They were very ordinary would-be terrorists, with big plans, but bad luck.
On Thursday, a London jury convicted the three young British men of being ringleaders of an al-Qaeda-inspired plot to explode knapsack bombs in crowded parts of Birmingham, England’s second-largest city.
The men had pleaded not guilty, but were recorded discussing plans for attacks that one said would be “another 9/11.”
The trial exposed how the trio — Ashik Ali, 27; Irfan Khalid, also 27; and 31-year-old Irfan “Chubbs” Naseer — were foiled by a mix of police intelligence, personal incompetence and lousy luck as they tried to spread terror.
They attempted to recruit others to their cause, but four young men they dispatched to Pakistan for training were sent home within days when the family of one man found out. Those four have since pleaded guilty to terrorism-related offenses.
The plotters initially raised cash as street collectors for Muslim charities. However, when Rahin Ahmed, an alleged co-conspirator described as the cell’s “chief financier,” tried to boost the group’s budget on the financial markets, he lost the bulk of the funds through his “unwise and incompetent” trading, prosecutor Brian Altman said.
The group considered a variety of outlandish attacks, including tying sharp blades to the front of a truck and driving it into a crowd.
Naseer was heard talking about the possibility of mixing poison into creams such as Vaseline or Nivea and smearing them on car handles to cause mass deaths.
Despite the amateurish nature of some of their efforts, officials said the group was serious about sowing chaos.
The men were “the real deal” and, if successful, would have perpetrated “another 9/11 or another 7/7 in the UK,” said Detective Inspector Adam Gough, the case’s senior investigating officer, referring to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the US which killed nearly 3,000 people, as well as the July 7, 2005, London transit bombings, which killed 52 commuters.
Prosecutors described the men as a home-grown terror cell inspired by the anti-Western sermons of US-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in Yemen in a US drone strike in September 2011.
Prosecutors said the men ultimately gravitated toward a plan to detonate up to eight knapsack bombs — either on timers or in suicide attacks — in a bid to bring mass carnage to Birmingham.
Judge Richard Henriques told the men they face life in prison when sentences are imposed in April or May.
“It’s clear that you were planning a terrorist outrage,” he said at London’s Woolwich Crown Court.