British bomb plotters jailed for life


May 1, 2007

Salahuddin Amin, Anthony Garcia, Waheed Mahmood, Omar Khyam, and Jawad Akbar were all found guilty.

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Five Britons have been jailed for life after being found guilty of plotting to carry out al Qaeda-inspired bomb attacks across Britain on targets ranging from a nightclub to a shopping mall.

The gang planned to use 600 kg (1,300 lb) of fertilizer to make explosives to be used in bombings in revenge for Britain's support of the United States in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, prosecutors said.

Details of the case -- previously kept secret to ensure a fair trial -- reveal previously undisclosed ties between the five men, the suicide bombers who attacked London's transport network in 2005, and other al-Qaeda linked cells.

Spies had seen Mohammed Sidique Khan, the suspected ringleader of the July 7 bombings, and accomplice Shehzad Tanweer with the men in the days leading up to their arrest, but discounted them because they were not involved in the plot.

Opposition parties and survivors of the bombings demanded a public inquiry into the July 7 attacks in response to the news.

British Home Secretary John Reid said he was "open to an inquiry into all of this."

"We should congratulate the police and MI5," he said.

Omar Khyam, Waheed Mahmood, Anthony Garcia, Jawad Akbar and Salahuddin Amin were convicted on Monday of conspiring with Canadian Mohammed Momin Khawaja to cause an explosion likely to endanger life.

Garcia and Khyam were found guilty of possessing an article for terrorism -- the fertilizer, and Khyam was also convicted of having aluminum powder -- an ingredient in explosives.

The men denied all charges.

'Ruthless misfits'

Sentencing the men, Judge Michael Astill said: "The sentences are for life. Release is not a foregone conclusion. Some or all of you may never be released. You are considered cruel, ruthless misfits by society."

Khyam's brother Shujah Mahmood and another man Nabeel Hussain were found not guilty of involvement in the plot.

During the UK's longest terrorism-related trial, lasting more than a year, prosecutors said the men had only to decide on a target when they were arrested in 2004 before carrying out what would have been the first homegrown attack by Islamist militants.

Police swooped on the suspects about 16 months before four British Islamists carried out suicide bombings on London's transport system in July 2005, killing 52 commuters.

The prosecution said the men had discussed targets including London's biggest nightclub -- the Ministry of Sound -- gas, water and electricity supplies, synagogues, trains, planes, and a large shopping center, Bluewater, east of the capital.

'Massive' loss of life

British police said the scale of their operation, codenamed "Crevice" was, at the time, the largest anti-terrorist action they had carried out.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, Head of the MPS Counter Terrorism Command and National Coordinator of Terrorism Investigations, said the case marked a breakthrough in tackling al Qaeda's presence in the UK.

He also defended the failure by British security forces' to prevent the July 7, 2005 attacks despite the links between the suicide bombers and those under surveillance as part of the "Crevice" operation.

"This case marked a new stage in our understanding of the threat posed by al Qaeda to this country.

"The investigation showed the links that these men had with al Qaeda in Pakistan.

"Most of them had attended a terrorist training camp in Pakistan in 2003, and were taught how to make explosives; some had been involved in extremism as far back as 2001.

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

"It was the first time since 9/11 that we in the UK had seen a group of British men intent on committing mass murder against their fellow citizens.

"While under surveillance they were heard discussing possible targets such as shopping centres, nightclubs, trains -- all heavily crowded places where the loss of life and destruction could have been massive.

"We now know that two of the people who attacked London on July 7, 2005 met with Khyam's group during the Operation Crevice surveillance operation. They were not part of that plot, and at that time were not a threat to public safety.

"In every case, and Operation Crevice was no exception, decisions have to be made as to who poses a threat to the public, and how resources should be used.

"It is a grave disappointment and a matter of great regret to everyone involved in counter-terrorism that we were not able to prevent the attack on 7th July 2005. What this case and others in the future will show is that we are dealing with a threat posed by interlinked networks of terrorists."