Members of a terrorist cell who dubbed themselves the “Three Musketeers” have been found guilty of plotting a Lee Rigby-style attack.
The gang, from the West Midlands, were poised to strike police and military targets in the UK using a pipe bomb and meat cleaver inscribed with an Arabic word meaning “disbeliever”, the Old Bailey heard.
Naweed Ali, 29, Khobaib Hussain, 25, Mohibur Rahman, 33, and Tahir Aziz, 38, were arrested in August last year after MI5 went to bug Ali’s car.
But a search instead uncovered a JD Sports bag containing a pipe bomb, meat cleaver, shotgun shells, a bullet and an imitation handgun.
When another car belonging to Aziz was searched later that day, a samurai sword along with mobile phones was discovered, the court heard.
Prosecutors said Rahman bought two mobile phones and sim cards from eBay for Ali and Hussain that were “intended for use in covert discussions”.
Naweed Ali, Khobaib Hussain and Mohibur Rahman who have been found guilty of plotting a Lee Rigby-style attack (West Midlands Police)
The group gained their name from a group chat on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, which was named the “Three Musketeers”.
Phones and laptops belonging to Ali, Hussain and Rahman were found to have been used to view radical content, including a speech called “What is terrorism?” by Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, articles from al-Qaeda’s Inspire magazine, advice on how to carry out attacks and religious songs glorifying violence.
The defendants claimed the incriminating evidence was planted by an undercover office known as Vincent, who posed as the boss of a fake firm called Hero Couriers.
Prosecutors dismissed the claims as “theoretical conspiracy theories”, telling the jury there was overwhelming evidence of guilt including instructions on how to make a pipe bomb being downloaded by Aziz, which matched the partially constructed device found in the car.
Ali, Hussain and Rahman were unanimously found guilty of preparing for acts of terrorism between May and August last year after the jury deliberated for more than 22 hours at the end of the partly-secret trial.
The fourth defendant, Aziz, was found guilty of the same offence after the jury deliberated for another 20 minutes.
Aziz, who has a family and worked in Primark, was allegedly keen not to be “left behind” but was only brought into the plot days before the arrests.
The gang had tried to evade secret services and police and even attempted to double deal with an MI5 contact of Rahman’s to extract information.
But the authorities were tracking them with an elaborate undercover operation at Hero Couriers, where Hussain and Ali were offered driving shifts.
On 24 August 2016, Hussain complained to Rahman: “We gota do something akhi (brother) just nothings really happening [cis].”
Two days later, Ali arrived for his first shift at Hero Couriers and left his Seat Leon at the Birmingham depot before MI5 moved in tp bug the vehicle.
During a search, they found the JD Sports bag in the foot well containing the bomb and meat cleaver with the word “kafir” scratched on it in readiness for an imminent attack.
Naweed Ali, Tahir Aziz, Mohibur Rahman and Khobaib Hussain walking in the park at Bank Hall Road on August 21 2016, five days before their arrests (West Midlands Police)
Ali, who suffered from a stutter at school and had previously claimed to have been wooed by MI5, declined to give evidence in his defence.
Ringleader Hussain, who lived next door to him in Sparkhill, Birmingham, told jurors he only believed in “defensive” jihad.
Gareth Patterson QC, prosecuting, said he was in reality a “highly-radicalised, intelligent and angry man who believed he had a duty to take action” but got careless and left his DNA behind.
As they were led from the dock, one of the convicted men shouted out: “I hope you’re happy with your lies. Lying scumbags.”
Mr Justice Globe remanded the defendants in custody until sentencing on Thursday morning.
One of the jurors was discharged last month after repeatedly asking court staff whether an “attractive” detective who gave evidence to the court was single.
The UK’s national terror threat level remains at “severe”, meaning an attack is highly likely, amid fears over the risk from home-grown extremists and foreign fighters returning from Syria and Iraq.
Cressida Dick, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said six terror plots have been thwarted in the last four months alone, while more than a dozen other plots were foiled in 2016.
Additional reporting by PA