The conclusion of the trial against Adam Khatib, 22; Nabeel Hussain, 25; and Mohammed Shamim Udin, 39 marks further confirmation of the apparently very real plot that was being hatched back in the summer of 2006. The three, described by the prosecution as the “backroom team” were all linked to Abdulla Ahmed Ali, the man who appears to be at the centre of the UK end of the plotting. Ali was convicted in September of this year along with co-conspirators Tanweer Hussain and Assad Sarwar – all were given life sentences (Ali 40 years; Hussain 36 years; and Sarwar 32 years). Three other men who appeared in court with them are facing a third re-trial, sometime next year.
These three appear to be part of the network of East London natives that Abdullah Ali recruited to help in various aspects of the plot. It is not clear that any of them knew that airlines were the target, but in at least Khatib’s case, he was deeply involved in the plot. By his own account a rebellious teenager, Khatib dabbled in drugs and wrote an essay at school for French class about “going to Afghanistan, finding a wife and joining Al Qaeda,” signing it “Adam Osama bin Laden.” After graduating, he met Abulla Ali through one of Ali’s brothers and the older man appears to have taken him under his wing.
Significantly, in 2005 Khatib went with Ali on a six month trip to Pakistan – at the same time as already convicted co-conspirator and plot “quartermaster” Assad Sarwar. Sarwar admitted on the stand to learning how to make bombs in Pakistan, and in emails and information released during this trial, it would appear as though Khatib too – as when they returned from their trip in Pakistan, he started undertaking in-depth research into bomb making materials. He also shared notes on his findings with other plotters, giving advice on how to construct devices and was apparently in direct contact with their contacts in Pakistan.
The other two appear to have played a more supportive role – Nabeel Hussain met with Ali a number of times, had written a will, was in contact with him on a particular number that Ali only used for him and Sarwar, and had applied for a £25,000 loan. The jury obviously did not find anything suspicious in the fact that Uddin had allowed Ali to use his computer to do research on bomb making material, but did find him guilty of possessing information useful to terrorists. According to a police statement, “the three men made no comment during police interviews.”
While two allegedly key players in this plot remain at large – one on a control order and the other living freely in London (Bruce Hoffman’s recent article in Studies in Conflict and Terrorism goes into some detail about them) – this set of arrests highlights again the importance of Abdulla Ali in this cell. He may not have been the absolute emir of the plot, but it certainly appears as though it was his ability to draw his East London friends into his conspiracy that turned a plan being developed in the badlands of Pakistan into a conspiracy involving up to 8 British Muslim suicide bombers.
Yahya Birt has argued that this plot will mark the “end of an era” in Al Qaeda plotting against the UK – in that the model of using British Muslims who appear loosely connected to networks on the periphery of the radical preachers appears to have been repeatedly compromised and is probably now beyond practical use for Al Qaeda. This may be a premature, though it has been almost three years since these chaps were arrested and while a number of other individuals connected to this network have been arrested, none have been involved in what Jonathan Evans described as “late stage planning.” This is unlikely, however, to mark the end of Al Qaeda’s plotting against the UK.