5 get life for terror plot in London

Trial reveals men's link to 2005 transit attacks

May 01, 2007|By Kim Murphy | Kim Murphy,LOS ANGELES TIMES

LONDON -- A former cricket team captain and a mathematics student at a suburban university were convicted along with three other men yesterday and sentenced to life in prison for plotting a wave of attacks against fellow Britons that would "put terror in their hearts."

In the conclusion of one of the longest and most expensive trials in British history, the five men were found guilty of conspiring to attack targets including a nightclub, a shopping mall and the nation's gas and electrical grid. The plot was never carried out.

At one point, the conspirators talked of poisoning cans of beer at soccer games and arming radio-controlled airplanes with explosives and flying them into British cities.

The 13-month trial provided evidence of alienation among Britain's Muslims and of what authorities think are connections between al-Qaida and the British would-be bombers, who underwent paramilitary training in Pakistan.

In a revelation that triggered widespread concerns across Britain, it was learned that police knew of at least four meetings in 2004 between the plotters and the suicide bombers who carried out the July 2005 bombings in the London public transportation system, which killed 52 people.

It was initially thought that the transit bombers were unknown to authorities, but according to evidence at the trial, police tailed one of the transit bombers, Mohamed Sidique Khan, as part of the current case well before the 2005 explosions.

The news prompted demands for a new inquiry into police handling of the transit bombing investigation.

Police officials said they had no way of knowing at the time that Khan was a serious terrorism threat and had neither the resources nor the legal authority to open investigations without clear cause.

Prosecutors said the five defendants in the bomb plot bought 1,320 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which can be used to manufacture explosives, and appeared to be looking for a place to blow it up in retribution for Britain's military presence in Afghanistan.

Some of the defendants said their trips to training camps in Pakistan were in preparation for supporting Muslim fighters in the embattled Kashmir region on the India-Pakistan border.

An American Muslim who was involved with the defendants in Pakistan testified that two of the men claimed they were reporting to Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, whom they identified as the No. 3 representative of al-Qaida. U.S. authorities revealed last week that al-Hadi was taken into custody last year and is providing information about al-Qaida.

The Pakistani-born American, Mohammed Babar, testified under a grant of immunity.

"It is not an offense to be young, Muslim and angry at the global injustice against Muslims," the five defendants said in a joint statement read by a defense lawyer after the verdict.

"There was no limit to the money, resources and underhanded strategies that were used to secure convictions in this case. This case was brought in an atmosphere of hostility against Muslims at home and abroad."

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Peter Clarke said, "This was not a group of youthful idealists. They were trained, dedicated, ruthless terrorists who were obviously planning to carry out an attack against the British public."

Judge Michael Astill said the men are "considered cruel, misguided misfits by society."

"You have betrayed this country that has given you every opportunity," the judge said.

Two other defendants were acquitted after the jury deliberated for 27 days.

Much of the evidence was compiled as part of a massive surveillance undertaken when employees at a self-storage company in west London telephoned police about ammonium nitrate that was being stored there. Authorities secretly replaced the fertilizer with a substance like cat litter and set up a hidden camera at the rental unit and wiretaps at the homes of the suspects.

Kim Murphy writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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