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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before