Al-Qa'ida man jailed for directing terrorism

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The first person to be convicted in the UK of directing terrorism was jailed today for a minimum of 10 years.

Rangzieb Ahmed, 33, headed a three-man al-Qa'ida service cell which was preparing to commit mass murder, Manchester Crown Court heard.

The Rochdale-born Muslim was also found guilty of al-Qa'ida membership, along with his associate, Manchester taxi driver Habib Ahmed.

Habib Ahmed, 29, was sentenced to a total of 10 years in prison - nine for being a member of the terror group and an additional one year for possessing a document for terror-related purposes.

Handing Rangzieb Ahmed a life sentence, Mr Justice Saunders said: "The prosecution case accepted by the jury was you were not one of the leaders but a recruiter and organiser of smaller terrorist cells throughout the world to work for al-Qa'ida.

"You were a not insignificant member of al-Qa'ida - a terror group that is prepared to kill and maim innocent people indiscriminately to achieve their aims.

"I am satisfied you are dedicated to the cause of Islamic terrorism. You are an intelligent, capable and superficially reasonable man who is involved in terrorism.

"That makes you an extremely dangerous man."

He ruled that he should serve a minimum of 10 years before he is considered for parole and that would only be when he is no longer considered a danger to the public and has forsaken his radical views.

Mr Justice Saunders told Habib Ahmed: "You assisted Rangzieb Ahmed, a man who you knew to be an active terrorist working for al Qaida.

"You joined up with him. You assisted him by travelling to Dubai when he was on a terrorist mission and you brought the notebooks into this country.

"Those notebooks were extremely important.

"They may not have contained the details of how to make bombs but they were in my view just as important to al Qaida. Without them Rangzieb Ahmed would have not have been able to carry on organising terrorism."

A member of the public gallery shouted, "Jannah (paradise) is yours" as Habib Ahmed was led to the cells, while another said: "He is innocent."

Counter-terrorism chiefs in Greater Manchester were not sure where Rangzieb Ahmed was planning to strike, but they were convinced an attack was imminent.

His scheme was uncovered when he passed three diaries to Habib Ahmed, no relation, to bring into the UK from Dubai.

The diaries appeared largely blank but actually contained details of key al-Qa'ida operatives written in invisible ink - contact books for a terrorist.

The phone number of the terror group's former No 3, Hamza Rabia, was among the diary entries, a jury at Manchester Crown Court was told.

Rabia was understood to be the ultimate controller of Rangzieb's unknown foreign mission which was postponed when he was blown up in an explosion in December 2005.

Rangzieb needed to get rid of the diaries and summoned Habib to collect them in Dubai and keep them safe in the UK.

Custom officials at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam searched Habib's luggage en route to Manchester and found the diaries, which they photographed and then placed back.

In August 2006 Rangzieb was arrested by the Pakistani authorities on suspicion of al-Qa'ida links and Habib was apprehended shortly afterwards in Manchester.

Two of the invisible ink diaries were discovered at Habib's home in Elmfield Street, Cheetham Hill, north Manchester, following his arrest. The third book has never been recovered.

The names of Mamoun Darkazanli, a suspected terrorist financier linked to the 2004 Madrid bombings, and Khalid Habib, a noted guerrilla fighter, were among those discovered in a page torn out of the diary in Habib's handwriting.

Rangzieb and Habib were convicted of the terror offences yesterday following a 11-week trial.

The jury of seven women and five men cleared Habib's wife, Mehreen Haji, 28, of two counts of arranging funding for the purposes of terrorism.

The judge told the court that Bury-born Habib was dedicated to the radical Islamist cause and would have been prepared to carry out a suicide bomb mission.

"You were radicalised as a student by people such as Omar Bakri and organisations like al-Muhajiroun and since that time you have have been interested in extreme Islamic views and a belief in violent jihad," Mr Justice Saunders said.

"There came a time when you became dissatisfied with only being involved in demonstrations and waving banners and you became directly involved in terrorism.

"You were completely dedicated to the cause and prepared, I am satisfied, if necessary to take part in suicide bombing attacks. Your faith, you believed, required you to do this."

He added that he was satisfied that Rangzieb was involved in terror groups in the UK and South Africa, where he planned to travel before his December 2005 mission was aborted.

"Obviously it is important those who protect our safety do not wait until a terrorist act is committed before making arrests or wait until the very last minute in order to find out what terrorist act is being planned with an inevitable risk to life," he said.

"While I am satisfied that at the time of your arrest you were planning something, I do not know what it was, how imminent it was nor what were the chances of it succeeding or what, if any, loss of life it was likely to cause."

Rangzieb, of Fallowfield, south Manchester, also received concurrent sentences of nine years both for membership of al Qaida and possessing the diaries for the use of terrorism, and six years for membership of terror group Harakat ul-Mujahideen.

Habib was jailed for nine years for possessing the diaries and three years for professing to al Qaida membership - also to run concurrently.

He received his consecutive one-year sentence for possessing a document on the explosives used in the 1994 bombing of an Israeli charity premises in Finchley, north London.