Islamic militants Richard Dart and Imran Mahmood were thwarted by Microsoft Word when they held 'silent conversation'

 

Richard Dart and Imran Mahmood believed they were outwitting surveillance officers when they held a "silent conversation" on a laptop.

As they plotted terror attacks and discussed how to make explosives, they had no idea they were leaving a technological footprint that would eventually build into key evidence against them.

Over many months, police and experts pieced together 2,000 pages of computer codes, painstakingly translating them back into language "character by character" and piecing them together to make the conversation.

In the words of one of the Counter Terrorism detectives involved the practice could be likened to the two terrorists writing on a notepad before ripping out the pages and destroying the paper. However, forensic analysis was able to find the imprint left behind and piece together the shredded conversation.

Mahmood, 22, met Dart, 30, at his Ealing Broadway home on 4 November to discuss plans for terror attacks including one in which they considered targeting grieving families mourning returning soldiers being brought back through Wootton Bassett. They spoke about how to get in touch with the Taliban in Pakistan and al-Qa'ida.

Fearful that they were under surveillance, the pair opened a Microsoft Word document on Dart's laptop and silently typed in their conversation, deleting each page as they went along.

Having failed to obtain terrorist training in Pakistan, Dart was seeking advice from the younger man ahead of a second trip.

Upon their arrest, police seized the laptop and began examining it for evidence with the help of a digital forensics expert. What they found were coded data files within its memory which, once translated, gave them fragments of the conversation.

"These data files would not have been obvious to the users. We pieced them together like paper that has been shredded," said one Detective Sergeant.

By using time data, they were able to put the text together chronologically, enough to realise that the style of the writing, in questions and answers, meant that this was a dialogue between two people.

"The topics of discussion were engaging in terrorist activity, avoiding detection, making explosives and their justification for carrying out attacks in the UK," explained the officer.

Detectives worked out the identities of the two people by the fact that the computer was Dart's and mobile telephone records showed that Mahmood had been in the same location at the time of the conversation.  One of the authors of the conversation identified himself as Sulayman, a name Mahmood had used in previous emails.

They then used language idiosyncrasies and particular spelling mistakes to distinguish one from the other. Dart used the term yer repeatedly while Mahmood tended to write in text speak. At one point he said making explosives was "not rocket science lool" (laughing outlandishly out loud).  He also repeatedly spelled can as cna, etc as ect and whether as weather, referring to jihad simply as j.

Mr Justice Simon said yesterday: "It is a striking feature of this case that it is your own words Mahmood and Dart that have led directly to your convictions in this case."

Suggested Topics
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker