Teenager who wanted to ‘torture and mutilate’ soldiers admits terror plot

A teenage Islamic State fanatic has admitting a plot to attack police officers or soldiers on home soil.

Matthew King, 19, expressed a desire to “torture, mutilate and kill military personnel” as he prepared to stake out a British Army barracks in Stratford, east London.

Other targets for a potential knife attack included  a police station, railway station, and Stratford magistrates’ court.

King also spoke of his desire to travel to Syria to join Islamic State, bought “tactical gloves” and goggles and registered with an online knife retailer, according to court documents.

At a hearing at the Old Bailey on Friday, King, from Wickford in Essex, pleaded guilty to preparation of terrorist acts between December 22, 2021 and May 17, 2022.

Judge Mark Lucraft KC adjourned sentencing until April 14 and ordered a pre-sentence report which will look at the issue of the defendant’s dangerousness.

Judge Lucraft stressed it was in King’s “best interests” to help those preparing the report and the teenager replied: “Understood.”

The bearded defendant stood in the dock to enter his plea wearing a grey shirt and sleeveless black padded jacket and was remanded in custody.

According to a written basis of plea document submitted by the defence, King “actively desired” to travel to Syria to areas controlled by IS to participate in their activities.

He had sought advice on social media about the best route to get there and discussed it on a WhatsApp group.

He had revealed his plan to an individual identified only as “JF” and made videos expressing his admiration for IS.

King accepted that if his plan to go to Syria was frustrated, he considered carrying out an act of terrorism in the UK.

In December, 2021, he set up an online account with the retailer Knife Warehouse with a view to buying a blade.

In March, 2022, he bought “tactical” gloves and goggles from an army surplus store.

Stratford Magistrates' Court
The prosecution noted King had filmed police officers outside Stratford Magistrates’ Court (Alamy/PA)

Twice between March and May, 2022, he took a photograph of police officers in Stratford and on a third occasion filmed the side entrance of Stratford Police Station as he walked past.

On May 17, last year, he made a short film of the Army barracks in Stratford and had briefly considered targeting someone linked to the military base.

It was claimed on King’s behalf that his plans were at a very early stage and the prospect of an act of terrorism was “remote”.

However, in its written response seen by the PA news agency, the prosecution said it would be for the court to decide how far advanced King’s plans were.

Although King had not bought a ticket to travel, he had searched the internet for IS tactical training videos in the use of knives and purchased the gloves and goggles, it was said.

The prosecution rejected the defence claim an attack on home soil was a “fall back option” if King failed to get to Syria.

It was asserted the target in the UK was likely to be members of the police or Armed Forces and it was possible King would have been armed with a bladed weapon.

The prosecution noted King had filmed police officers outside Stratford Magistrates’ Court and at the railway station with some reconnaissance videos overlaid with nasheeds – Islamic chants – and comments such as “target acquired”.

The day before he visited the Stratford barracks, King told JF how he would “torture, mutilate and kill military personnel”, the prosecution submitted.

Authorities had been tipped off about King through an anti-terrorist hotline and the Prevent counter-terrorism programme after he posted a video on a WhatsApp group on April 13, last year.

In it was an image of a male holding a knife with the words: “Those who said that there is no jihad and no battle. They are lying!”

King was arrested at his home on May 18, last year by officers from the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command.

After being cautioned, he responded:  “I don’t believe in the UK law, the only law I believe in is the law of Allah.”

At an earlier hearing, prosecutor Gillian Curl had said that no “specific act of terrorism” had been identified.

But she said: “He was preparing for an act against either serving on-duty police officers or military personnel.”

Commander Richard Smith, who leads the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command, said: “It was not clear when or where King intended to carry out his attack, but he had conducted a significant amount of hostile reconnaissance.

“In online conversations, he talked about committing an indiscriminate attack on the public. Disturbingly, he also spoke about targeting police officers and army personnel.

“Concerns about King’s mindset were reported to police, and it was those reports that led to King being investigated and his attack planning being discovered.

“This is another case which shows how the round-the-clock efforts of police, with our partners, are keeping the public safe from very real threats.

“It also shows how important it is for the public to report anyone they think may be vulnerable to radicalisation, or already on that path.”