British-born Muslim admits plot to blow up airliner

A British-born Muslim has admitted plotting to blow up an aircraft bound for America in the first major prosecution of an al-Qa'ida terrorist in the UK since the 11 September attacks.

A British-born Muslim has admitted plotting to blow up an aircraft bound for America in the first major prosecution of an al-Qa'ida terrorist in the UK since the 11 September attacks.

Saajid Badat, 25, had planned to set off a bomb at the same time as the British "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, who is serving a life sentence in the United States. But Badat changed his mind and dismantled his shoe bomb, which was seized by police at his home in Gloucester in November 2003.

Anti-terrorist officers believe Badat became radicalised by extremists at a mosque in south London in the late 1990s after he fell out with his father. He then travelled to Afghanistan where he spent about two years at an al-Qa'ida training camp.

During a 15-minute hearing at the Old Bailey yesterday, he admitted to conspiring to blow up an aircraft between January 1999 and November 2003. The guilty plea took the authorities by surprise because he had been expected to stand trial for the offence.

Badat and Reid, who was sentenced to 120 years in the United States after being caught trying to detonate a shoe bomb on a flight to Miami, went to the same training camp in Afghanistan, possibly at Khalden. Both men are believed to have received training in suicide bombing and were given explosive devices designed to evade airport security and destroy an aircraft in flight. The bomb found in Badat's bedroom was identical in some respects to the device hidden in Reid's shoe.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, the head of the Metropolitan Police's Anti-Terrorist Branch, said: "Today's conviction demonstrates the reality of the threat we are facing. Badat had agreed to blow up a passenger aircraft from Europe to the United States and was prepared to kill himself and hundreds of innocent people.

"We must ask how a young British man was transformed from an intelligent, articulate person who was well respected, into a person who has pleaded guilty to one of the most serious crimes that you can think of."

He added: "This is a very important conviction and is the culmination of a painstaking investigation lasting three years

"We travelled to some 15 countries as part of the investigation and gathered overwhelming evidence which led to Sajid Badat pleading guilty.

"That included scientific evidence which proved a match between material found at Badat's home and that which Richard Reid had."

The Old Bailey was told that in December 2001 Badat had booked a ticket to fly from Manchester to Amsterdam in preparation for an onward flight to the United States on which the explosive device would be detonated. But intelligence sources say no onward flight was booked from Amsterdam.

Instead, the court heard, on 14 December 2001, four days after Badat returned to Britain, he e-mailed his superiors "indicating he might withdraw". It remains a mystery why Badat had second thoughts about the bombing, although it is not unusual for suicide terrorists to pull out at the last moment.

Born on 28 March 1979 in Gloucester to a strict Muslim family who moved to England from Malawi, Badat was an active member of his community and had hopes of becoming a Islamic priest. He was educated at Crypt Grammar School for Boys in Gloucester from 1990 to 1997, where he gained four A-levels.

He is understood to have rowed with his father, Mohammed, a retired factory worker, and became increasingly serious about his religion. He spent some time at a mosque in south London, where counter-terrorist sources believe he was infused with radical ideas, and then went to the training camps in Afghanistan.

While there, he is thought to have met Richard Reid. Unlike Badat, Reid was a poorly educated petty criminal from south London, who became radicalised while in a young offenders institution and at the Brixton mosque in south London. Reid tried to carry out his suicide mission on an American Airlines flight, carrying 197 passengers and crew, from Paris to Miami in December 2001, but was overpowered.

Phone cards found on Reid were said to have been used by Badat to contact Reid's terrorist link, a man named Nizar Trabelsi, who is in jail in Belgium.

After Reid had been arrested, MI5 and the anti-terrorist branch became increasingly convinced that there was a "second shoe bomber".

After Badat aborted his mission he enrolled in a five year course at the College of Islamic Knowledge and Guidance in Blackburn, Lancashire. But, after living as a boarder for two years, he returned to his parents in the summer of 2003. He lived in Barton, part of the 4,000-strong Muslim population of Gloucester, and preached at the local mosque, where he was a softly spoken and respected member of the community.

Badat came under investigation after his name was obtained by MI5 as someone who had spent a suspiciously long time in Afghanistan. He is understood to have been at a training camp for about two years from 1998 to 2000. He came under intense surveillance in an operation that involved anti-terrorist officers travelling to 15 different countries.

In November 2003, officers raided his home and found an explosive device designed to fit into the heel of a shoe. Badat later told police that he had removed the detonator and plastic explosive from the shoe in which it had been hidden. A piece of detonating cord that was recovered was identical to the one used in Reid's bomb.

While Badat is not thought to have been involved in any other bombing plots on his return to Britain, there is concern that he had been involved in attracting supporters to al-Qa'ida.

His arrest came as shock to those in his local community, many of whom struggled to believe that Badat could be involved in terrorism. Usman Bhaimia, Gloucester's first Muslim councillor said: "When I heard the news I was absolutely shocked. He is such a lovely guy, very studious and hard-working and quiet. Everyone in the community loves him and I think this is the reason why everyone is so shocked at the news."

Inayat Bunglawala, a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said: "This appears to be the first clear-cut case of actual involvement by a British Muslim in a terror plot in this country. It is shocking news, but Saajid Badat can expect no sympathy from British Muslims because he has pleaded guilty to involvement in a terror plot targeting innocents."

Massoud Shadjareh, chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, said at least Badat had changed his mind about the plot. "When it really counted he decided that this was too horrible and an unacceptable thing to do," he said. "It shows his real Islamic inclinations came at the 11th hour to help him." A spokesman for the Islamic college in Blackburn said: "We are deeply shocked. We condemn what he has been doing and we welcome the success of the police."

The spokesman said Badat had gone through the same vetting process as every other student at the college in Blackburn. "Badat went through the vetting procedures but nothing showed up and he was taken on as a student. It could happen to any college."

Badat will be sentenced on 18 March after Mr Justice Fulford, has heard the full prosecution case, followed by mitigation.

HOW THE PLOT WAS HATCHED... AND FOILED

24 March 1979 Saajid Badat born in Gloucester to devout Muslims.

1990 to 1997 Educated at Crypt Grammar School for Boys in Gloucester, a Church of England school. Leaves with 10 GCSEs and four A-Levels, with B grades in physics, chemistry and biology and a C in general studies.

1998 Starts attending mosque in south London, then leaves for Pakistan and Afghanistan.

1998-2000 Trains in al-Qa'ida camps along with the Richard Reid, a criminal from south London. Learns how to detonate explosives. Along with Reid, Badat is given a shoe bomb that cannot be detected by airport security.

10 December 2001 Returns to Britain with shoe bomb. During this time he booked a plane ticket from Manchester to Amsterdam in preparation for an (unspecified) onward flight to the US. It is thought he planned to detonate the bomb on this onward flight but he aborted the mission.

14 December E-mails his handler to say he has had second thoughts about suicide attack.

22 December Reid boards flight from Paris to Miami and is overpowered by passengers as he tries to light fuse on shoe bomb. Later jailed for life in the US.

Summer 2003 After living as a boarder at an Islamic college in Blackburn he returns to his parents in Gloucester.

27 November Police raid Badat's parents' home in Gloucester. He is seized and dismantled shoe bomb is found, with a detonating cord identical to that used by Reid.

Yesterday Pleads guilty at Old Bailey to conspiring to blow up an aircraft. Judge orders two lesser charges under 1883 Explosive Substances Act - which he denied - to lie on the file.

18 March 2005 Old Bailey judge Mr Justice Fulford will hear prosecution case, followed by mitigation

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