Developing

Birmingham terror plot trio had tools for 'biggest British terror attack in a generation'

Irfan Naseer, Irfan Khalid and Ashik Ali may have looked like an unlikely terrorism trio, but police today insisted they had the know-how to carry out 'another 9/11 or 7/7 in the UK'.

The Birmingham bomb plotters convicted today had the means, will and know-how to carry out mass murder in what detectives say could have been the biggest terror attack on Britain "in a generation".

The three principal drivers behind the plot were men who initially sounded an unlikely trio to carry out such an atrocity.

Irfan Naseer, 31, was an overweight, unemployed pharmacy graduate - with the nicknames Chubbs and Big Irfan - who according to his own mother was "a mummy's boy".

The father of Irfan Khalid, 27, said a medical condition would have made it unlikely he could have taken any practical part in carrying out the attack, while Ashik Ali, 29, was registered partially sighted.

There were calamitous moments as they worked on their murderous plot. They tried to raise money through bogus charity collections but ended up losing thousands playing foreign currency markets and had to apply for loans.

And a note setting out the requirements for their homemade explosives was supposed to have been burned in a pan, but the process produced so much smoke it was never properly destroyed.

Senior investigating officer Detective Inspector Adam Gough said the men were "the real deal" and, if successful in detonating their devices, would have perpetrated "another 9/11 or another 7/7 in the UK".

It was Naseer's training in chemistry - and later training at a Pakistani terror camp - which gave him the know-how to draw up a blueprint of a viable improvised explosive device.

No precise targets were discussed by the three men but Mr Gough said the attack would have involved "eight exploding rucksacks in crowded places", while Ali hinted in a police interview that "soldiers" might have been the target - while later claiming he made this up.

It is also unclear when the attack was planned, although the group made references to "five months, a year, and two years", said Mr Gough.

Irfan Naseer, Irfan Khalid and Ashik Ali are pictured street collecting during the police operation to monitor …

The men's plans were, at least in part, financed by "fundraising under the guise of genuine Muslim charities during Ramadan", said Mr Gough, and they had also discussed opening up a community room as a front to disguise recruiting others to their cause.

They duped the local Birmingham charity Muslim Aid and a mosque into believing they were collecting charity funds on their behalf but returned only a fraction of the money donated to those causes, spending the rest on the bomb plot - buying a car and transferring money into their own bank accounts.

The group also spoke about the July 7 attacks in London in 2005, but were openly critical of the bombers for not killing enough people because they had not packed their bombs with nails and shrapnel, according to the police.

Preparing for their attack, Khalid and Naseer - known as The Two Irfans - twice visited Pakistan and stayed at terrorist training camps between 2009 and 2011 where police believe they were schooled in bomb-making, poisons and firearms training.

In April 2011, the West Midlands counter-terrorism unit began investigating the men.

Irfan Khalid and Irfan Naseer are spotted on camera as they arrive at Birmingham Airport (West Mids Police/PA)

The investigation, known as Operation Examine/Pitsford, grew to be the 450-strong counter-terror unit's largest ever, resulting in 12 arrests and smashing one of the most serious terror bomb plots of recent years.

Police evidence-gathering involved 24-hour surveillance and the bugging of the men's safe house, where detectives recorded many conversations between the men as they plotted their attacks.

Mr Gough said: "From covert recordings from the address at 23 White Street, the group had talked of their need to keep the operation a secret.

"They put up black curtains at the house, and they made reference to their concerns they might be under surveillance.

"We could hear them - and we heard them discussing the 'martyr' (July 7 bomber) Mohammed Sidique Khan, and they discussed how much chemicals they would need.

"Naseer referred to 'seven or eight in different places - boom, boom, boom'."

By September 16 2011, the three men were "experimenting with chemicals and home-made explosive", said Mr Gough, and the police acted.

There was a fear that they might try to test a device, putting members of the public at risk.

Late on the night of September 18, officers swooped on the men's car when it drove along a suburban street as they were heading out to get takeaway food.

All three were arrested, and in the next two hours 14 warrants were carried out on addresses across Birmingham.

Among the addresses raided was the group's safe house, where further evidence of the men's attempts to make a bomb was recovered, including a sports injury cool pack which Naseer had mistakenly believed would contain ammonium nitrate - a key bomb-making ingredient.

A partially-burned note written by Naseer detailing how to make what an expert witness said during the trial would have made a viable bomb was also recovered.

Mr Gough said: "Naseer had told Ali to burn the note but it wasn't done properly, and Naseer later admitted he had written it."

The note detailed the chemicals, the amounts and mixtures of how to make explosives, although they never got as far as creating a bomb and carrying out their threats.

In one chilling warning, Naseer was covertly recorded saying of the UK: "The only thing you will achieve is suicide bombers on your streets, spilling so much blood you'll have nightmares for the rest of your life."