THREE leaders of a jihadist terror cell have been jailed for plotting mass murder, potentially worse than the 7 July attacks, with the blessing of al-Qaeda.
Ringleader Irfan Naseer, 31, was handed a life sentence at Woolwich Crown Court yesterday and will serve a minimum of 18 years before he is considered for release.
Naseer’s “inseparable” lieutenant, Irfan Khalid, 28, was given an extended sentence of 23 years and a minimum of 12 behind bars, and Ashik Ali, also 28, who provided them with a safe house, was given an extended sentence of 20 years and must serve a minimum of ten before he can be considered for release on licence.
The eight other members of the Birmingham gang, which aimed to explode up to eight rucksack bombs in suicide bombings, were sentenced to a total of up to 29 years for their part in the plan.
Police believe it was the most significant terror plot to be uncovered since the 2006 conspiracy to blow up transatlantic airliners using bombs disguised as soft drinks.
Sentencing, Mr Justice Henriques described Nasser as a “skilful bomb-maker” and the group’s “leader, driving force and man in charge”.
Addressing Nasser, the judge said: “Clearly, nothing was going to stop you, short of intervention of the authorities.
“I have no doubt you would have continued with your plan but for that intervention.”
The judge warned the chemistry graduate that although he would be considered for licence in 18 years, a parole board would not release him until he renounced “extremist views”.
Khalid boasted that the attack was going to be “another 9/11”, while Naseer was heard agreeing that the 7 July attacks had not done enough damage because there were no nails in the bombs.
Sentencing Khalid, Mr Justice Henriques said he took into account that the accused had been found to be in the lower 2 per cent to 5 per cent of the population in terms of cognitive ability.
The judge said he did not accept partially sighted Ali’s portrayal of himself as the group’s “tea boy or runner for others”.
In February, Naseer was found guilty of five counts of preparation of terrorist acts, Khalid of four, and Ali of three, all between Christmas Day 2010 and 19 September 2011.
For Naseer, Khalid and Ali, this included planning a bombing campaign, collecting money for terrorism and recruiting others for terrorism.
Mr Justice Henriques said Naseer bore “sole responsibility” for sending Shahid Khan, 21, Khobaib Hussain, 21, Ishaaq Hussain, 21, and Naweed Ali, 25, to Pakistan for terrorist training in August 2011.
Three of the young men, all from Birmingham, were forced to return just three days later after relatives got wind of the sinister reasons for their journey.
Sentencing all four to 40 months in prison, of which they will serve a minimum of 20 months, the judge said: “It is a chilling thought that unbeknown to your parents, you left this country intending to undergo a period of terror training.”
The four had pleaded guilty to engaging in conduct in preparation for terrorist acts by travelling to Pakistan for training.
Attempting to fund their plot by posing as Muslim Aid charity street collectors, the group duped legitimate supporters into giving them money. They raised £12,000 in this way, but were forced to apply for tens of thousands of pounds in loans after losing more than £9,000 of the money playing foreign currency markets.
“Chief financier” Rahin Ahmed, 26, was sentenced to 17 years and will serve six years before he can be released on licence.