The two shared their bomb-making knowledge with Ali, an unemployed former charity worker from Sparkbrook, shortly after they returned from their second training trip in July 2011. The court heard the group then set about recruiting others to help them carry out an attack.

Over the weekend 16, 17 and 18 September 2011, Naseer, Khalid and Ali began experimenting with chemicals to make homemade explosives at Ali’s one-bed council flat in White Street, Balsall Heath.

However, the ‘plotters’ had been under close surveillance by police and the Security Service and it was at this point officers from the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit moved in to arrest them and put an end to their activities.

The defendants had been trying to develop an explosive device using the contents of a sports injury cold pack, had purchased a clock to be used as a timer and bought black curtains to try and shield their bomb making efforts.

The target and timing of the attack was not discovered by the authorities. However, the group was recorded on hidden surveillance devices discussing timescales of between a few months and up to two years.

Fundraising

Over the course of the trial the court listened to details of how money to finance these activities was raised through sham charity collections, where thousands of pounds intended for good causes ended up in the personal bank account of the group”s key fund-raiser, 26-year-old Rahin Ahmed, who has already pleaded guilty to the charges against him.

The men used high visibility vests and collection buckets, bearing the logos of respected charity Muslim Aid, to collect around the Coventry Road and Stratford Road areas of Birmingham during the period of Ramadan  a traditional time for charitable giving among Muslims.

However, most of the money never reached the good causes it was intended for. Instead, more than £14,000 was deposited in Ahmed’s personal account and was later transferred into a ‘Forex’ capital markets trading account in an attempt to boost the funds. Over £9,000 was subsequently lost due to bad investments. The gang also spent some of the money on a car. Muslim Aid received just £1,500.

The group also collected in the name of another charity – Madrasah-e-Ashraful Uloom  which received just £900.

Some of the money was intended to fund a local dawah centre  a type of ‘shop’ for those wanting to learn more about Islam. But this was to be a front and a place where the group could spread their extremist views and carry out their plans. They described it as being “a beautiful cover”.

Prosecutor Brian Altman QC said the public had been “duped” and the group were: “despicably stealing from their own community money donated to charity”.

Recruits

The court also heard that Naseer  known to his friends as “Chubbs” or “Big Irfan” – and Ahmed assisted four younger men from Birmingham to travel to Pakistan for terrorist training in August 2011. However, Khobaib Hussain aged 21 Ishaaq Hussain and Shahid and Khan, both 21, and Naweed Ali aged 25, had spent only a few days at the camp when their families, previously unaware of their plans, discovered where they had gone and arranged for their return. They did not undertake any training. All four pleaded guilty at a hearing in July.

Ali’s older brother Bahader, aged 29, and another associate, Mohammed Rizwan, aged 32, are accused of assisting the attack planning and the convicted ‘plotters’ sought to recruit them to help carry out the terror campaign.

Bahader Ali and an eleventh man, Mujahid Hussain, aged 21, are also accused of taking part in terrorist fundraising and of failing to notify police of terrorist acts.

Mujahid Hussain has pleaded guilty to these charges.

Bahader Ali and Rizwan will stand trial at a later date, as will the estranged wife of Ashik Ali, Salma Kabal. The 23-year-old woman is charged with knowing of the plot and failing to notify police.

The charges

All unanimous verdicts for:
Engaging in conduct in preparation of acts of terrorism, contrary to section 5(1) of the Terrorism Act 2006.

Irfan Naseer:
Planning a bombing campaign
Travelling to Pakistan for training in terrorism
Collecting money for terrorism
Assisting others to travel to Pakistan for training in terrorism
Recruiting others for terrorism

Irfan Khalid:
Planning a bombing campaign
Travelling to Pakistan for training in terrorism
Collecting money for terrorism
Recruiting others for terrorism

Ashik Ali:
Planning a bombing campaign
Collecting money for terrorism
Recruiting others for terrorism

 
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