Couple jailed for planning Isis-inspired bomb attack in UK after meeting on dating site

Lizzie Dearden
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

A couple who planned an Isis-inspired terror attack in the UK after meeting on a dating website have been jailed.

Munir Mohammed was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 14 years, while accomplice Rowaida El-Hassan was jailed for 12 years and five more under licence conditions.

Security services feared Mohammed and pharmacist El-Hassan were ready to strike before they were detained.

Mohammed, a 37-year-old Sudanese refugee, had already amassed two out of three core components for triacetone triperoxide (TATP), the powerful explosive used in Isis attacks including Paris and Brussels.

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

Judge Michael Topolski QC told Mohammed: “You decided that yours would be a lone wolf attack. You decided the means of your attack would involve you making an IED.

“You had not decided whether that would be made with an ordinary bomb or whether you could do more damage and more terror by exploding a device containing ricin.”

The judge told the Old Bailey that Mohammed deliberately drew El-Hassan in to the point where her commitment was “consistent and sustained”.

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)

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

Mohammed was the chief architect of the plot after volunteering for a “lone wolf” UK mission as he chatted on Facebook with a man he believed was an Isis commander.

He pledged allegiance to the man, known as Abubakr Kurdi, and offered to participate in “a new job in the UK” while working making sauces for supermarket ready meals.

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.”

​El-Hassan, a 33-year-old divorcee with two children, 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 pharmaceuticals, aiming to use her chemical knowledge in the attack.

The Old Bailey heard 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 graphic Isis propaganda videos, while El-Hassan advised Mohammed on what chemicals to buy for a bomb.

The judge said Mohammed had a “vast store” of Isis propaganda depicting “abhorrent” murders, including nearly 26,000 images on his phone.

El-Hassan – an “enthusiastic and encouraging partner” – never objected to being sent the material as her two children slept in her bedroom, and even asked for more, he added.

That November, Mohammed obtained 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, the powerful explosive that has become a signature of Isis terror attacks around the world.

He is believed to have obtained the instructions through a video made by Palestinian Isis supporters, which was also watched by the Manchester bomber Salman Abedi.

The footage has since been taken down amid a crackdown by YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other technology firms, while the Government has funded free artificial intelligence software capable of detecting Isis propaganda videos before they are uploaded.

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

He claimed he sent El-Hassan extremist videos “mainly for the news” and said his intention was to marry her, despite having had an arranged marriage in Sudan with a woman he had never met.

Mohammed had arrived in Britain in the back of a lorry and claimed asylum in 2014, appealing to his local MP Margaret Beckett for help after a two-year wait, 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.

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

Investigators said that if the plot had not been discovered, it “could have resulted in significant loss of life in the UK in the lead up to Christmas 2016”.

Mohammed and El-Hassan are not the first couple to plan a terror attack together – a young husband and wife from Birmingham were jailed for plotting a stabbing massacre last year.

In 2016, another couple admitted sending money to their nephew while he fought for Isis and numerous partners and families were among around 850 people who travelled to join the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

Analysts have said that while Isis’s slick propaganda strategy has increased the risk of online radicalisation, personal relationships can play a key role in pushing extremists from thought to action.

Additional reporting by PA