LONDON – A former cricket team captain and a mathematics student at a suburban university were convicted along with three other men Monday and sentenced to life in prison for plotting to stage 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 English history, the five men were found guilty of conspiring to attack targets such as a crowded nightclub, a sprawling shopping mall and the nation’s gas and electrical grid. The plot was never carried out.
At one point, the conspirators even talked of poisoning cans of beer at football games and arming radio-controlled airplanes with explosives and flying them into British cities.
The 13-month trial provided startling evidence not only of the chilling alienation within parts of Britain’s own Muslim community, but of what authorities believe are connections between al-Qaida and the British would-be bombers, who underwent paramilitary training in Pakistan.
Prosecutors said the five defendants purchased 1,320 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which can be used to manufacture explosives, and appeared to be casting about 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.
Testimony from an American Muslim who was involved with the defendants in Pakistan revealed 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 has been 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.”
But Metropolitan police Commissioner Peter Clarke insisted that “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.”
The judge, Michael Astill, said the men are “considered cruel, misguided misfits by society” and ordered them to serve terms ranging from 20 to 40 years of their life sentences.
“You have betrayed this country that has given you every opportunity,” the judge said.