A teenager who planned an Isis-inspired terror attack in London after being prevented from joining the terrorist group in Syria has been jailed for life.
Safaa Boular was just 16 when she started the plot, and she is the youngest woman to be convicted of attempting an atrocity in Britain.
She was jailed for a minimum of 13 years at the Old Bailey after a judge said she had been “old enough to make her own decisions” and still posed a high risk of harm to the public.
Boular had discussed using guns and grenades to attack potential targets including the British Museum with her online boyfriend, who was an Isis fighter from Coventry.
She originally hoped to marry Naweed Hussain in Raqqa but was prevented from travelling to the Isis stronghold by police, and became even more determined to carry out the atrocity after learning the 32-year-old been killed in an airstrike.
Judge Mark Dennis QC said there was no proof of claims by the defence that Boular, now 18, had been deradicalised and no longer considered herself a Muslim.
“In my view there’s insufficient evidence to say at this stage this defendant is a truly transformed individual ... her views were deeply entrenched,” he told the court.
“However much she may have been influenced and drawn into her extremist mindset, it is apparent that she knew what she was doing and acted with open eyes.”
Boular denied two counts of preparing acts of terrorism, by expressing intent to carry out a suicide attack for Isis in Syria, and then by plotting an atrocity in Britain, but was convicted in June.
Judge Dennis said that it was only “circumstance outside her control” that have prevented the atrocities and said Boular was “deeply committed” to Isis ideology.
Prosecutors had called for Boular to be jailed for life with a minimum term of 15 years, telling the Old Bailey she would have committed an attack if she were able to acquire weapons.
But Joel Bennathan QC, for the defence, said the teenager had been “groomed and radicalised” by Hussain and others online and there was no real risk of her carrying out a terror attack because of stringent surveillance.
Boular’s plans were disrupted when she was charged with her earlier attempt to travel to Syria in April 2017, so she passed the torch to her older sister Rizlaine Boular.
She and their mother, Mina Dich, have already been jailed for plotting a knife attack in Westminster, which they discussed with Boular over the phone from prison in code as an Alice in Wonderland-themed “tea party”.
Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon, the senior national coordinator for counterterrorism policing, said: “All three women were filled with hate and toxic ideology and were determined to carry out a terrorist attack. Had they been successful, it could well have resulted in people being killed or seriously injured.
“But thanks to the work of the security services and counter terrorism police, their plans never came to fruition.”
Jailing Rizlaine Boular and Dich in June, Judge Dennis said the mother had played a “significant role” in radicalising both her daughters and bore a “heavy responsibility” for their actions.
Rizlaine Boular first tried to join Isis in Syria in October 2014 but was stopped by Turkish police and sent home, and two years later prosecutors said her younger sister had “developed an extremist mindset and commitment of her own”.
Boular was stopped by police as she returned from a family holiday in Morocco in August 2016 and investigation of her phone showed she had been viewing Isis propaganda, social media posts by the group’s female members and training videos.
When questioned, the teenager admitted having a network of up to 400 online “friends” from Isis, including a relationship established on Twitter with female Isis recruiter Umm Isa Al-Amriki when she was 15.
After Boular told police she wanted to travel to Syria and marry Hussain, officers seized her passport and searched her family home but did not arrest her.
But she and her sister were arrested just two days later after fleeing their home and being reported missing, but were released on bail.
Although Boular was repeatedly brought back in for questioning, she continued to contact Hussain using a secret phone hidden inside a cushion and was not detained until April 2017.
But spies had already intercepted Boular’s conversations on the encrypted messaging app Telegram by posing as Isis operatives, having monitored her since she was stopped at Stansted Airport.
Phone records show Boular and Hussain “declared their love for each other” when she was just 16 after two months of online conversations.
They discussed “departing the world holding hands” wearing suicide belts and murdering Barack Obama, with Boular telling him: “I want Jannah [paradise after death] so bad.”
The couple tried to marry on Skype in August 2016 but could not find anyone to perform the ceremony, but Boular’s family considered her a “widow” after his death.
Boular claimed during her trial that Hussain had groomed her, telling the jury she refused his three attempts to get her to attack the UK – over Christmas 2016, Valentine’s Day and around her birthday in March last year.
But prosecutors said that while Hussain – who attempted to recruit other British women online – “had undoubtedly done much to encourage Boular in these plans, the intention underlying those plans was always hers”.
“Her commitment to violence in the cause of Islamic extremism in general and Isis in particular was independent of him,” Duncan Atkinson QC told the Old Bailey.
After Boular learned Hussain had been killed in bombing on 4 April 2017 her “determination was strengthened” and she asked roleplayers for assistance in continuing their plan.
“He mentioned something about the British Museum and the tokarev [pistol] and pineapple [grenade],” she told one spy. “He told me that he knew brothers in the UK who were close to him, who would have dropped these off for me.
“I’m not sure how and if I could get hold of these now ... Abu Usamah [Hussain] told me that all it takes was a car and a knife to get what I want to achieve.”
After Boular was detained for trying to travel to Syria on 12 April 2017, MI5 agents and counter-terror police also recorded conversations with her mother and sister that showed them taking on her bloody plans.
They discussed the continued plot in code as a “tea party” and in one telephone call, Rizlaine Boular said she knew “a few recipes for some amazing cakes” for a “proper like English tea party kind of thing”.
Boular suggested an “Alice in Wonderland theme” telling her sister: “You can be the Mad Hatter ‘cause your hair’s crazy.” Dich responded: “That will be fun.”
Prosecutors said the conversations suggested the attack would have taken place on 27 April 2017, with Rizlaine Boular and her mother buying knives and driving around Westminster landmarks on a reconnaissance mission.
They were arrested on that evening, after surveillance showed Rizlaine Boular had been practicing knife attacks with her friend, and armed police shot her as she screamed “f*** you”.
Police uncovered a collection of Isis and al-Qaeda propaganda on devices belonging to the 22-year-old and her mother, including from jailed radical preacher Anjem Choudary.
The pair pleaded guilty to preparation of terrorist acts, while friend Khawla Barghouthi, 21, admitted failing to alert authorities to the plot.
It was foiled on the day Taliban bomb-maker Khalid Ali was arrested while walking towards the Houses of Parliament with three knives to “deliver a message” in an unrelated attack.
Security services have been foiling terror plots at a rate of one a month since the Westminster attack in March 2017, and a record number of terror arrests are being made as the UK’s threat level remains at “severe”.
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