Isis supporter who plotted to bomb St Paul's jailed

Will Taylor
News Reporter
Safiyya Shaikh, left, had plotted to bomb St Paul's Cathedral, right, the Old Bailey was told. (Met Police/Isabel Infantes / EMPICS Entertainment)

An Isis supporter who planned to destroy St Paul’s Cathedral and kill “herself and as many other people as possible” has been sentenced to life with a minimum of 14 years in prison.

Safiyya Amira Shaikh, a 37-year-old mother and Muslim convert from Hayes, west London, wanted to “blow” the landmark “to the ground” and “hated the UK”, the Old Bailey heard.

Police said she wanted to leave a bomb at the cathedral and then detonate a suicide vest on the Tube.

She had scoped out the building in support of the plot, which she had considered carrying out during Easter, but was foiled after revealing it to an undercover police officer on a messaging app.

Shaikh, who was formerly known as Michelle Ramsden, admitted preparation of terrorist acts and dissemination of terrorist publications in February.

Safiyya Amira Shaikh, 37, of Hayes, West London, appeared at the Old Bailey. (Elizabeth Cook/PA Images)

She had told police she had doubts about the plot, and her defence said she would not have gone ahead with it, but in a phone call extract produced by the prosecution on Thursday she told an acquaintance she was going to go through with the plan.

Mr Justice Sweeney, sentencing, said: “I had already reached the sure conclusion in the original evidence that your claim of doubt to the police and others was a lie.

“Your intention had been – and remained throughout – strong.”

Shaikh, wearing a black hijab, showed little emotion at her sentence and smiled and raised her index finger – recognised as an Isis salute – as she was led from court.

During the sentencing hearing, Alison Morgan QC said Shaikh was “fully committed to violent extremism” and “stated that her intention was to kill herself and as many other people as possible”.

Screengrab from a video issued by the Metropolitan Police of Safiyya Shaikh scoping out St Paul's. (PA Images/Met Police)

Shaikh had converted to Islam in 2007 after she was impressed by a local Muslim family’s kindness but became disillusioned by what she considered to be mosques’ moderate Islam.

She was willing to boast about extremist propaganda she had posted online which encouraged people to wage violence for Isis, Morgan said, and was referred to the government’s Prevent anti-terror strategy in 2016.

Shaikh began chatting with a man, unaware he was an undercover officer, on an encrypted messaging app in August and believed he could source a bomb for her.

She said she desired martyrdom and identified St Paul’s as a potential target for an attack, asking the officer if it was possible.

The court heard Shaikh went to attend morning prayers at the cathedral in September 2019, staying there for about an hour.

She found she got little attention from security during her visit and told the officer she believed it would be “easy” to carry out an attack.

The court heard she wrote online: “I would like bomb and shoot til death. But if that not possible I do other way. Belt or anything. I just want a lot to die. InshaAllah.”

She added: “I want do something in hotel and church. Than (sic) run and kill kuffar (non-Muslims) everywhere I see them until am shot down. Is this possible.. And to get weapons.

“If I had choice I blow the church to ground. With kuffar in it.”

Shaikh has previous convictions for burglary and possessing heroin and had a history of depression, and she later told another undercover officer that she wanted Allah to forgive her, the court heard.

Safiyya Amira Shaikh admitted the preparation of terrorist acts and dissemination of terrorist publications. (Metropolitan Police via AP)
A pink backpack which Shaikh gave to an undercover officer to be converted into a bomb. (PA Images/Met Police)

“I want forgiveness for everything in my life that I’ve done you know,” she said.

After she cancelled a meeting with an undercover officer at late notice, police raided her home in October.

She said in an interview that she had “doubts” about the plot and added: “I hated the UK… I felt a lot of hate and anger… I had hate for the police.”

Shaikh said she did not want to disappoint her two “friends” she conspired with about the attack. She was said to be distressed when, following her arrest, she was told they were actually officers.

A text message sent by Safiyaa Shaikh to an undercover officer about her intentions to bomb St Paul's Cathedral. (PA Images/Met Police)

Defence counsel Ben Newton said Shaikh led a “life of pain and loneliness”, suffered a “truly traumatic childhood” and made an effort to try and please people.

She had travelled to Pakistan to marry against her will but cancelled it and was sent back to the UK in disgrace, Newton said.

He added: “She didn’t want to blow up a church of people, she just wanted friends.”

There were “clear indicators Safiyya Shaikh had cold feet and wouldn’t go through with it”, Newton told the court.

Safiyya Shaikh seen on her way to a meeting with an undercover officer. (PA Images/Met Police)

“This particular terrorist act would never have actually happened,” he said, adding “there was no bomb, and there never would be”.

However, on Thursday, Morgan presented an extract of a phone call made by Shaikh from HMP Bronzefield last week, which the prosecutor said showed she “wasn’t having doubts”.

In the excerpt, read to court, Shaikh told an acquaintance “I just feel like this is a lie” and “my solicitor, they advised me to do this”.

She said: “I was going to go through with it, I wasn’t getting cold feet, I wasn’t having doubts.”

Shaikh pictured during her police interview. (PA Images/Met Police)

Commander Richard Smith, head of the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command, said: “She loved watching graphic videos of terrorist killings and her mission… was to inspire others to fight, even after she hoped to have died in a suicide attack.

“She was so serious about her propaganda work, she wanted to ensure it would continue even after she had died.

“Shaikh was clearly dangerous. She was spreading vile directives for mass murder across the world and also planning her own horrific terrorist attack on UK soil.”

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