Attack targets included gas, power networks
LONDON: Five men, all British citizens, including four of Pakistani origin, were on Monday sentenced to life in prison for planning a terrorist attack on Britain in what came to be known as the "fertiliser bomb plot''.
The plot, allegedly inspired by Al-Qaeda, could have killed hundreds of persons, according to the prosecution. Delivering the much-awaited verdict, the judge, Sir Michael Astill, said the men had "betrayed their country".
The convictions brought to an end one of the longest and most publicised terror trials at Old Bailey.
Home Secretary John Reid described them as "five dangerous terrorists'' whose activities could have "killed and injured many people''. The case, he said, was a reminder that the terrorist threat facing Britain was "real and severe''. The five were arrested in 2004 after 600 kg of chemical fertiliser was found in a storage depot in London, which police claimed, the accused had bought to make bombs as part of a conspiracy to attack high-profile sites across Britain.
The targets allegedly included a major shopping centre in Kent, a nightclub in London and gas and electricity networks.
Those sentenced to life imprisonment are: Omar Khyam (26), Waheed Mahmood (34); Jawad Akbar (23); Salahuddin Amin (31); and Anthony Garcia (24).
Two others, Nabeel Hussain and Shujah Mahmood, were found not guilty.
During the trial, which dominated headlines for weeks, the prosecution accused the defendants, who denied all charges, of having international terror links stretching back to Pakistan and Afghanistan. It was alleged that the accused trained in secret camps in Pakistan.
They were also linked with Mohammed Siddique Khan who later led the July 7 London bombings in which more than 50 persons were killed and hundreds injured. But the jury at Old Bailey was not told of the alleged July 7 link so as not to prejudice them.
The prosecution alleged that the men bought 600 kg of ammonium nitrate from an agricultural merchant and kept it at a storage unit in a west London suburb with the intention of using it to make a "massive'' bomb.
David Waters, Queen's Counsel, said the bomb, or bombs, would have been used "at the very least to destroy a strategic plant within the United Kingdom, or more realistically to kill and injure citizens of the U.K."
The judge told the convicts, ``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.''
Counter-terrorism experts said the gang could have produced a ``formidable weapon'' more powerful than some of the devices used in recent devastating attacks around the world.