11 sentenced in British terror plot

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. Eight co-defendants were given lesser sentences.

Imposing the sentences in East London’s Woolwich Crown Court, Judge Richard Henriques told Irfan Naseer, 31, the ringleader of a gang of would-be bombers from the northern England city of 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-Qaida and you intended to further the aims of al-Qaida,” Henriques told Naseer. “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.

Though Naseer could be eligible for parole after serving 18 years, the judge told him: “Your release will be considered by the Parole Board and may not be until many years later, particularly if you continue to pursue your present ideals.”

Henriques went on to impose lesser sentences on eight other men belonging to the group. 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 plot was the most serious threat uncovered by British police since the 2006 plan to blow 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, a British-born chemistry graduate from Aston University in Birmingham, was said to be influenced by Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born militant Islamist cleric killed by an American drone strike in Yemen in 2011. Naseer 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 was told.

The three leading defendants 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, pleaded guilty to terror charges and were among those sentenced Friday.

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.”