Student who stabbed MP Stephen Timms 'inspired by al-Qa'ida cleric'
Tuesday 02 November 2010
A student who tried to murder an MP was inspired by a radical al-Qa'ida cleric linked to the air cargo bomb plot, it emerged today.
Roshonara Choudhry, 21, stabbed former Labour minister Stephen Timms twice in the stomach after watching online sermons by US-born Anwar al-Awlaki.
The wanted preacher is thought to be behind the bomb plot involving packages sent from Yemen - where he is based.
US investigators believe he is also linked to the US army base killings in Fort Hood, Texas, as well as last year's Christmas airline bomb attempt, and the failed Times Square bombing.
Choudhry's attack on Mr Timms is thought to be the first al-Qa'ida-inspired attempt to assassinate a politician on British soil.
She became radicalised after watching al-Awlaki's English-language jihadi sermons on the internet.
After her arrest, she told detectives that she attacked Mr Timms during a constituency surgery in May in revenge for his voting for the war in Iraq.
Choudhry, of East Ham, east London, had also drawn up a list of other MPs who had backed the UK's military action.
A source said: "She had researched the voting records of a number of MPs around the Iraq war."
But the source said that in relation to her searches of jihadi websites there was "no evidence to suggest there was any contact with anyone" and it was "looking at rather than reaching out".
"This was something which was done privately on the internet."
Choudhry attacked East Ham MP Mr Timms at the Beckton Globe community centre in east London on May 14.
She was disarmed by the MP's assistant and held by a security guard before police arrived and she was arrested.
An investigation into her case was taken over by Scotland Yard's counter terrorism command after the link to al-Awlaki was found on her computer.
She faces jail after being convicted today of attempted murder and two counts of possessing an offensive weapon and will be sentenced via videolink tomorrow.
It follows an unusual two-day trial in which she failed to go to the Old Bailey to hear the case against her, telling her barrister she did not recognise the jurisdiction of the court.
She had refused to enter pleas to the charges and instructed lawyers not to challenge the prosecution case.
Mr Timms, 55, a former Treasury minister, has since made a full recovery.
Jurors reached their verdicts in the case after just 14 minutes.
The court heard that Choudhry was dressed all in black when she went to see the MP, for a pre-booked appointment, shortly after 3pm on May 14.
Mr Timms said: "She looked friendly. She was smiling, if I remember rightly.
"I was a little puzzled because a Muslim woman dressed in that way wouldn't normally be willing to shake a man's hand, still less to take the initiative to do so, but that is what she was doing.
"She lunged at me with her right hand."
"I think I knew that I had been stabbed although I didn't feel anything and I can't recall actually seeing a knife but I think I said 'She has a knife' or words to that effect.
"I attempted to push away the second lunge but was not successful."
"I retreated into the gents' toilet and lifted up my jumper and realised there was quite a lot of blood there so I realised I had been stabbed."
When asked by police why she had stabbed him twice, Choudhry said: "I was not going to stop until someone made me. I wanted to kill him... I was going to get revenge for the people of Iraq."
The court heard that Choudhry was "anxious" as she waited for the MP to arrive at the centre and asked security guard Faisal Butt where he was.
William Boyce QC, prosecuting, said that, when she went in to see Mr Timms, she "moved around the desk towards him" and he thought it was to shake his hand.
"He put out his hand accordingly. The defendant put out her left hand as if to shake his.
"But it was a ruse, because in her right hand, which she had concealed behind her bag and/or clothing, she had a kitchen knife with a three-inch blade."
Choudhry told police: "I purposefully walked round the side of the desk so I could get close to him.
"He pointed for me to sit down on the chair but instead I walked towards him with my left hand out as if I wanted to shake his hand.
"Then I pulled the knife out of my bag and I hit him in the stomach with it. I put it in the top part of his stomach like when you punch someone.
"I was trying to kill him because he wanted to invade Iraq."
Asked why, she answered: "Punishment."
"He shouted at me 'What was that for?' I think I stabbed him again. I think I did it twice. I tried to attack him again. People started to scream."
A knife with a five-inch blade was found wrapped in a red towel.
Choudhry said she had taken two knives - which were found to have been both newly purchased and "razor sharp" - in case one broke during the attack.
She said she had chosen to stab him in the stomach because she was not strong and it was a soft part of the body.
Mr Boyce said Choudhry was not suffering from mental illness.
After the stabbing, Mr Timms was given first aid before being taken to the Royal London Hospital.
He had suffered two small lacerations to the left of his liver, and a small perforation of the stomach - injuries which could have been life-threatening due to possible loss of blood and infection had he not been treated.
Jurors were shown CCTV images of what happened featuring the "black figure" of Choudhry and Mr Timms in a purple jumper.
The MP could be seen "courteously" standing to greet her, said Mr Boyce.
"He thinks she is there on constituency business."
Mr Boyce said that, within seconds, a knife could be seen protruding from her right hand and the MP then "reeling and staggering" away.
She could later be seen held in a "bear hug" by Mr Butt, he said.
The Met's Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Osborne said: "Stephen Timms was carrying out his constituency duties as a democratically elected Member of Parliament.
"He was extremely fortunate not to have been killed. Mr Timms, like all MPs, are entitled to fulfil their role without fear of violence. There can never be any justification for anyone carrying out such an attack."
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