Irfan Naseer, left, Irfan Khalid and Ashik Ali. (West Midlands Police )
LONDON -- Three men convicted of leading a plot to launch terrorist attacks in Britain to rival the Sept. 11 assault and surpass the 2005 deadly bombings on London’s transit system were given sentences Friday ranging from life to 15 years' imprisonment.
Sentencing the men in Woolwich Crown Court in East London, Judge Richard Henriques told Irfan Naseer, 31, the ringleader of a gang of would-be bombers from Birmingham, that he would serve a life sentence on each of five counts for planning terrorist acts between December 2010 and September 2011.
"Your plot had the blessing of Al Qaeda and you intended to further the aims of Al Qaeda," he told him. “Clearly nothing was going to stop you short of intervention of the authorities.
"Many deaths were planned by a determined team of individuals who were fully radicalized and you, Naseer, were their leader,” the judge added.
Naseer’s co-defendant and friend, Irfan Khalid, 28, received 18 years on four counts of terrorism and Ashik Ali, 27, who described himself as the “tea boy and runner for others,” received 15 years on three counts for engaging in preparation of terrorist acts.
[Updated at 9:20 a.m. on April 26: Henriques later sentenced eight other men belonging to the group to lesser sentences. Rahin Ahmed, 28, was given 12 years and Mujahid Hussain, 21, four years. Both pleaded guilty to bogus fundraising for the group. Bahadir Ali, 34, the older brother of Ashik Ali, was sentenced to six years for inciting others to acts of terror.
Naweed Ali, 24, Ishaaq Hussain, 20, Khobaib Hussain, 20, and Shahid Khan, 20, who went to Pakistan to a jihadist training camp; and Mohammed Rizwan, 32, a potential recruit, received sentences ranging from 40 months to four years.]
The 4-1/2-month trial was based on painstaking evidence taken from anti-terror police and MI5 surveillance, with listening devices in the men’s cars as they drove around boasting they were “the suicide bombers ready to take on England” and how their intended bombs would be “another 9/11.”
The terrorist attacks were the worst uncovered by British police since the 2006 terror plots aimed at blowing up trans-Atlantic planes with liquid explosives reports said.
Although no specific targets were revealed, the court heard the three planned to make at least eight bombs weighing about 11 pounds each to leave in backpacks in crowded places; drive cars with some kind of blades attached through unsuspecting crowds; attack military targets; and turn Birmingham into a “war zone.”
They spoke of causing far more mayhem than the London bombing attack on three subway trains and a bus in July 2005, which killed 52 people.
Naseer, who is British born, was said to be influenced by Anwar Awlaki, the U.S.-born extremist cleric killed by an American drone strike in Yemen in 2011, and had spent time in a terror training camp in Pakistan where he learned bomb-making skills as well as how to handle poison and other lethal weapons, the court heard.
The three were also accused of collecting the equivalent of about $55,000 from Birmingham’s Muslim community purportedly for charity but which they used to fund their terror plans.
Naseer was revealed to have persuaded other Birmingham Muslims to travel to Pakistan for terrorism training. Six of them returned, were arrested and pleaded guilty to terror charges.
Assistant Chief Constable Marcus Beale of West Midlands police, who arrested Naseer in 2011, told the British Broadcasting Corp. he was pleased at the sentences.
He said his decision to carry out the arrest at an early stage of the investigation was borne out by the evidence heard at the trial. The judge, he said, "concluded that Naseer was an expert bomb-maker who came with a real specific intent to commit the sort of murder that we heard.”
[For the record, 9:35 a.m. April 26: The first paragraph in an earlier version of this post incorrectly said the three main defendants received sentences ranging from life to 18 years in prison. The range was from life to 15 years.]
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