Birmingham terror cell: how Pakistan terror training fuelled rivalries over 'armchair extremism'


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The Independent Online

The two Irfans spoke of how they cowered for hours in 45 Celsius heat to avoid being attacked by drone missiles in a graphic description of life in terror camps in the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan.

The heavyweight Naseer said that he resorted to eating berries as he hid beneath a tree while hearing drones overhead as the recruits prepared to set off explosives in a valley, a 40-minute drive from the ‘classroom’ where they were taught terror skills.

The pair were forced to stay there for more than four hours, according to the account by Naseer, picked up on secret recording devices rigged up by the authorities.

“Was so dry, so dry I was… I was forcing spit to come up so I could swallow it again yeah, I was about to die of dehydration yeah, for two days after that my peshab (urine) was orange colour almost,” he told his colleagues. He recalled thinking: “If I have to stay here for another hour I will pray that I get hit by a drone.”

The ability to train recruits has been hampered because of the threat of drone strikes in the mountainous region of Waziristan, said Raffaello Pantucci, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. “I think the conclusion for the security services is that the pressure in Waziristan is working,” he said.

The difficulty of the training meant that the pair feigned illness and were expelled after hiding in a room watching jihadi videos during one of the two men’s trips to Pakistan.

After their return to Britain, they later sent four young men to the same camp but the project was undermined when one of them phoned home to his family within hours of arriving.

Rivals at a backstreet gym, used by Birmingham extremists, were furious that inexperienced young men had been sent and feared that it would lead to police attention.

The court has heard that a man due to stand trial over this terror plot and a second man dubbed “the terrorists’ favourite bookseller” – Ahmed Faraz – both had financial interests in the gym.

Faraz ran the former Maktabah Islamic bookshop in Birmingham, distributing terrorist books and DVDs that ended up in the hands of extremists including the leader of the 7/7 suicide bombers. He was jailed last year but was cleared on appeal of some of the charges and is free.

Bugged messages suggested that Mr Faraz passed Irfan Naseer’s name to the family of one of the men who travelled to Pakistan, who were desperately trying to get him back.

Naseer subsequently received a death threat from the member of the family, according to transcripts of the bugged conversations. The dispute was painted as between “armchair” jihadists and a group who had actually sent people abroad for training.

During bugged conversations, Irfan Naseer said: “I asked big people about Maktabah guys. You know what they go to me? They go, all right they’re doing these books and stuff, but why they do nothing physical? They said it.”

The family of one of the men sent abroad, Shahid Khan, recruited a community leader to take them to several mosques to try to find associates who could tell them where he was, The Independent has learned.

One of the plotters’ associates refused to say where Khan was until he was threatened with the police, said Nazir Shah, a local campaigner whose family helped with the search. The friend responded by saying he would call them in 24 hours.

A day later, the family received a call to say that he was in Pakistan. “One of the uncles had a relative there who was a policeman. He told him: ‘Wherever they are, get them out’,” said Mr Shah.

The four men were swiftly tracked down to a terror camp and three were sent home within three days, according to court documents. The fourth, Mr Khan, was kept virtually imprisoned by his family until he was sent back several months later.