Woman jailed for 15 years for Stephen Timms murder bid

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The Independent Online

A student who tried to murder a Labour MP after being inspired by a radical al-Qa'ida cleric linked to the air cargo bomb plot was jailed for life with a minimum term of 15 years today.

Roshonara Choudhry, 21, stabbed Stephen Timms twice in the stomach after watching online jihadi sermons by US-born extremist Anwar al-Awlaki.

Her attack on the former Treasury minister is thought to be the first al-Qa'ida-inspired attempt to assassinate a politician on British soil.

She knifed East Ham MP Mr Timms as he held a constituency surgery at the Beckton Globe community centre in east London on May 14, smiling and pretending she was going to shake hands with him before plunging the knife into his body.

After being disarmed by the politician's assistant and held by a security guard, she was arrested and told detectives the stabbing was "punishment" and "to get revenge for the people of Iraq", the Old Bailey heard.

Another knife was found in her bag which she said she had planned to use if the first one broke.

She had also drawn up a list of other MPs who had voted in support of the military action in Iraq.

Choudhry, of Central Park Road, East Ham, east London, was found guilty of attempted murder and two counts of having an offensive weapon.

Mr Timms, 55, has since made a full recovery and gave evidence at the trial.

Mr Justice Cooke, sentencing Choudhry, said: "You said you ruined the rest of your life. You said it was worth it. You said you wanted to be a martyr."

The judge said Choudhry would continue to be a danger to Members of Parliament for the foreseeable future.

The judge said that if Choudhry had succeeded in killing Mr Timms he would have given her a whole-life sentence, meaning she would never be released.

He told her: "You intended to kill in a political cause and to strike at those in Government by doing so.

"You did so as a matter of deliberate decision-making, however skewed your reasons, from listening to those Muslims who incite such action on the internet.

"You are an intelligent young lady who has absorbed immoral ideas and wrong patterns of thinking and attitudes.

"It is not only possible, but I also hope that you will come to understand the distorted nature of your thinking, the evil that you have done and planned to do, and repent of it.

"You do not suffer from any mental disease. You have simply committed evil acts coolly and deliberately."

The court heard that Choudhry was a high-flying university student at King's College London who had hoped to become a teacher but dropped out weeks before carrying out the attack.

English language lecturer Alan Fortune said she was an outstanding student who had been expected to achieve a first-class honours degree, and added: "The world was her oyster."

Choudhry lived at home with her parents, who were not particularly religious and said to be devastated at her actions, and her four younger siblings.

Today, wearing a black headscarf, she spoke only to confirm her name when she appeared by videolink.

She sat placidly, blinking behind her glasses, as she watched proceedings on a screen in front of her.

Some of the 11 jurors who came back to court to hear the sentencing craned their necks to get their first glimpse of the woman they had already tried and convicted in her absence.

She did not appear for the trial because she refused to recognise the jurisdiction of the court.

After the sentence was passed, the videolink was turned off as a group of men began shouting in the public gallery "Allahu akbar" ("God is great"), "British go to hell" and "Curse the judge".

A small demonstration was taking place outside the court.

The judge expressed his best wishes to Mr Timms, saying he continued to represent his constituents faithfully "albeit with heightened security", and referred to the MP's Christian beliefs.

He said: "I understand that he brings to bear his own faith, which upholds very different values to those which appear to have driven this defendant.

"Those values are those upon which the common law of this country was founded and include respect and love for one's neighbour, for the foreigner in the land, and for those who consider themselves enemies, all as part of one's love of God.

"These values were the basis of our system of law and justice and I trust that they will remain so as well as motivating those, like Mr Timms, who hold public office."

The judge told Choudhry: "If given the chance, there is every reason to think that you would commit a similar act in the future against someone else in a similar position to Mr Timms, should you disagree with the vote by him as an MP in Parliament.

"There is a real risk that, if released you might take similar action again against any MP or other person perceived by you to be in a position of power or influence in the organs of government in this democracy for the sake of the cause you espouse."

He added: "When asked how you felt about what you had done, you said that you felt as though you had done what you had planned to do and that though you had ruined the rest of your life, it was worth it.

"You said you wanted to die because you wanted to be a martyr."

Mr Justice Cooke said Choudhry had "absorbed" literature and comments from teachers and preacher on Jihad on the internet. This had led her to attack Mr Timms.

He said: "There is no remorse on your part and you refuse to recognise the jurisdiction of this court over you in respect of your attempts to murder the person chosen by your fellow constituents in the East End of London, including Muslims, to represent them in the democratic institutions of government in this country."

Scotland Yard's counter-terrorism command took over the investigation after Choudhry's link to al-Awlaki was discovered.

The cleric, who preaches online in English, is thought to be behind the air cargo bomb plot involving packages sent from Yemen, where he is based.

US investigators believe he is also linked to the army base killings in Fort Hood, Texas, as well as last year's Christmas airline bomb attempt and the failed Times Square bombing.

Her sentencing comes after security minister Baroness Neville-Jones reportedly urged the United States to order American websites hosting al Qaida videos to remove them.

The politician was said to have used a recent visit to Washington to argue that such sites incite "cold-blooded murder" and would be banned in the UK.

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 ... 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."