On 11 September, international news outlets reported on “sick” threats by Isis supporters towards Americans on the anniversary of the 2001 attacks.
Articles showed posters shared by the “GreenB1rds” channel on the encrypted Telegram messaging app, calling for jihadis to launch terror attacks on non-Muslims around the world.
The channel had previously published threats against British targets including London Bridge and Big Ben, as well as videos of Isis executions and bomb manuals.
“Kuffar [disbelievers] always publish my work. They don’t even realise they promote for us,” the channel’s main administrator would later boast to an undercover police officer.
The international propagandist behind the gory messages was an unemployed mother from west London, who ran the channel from her home. A judge said the operation was “run with a high degree of secrecy and technical application”.
Safiyya Amira Shaikh, a Muslim convert and heroin user who was formerly known as Michelle Ramsden, was arrested weeks after her 9/11 threats.
She admitted disseminating terrorist publications, as well as planning her own terror attack where she hoped to bomb St Paul’s Cathedral and a London hotel before blowing herself up on the Tube.
Shaikh was unrepentant in court, where she corrected a defence lawyer after he said she had got “cold feet” and would not have carried the attack out.
She instructed her barrister to tell the judge it had been a “big lie” at a sentencing hearing, so she could be jailed on the basis that “her intentions had not waned”.
Shaikh was arrested at her home on 10 October, after giving undercover police officers bags that she believed would be filled with explosives.
Part of her indictment stated that she “provided a service to others that enabled them to obtain, read, listen to or look at terrorist publications via ‘Telegram’, intending” to encourage them to commit attacks.
At the time of her arrest, Shaikh had told a female undercover police officer that she had 20 other administrators working on GreenB1rds and was running a total of eight channels.
Jailing Shaikh for life on Friday, Mr Justice Sweeney said she had become a “leading operator” of online groups and channels in support of Isis.
“You created some of the material yourself, and instructed others with the necessary skills to create other aspects of it,” he added.
“The channels were run with a high degree of secrecy and technical application, including storing the content in back-ups, recreating the channels under different names whenever Telegram shut them down, keeping a ‘banned list’ of those suspected of being spies, creating a fake persona of yourself as a man, using fake emails, and – being acutely aware that the police might intervene – regularly deleting online chats.”
The judge said Shaikh had created a “banned list” of suspected spies and created fake online personas and email addresses, and deleted online chats in case of police intervention.
“There is evidence that the GreenB1rds sphere of influence was not limited to this country,” he added.
But even as GreenB1rds gained notoriety online, Shaikh’s identity remained a secret.
While posting on Telegram under a pseudonym, she had at points posed as a man to gain access to key Isis-related channels and be taken seriously by fellow fanatics.
Research published in the Perspectives on Terrorism journal in February said that when news of her arrest – and that of a fellow female administrator in the Netherlands – broke, their sex was a revelation to many supporters.
One Telegram user appealed for men not to “allow our precious pearls to run such delicate groups”, which are normally reserved for male Isis supporters.
The GreenB1rds channel has since been deleted but researcher Meili Criezis warned that its “propaganda continued, and still continues, to be shared widely by supporters and pro-Isis channels”.
Yousra Lemouesset, a 31-year-old Dutch woman who had previously joined Isis in Syria and married a fighter, bought Shaikh a plane ticket to the Netherlands last August.
But Shaikh was stopped under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act before she could catch the flight from Luton Airport.
The investigation that would reveal her own terror plot was triggered after police seized and examined her electronic devices.
“During that operation we identified not only was she creating and sharing horrific terrorist material, but she was also planning an attack on UK soil,” said Commander Richard Smith, head of the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command.
“From conversations with the undercover officers and material recovered from her devices, it was clear that Shaikh was heavily involved in creating and spreading toxic terrorist propaganda.”
The officer said analysis of her phones, laptop and a memory stick showed the extent of her “prolific” propaganda work.
Mr Smith added: “She admitted being the main operator of the GreenB1rds channel, which we believe is so named to reflect the idea the souls of martyrs are carried in the hearts of green birds.”
Shaikh told an undercover officer that the channel’s main purpose was to “inspire others to fight”, and that she was making arrangements for it to be managed after she carried out her own attack plan.
“She was spreading vile directives for mass murder across the world,” Mr Smith said.
“She was so serious about the propaganda work that she wanted to ensure it continued, even after she died.”
As for her own plans, Shaikh had drafted a pledge of allegiance to Isis on a pink post-it note and was planning to film a video to be distributed after her “martyrdom”.
Mr Smith said investigators had not discovered exactly when or how Shaikh, who abused drugs and had mental health issues, became radicalised.
She originally converted to Islam in 2007 after being impressed by the kindness of a local Muslim family.
The court heard that Shaikh started listening to radical preachers in 2016 and stopped attending mosques to avoid being reported for her extreme views.
She told undercover officers that around that time, she had wanted to join Isis’s “caliphate” but was prevented.
Shaikh was referred to the Prevent counter-extremism programme three times between August 2016 and September 2017 but “disengaged” and was not assigned an intervention provider.
Counter-terror police said officers made “numerous attempts” to engage with her and that she did not reveal her online activities.
Mr Smith added: “By the time we began investigating her she was very firmly set with an ideology that meant she was supportive of terrorist acts and keen to encourage them worldwide.”