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Five Britons are convicted for ambitious bomb plot

Those involved in the conspiracy are British citizens trained in Pakistan by al-Qaida.

By WASHINGTON POST
Published May 1, 2007


LONDON - Five British citizens were convicted Monday in a bomb plot designed to cause massive casualties in a case that officials said proves the increasing links between homegrown British extremists and senior members of the al-Qaida terror network in Pakistan.

"This shows the huge problem of people who are recruited and radicalized here, then sent for training by al-Qaida in Pakistan, which has become a finishing school for terrorism, " said Sajjan Gohel, a security and terrorism specialist in London.

After a yearlong trial that ended with 27 days of jury deliberation, the five men were convicted of a 2003 plot to use a fertilizer bomb to attack a shopping center, nightclub or Britain's natural gas and electricity networks. Officials said the scheme, in which police recovered more than 1, 300 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, was at the time the most ambitious plot ever disrupted by British security services.

The convicted men, who face life sentences, are: Omar Khyam, 26, the group's presumed ringleader; Waheed Mahmood, 34; Jawad Akbar, 23; Salahuddin Amin, 31; and Anthony Garcia, 24. Two other men, Nabeel Hussain and Khyam's brother, Shujah Mahmood, were found not guilty in a case the British police referred to as "Operation Crevice."

British officials have concluded that al-Qaida, the global Islamic radical network directed by Osama bin Laden, has likely been involved in other plots, most notably the July 7, 2005, bombings on the London public transit system that killed 52 passengers and four bombers, and a failed plot two weeks later.

Monday's verdict, and testimony from witnesses throughout the trial, demonstrates that al-Qaida is providing direct training and logistical support for violent attacks in Britain, Gohel said.

Testimony at the trial included repeated references to "Abdul Hadi, " a top al-Qaida operative who had been involved in training the men in Pakistan. Gohel said security officials confirmed that the man was Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, 46, a top al-Qaida figure now in custody at the U.S.-run prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Gohel said the Crevice suspects' involvement with such a top-level operative was "very significant" and showed that their plot was "not just al-Qaida-inspired, but actually assisted by, and under the control of, al-Qaida."

Monday's verdict was also notable because it was reached with unprecedented help of a U.S.-raised al-Qaida operative turned informant. Mohammed Junaid Babar, 31, who was born in Pakistan but moved to New York when he was 2 years old, was the prosecution's chief witness.

Babar was arrested in the United States in 2004 and pleaded guilty to terror-related charges. He faces 70 years in prison but testified against his ex-colleagues in return for a reduced sentence. Babar's mother was in a World Trade Center tower on Sept. 11, 2001, but escaped. Despite that, Babar told investigators, within a week he flew to Pakistan to join a war of jihad against the west.

"This is a real success story in the war on terror - to turn terrorists against each other, " Gohel said.