Man accused of bomb plot was 'happy' about September 11

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The Independent Online

A British man accused of plotting to blow up a major UK target has told a jury that he was "happy" when he heard about the terror attacks on 11 September, 2001.

Omar Khyam, 24, of Crawley, West Sussex, is the first of seven Britons accused of conspiring to create an explosion, possibly at a nightclub or shopping centre, using 600kg (1,300lb) of fertiliser.

He described to a jury at the Old Bailey yesterday his journey from a British school where he was a talented cricketer, to becoming an apprentice guerrilla at a training camp in Pakistan, where he was taught how to fire rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons.

Mr Khyam and six other men deny conspiring with a Canadian man to cause explosions. The defendants were arrested in March 2004 after an MI5 and police surveillance operation when fertiliser was found stored in a west London depot.

When asked in court yesterday about his reaction to the attacks on the World Trade Centre he replied: "I was happy. America was, and still is, the greatest enemy of Islam. They put up puppet regimes in Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt.

"I was happy that America had been hit because of what it represented against the Muslims, but obviously 3,000 people died, so there were mixed feelings."

He added that, after consulting with Islamic leaders, he later thought the attacks to be a tactical mistake. "I think we would be working better in our own countries, trying to establish an Islamic state," he said.

The prosecution allege he was a member of a British terror cell linked to al-Qa'ida, which discussed bombing nightclubs, including the Ministry of Sound in south London, and other targets in the UK.

Mr Khyam described to the jury his childhood and how he had become a Muslim activist. He said his grandfather served in the Army in the Second World War and came to the UK in 1970s. Although his family were Muslims, he had been brought up in a secular household in Crawley, West Sussex, where he lived with his mother and brothers.

"They did not pay much attention to religion," he said. He said he went to a predominantly white school, was captain of the cricket team and did well in exams.

He became more interested in religion as a teenager at East Surrey College, attending meetings locally of a radical group, Al-Muhajiroun. He also started to learn about fighting between India and Pakistan in the disputed region of Kashmir.

The court heard how Mr Khyam first heard about the situation in occupied Kashmir because many of his family were members of the ISI - Inter-Services Intelligence - the Pakistan security service. On a visit in 1999 to his family homeland of Pakistan, he spoke to groups active in Kashmir, he said.

He returned to Britain but, within months, at the age of 17, had run away to Pakistan where he made his way to a training camp in the mountains from January to March 2000. "They taught me everything for warfare," he said.

This included firing weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades, AK47 assault rifles, pistols and sniper rifles, and carrying out reconnaissance. He added that others, who were especially chosen, received explosives training.

After returning to Crawley, he said most of his family was happy at what he had done, except his mother. His father is separated from his mother and lives in Belgium.

In 2001, he went again to Pakistan for a friend's wedding, but crossed to Afghanistan to visit Taliban members before returning to England.

Mr Khyam, his brother Shujah Mahmood, 19, Waheed Mahmood, 34, and Jawad Akbar, 23, all from Crawley; Salahuddin Amin, 31, from Luton, Beds; Anthony Garcia, 24, of Ilford, east London; and Nabeel Hussain, 21, of Horley, Surrey, deny conspiring to cause explosions likely to endanger life between 1 January 2003 and 31 March 2004.

Mr Khyam, Mr Garcia and Mr Hussain also deny a charge under the Terrorism Act of possessing 600kg of ammonium nitrate fertiliser for terrorism. Mr Khyam and Shujah Mahmood further deny possessing aluminium powder for terrorism. The trial continues.