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Isis-supporting couple planned Christmas terror attack after meeting on online dating site

Police say 'significant loss of life' was averted with arrests in December 2016

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Monday 08 January 2018 16:15 GMT
Munir Mohammed from Derby and Rowaida El-Hassan from London were found guilty of planning an Isis-inspired terror attack
Munir Mohammed from Derby and Rowaida El-Hassan from London were found guilty of planning an Isis-inspired terror attack (North East Counter Terrorism Unit)

An Isis-supporting couple have been found guilty of preparing to launch a terror attack using a homemade bomb and chemical weapons in the UK.

Security services feared Munir Mohammed and Rowaida el-Hassan were ready to strike before they were detained in December 2016, with police saying a “significant loss of life” had been averted.

Mohammed, 36, had already amassed two out of three core components for triacetone triperoxide (TATP), the unstable explosive used in recent Isis attacks, including in Paris and Brussels.

He had also downloaded manuals on how to make mobile phone detonators and ricin, a deadly poison that can kill an adult victim with just a few grains.

Mohammed, of Leopold Street in Derby, and El-Hassan, of Willesden Lane in north-west London, denied preparing terrorist acts between November 2015 and December 2016 but a jury found them both guilty.

Judge Michael Topolski QC remanded them in custody and warned them they faced jail when they are sentenced next month.

He said Mohammed had been convicted of “planning a potentially devastating terrorist attack by creating an explosive device and deploying it somewhere in the UK targeting those you regarded as enemies of Isis”.

“Rowaida El-Hassan, you share the extremist mindset with Munir Mohammed and you were ideologically motivated to provide him with support, motivation and assistance,” the judge added.

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“You knew he was engaging and planning an attack. You knew he was planning an explosion to kill and maim innocent people in the cause of Isis.”

The Old Bailey heard that El-Hassan, a pharmacist, became a willing participant in the plot after meeting Mohammed on dating website SingleMuslim.com.

She had advertised “for a simple, very simple, honest and straightforward man who fears Allah” who she could “vibe with on a spiritual and intellectual level”.

Prosecutors said Mohammed was specifically drawn to her profile in late 2015 after seeing she had a masters’ degree in pharmacy, aiming to use her chemical knowledge in the attack.

Jurors were told the pair had a “rapidly formed emotional attachment and a shared ideology” and were in regular contact on WhatsApp by spring 2016, meeting in a London park near El-Hassan’s home.

Records of their messages show they shared extremist views and videos, while Mohammed was put in touch with a man he believed was an Isis commander via Facebook.

Prosecutor Anne Whyte QC said Mohammed “resolved upon a lone wolf attack”, while working making sauces for supermarket ready meals, and El-Hassan was well aware of his plan.

He pledged allegiance to the man, known as Abubakr Kurdi, and offered to participate in “a new job in the UK” – a phrase jurors were told referred to a terror attack.

In September 2016, Mohammed complained he had not received his instructions, telling his contact: “If possible send how we make dough [explosives] for Syrian bread [a bomb] and other types of food.”

Munir Mohammed looking at pressure cookers at a shop in Derby, during the time he was attempting to build a bomb (North East Counter Terrorism Unit)

El-Hassan, a 33-year-old divorcee with two children, advised Mohammed on what chemicals to buy for a bomb, the court heard.

That November, Mohammed got hold of a video containing information on how to manufacture ricin, and days before his arrest he was captured on CCTV buying “acetone free” nail polish from Asda, in the mistaken belief it was a component of TATP.

He also looked at pressure cookers at Ace Discounts, which the prosecution said could be used to contain the explosives, according to several terrorist manuals.

Police found hydrogen peroxide in a wardrobe and hydrochloric acid in the freezer of his home during a raid on 12 December 2016 but Mohammed claimed they were for domestic purposes.

He told the Old Bailey he sent El-Hassan extremist videos “mainly for the news” and claimed his intention was “to marry her”.

But Mohammed had an arranged marriage in Sudan with a woman he had never met called Fatima, who he was hoping to bring to England on a student visa.

He had arrived in Britain in the back of a lorry and claimed asylum in February 2014, the court heard.

After awaiting a decision for more than two years, he appealed to his local MP Margaret Beckett for help, but she was told his case had been referred to a “specialist unit for consideration”.

El-Hassan, who came to Britain from Sudan at the age of three, told jurors she had sulphuric acid for her drains and got face masks to wear as she dealt with a damp problem in her flat.

Asked if she had feelings for Mohammed, she said: ”It was mixed feelings at the time. Yes, there was emotional attachment.

“There were feelings developing and we were getting to know each other. I was grateful for things he helped me with. And he was grateful for things I helped him with. I liked the attention he was giving me.”

Police said it could not be proven that El-Hassan was an extremist before she met Mohammed, but could have been in no doubt about his jihadi beliefs.

Detective Chief Inspector Paul Greenwood, who led the investigation, said the website they used was a “normal place to look for a relationship”.

But Mohammed used it to get advice on where to source chemicals to manufacture TATP from El-Hassan, who was previously unknown to the security services.

“Munir shared with her some really graphic and brutal execution videos, lots of other ideological material, including children executing Isis prisoners and children involved in military training in the name of the Islamic State,” DCI Greenwood said.

“She appeared to be very receptive to that and they seemed to encourage each other with their shared mindsets... irrespective of whether she was influenced by him, she knew fully his mindset and contributed to a set of circumstances that, had we not intervened, could have resulted in significant loss of life in the UK in the lead-up to Christmas 2016.”

Sue Hemming, the head of of the Crown Prosecution Service’s counter-terror division, said the couple were “clearly attracted to each other through their support for Daesh’s violent ideology and its intolerance of those who do not subscribe to its views”.

“They planned to kill and injure innocent people in the UK and had the mindset, the methodology and almost all the material needed, for Mohammed to carry out an attack,“ she added.

“Both will be in prison, where they cannot plot together and will no longer be a danger to the public.”

Additional reporting by PA

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